Republicans have seized on the narrative of an unsecure border and tied it to Democrats’ policies, although former President Donald J. Trump also faced a surge in illegal crossings while he was in office. In fact, the latest migration trend is part of a global shift, with people fleeing poverty exacerbated by the pandemic, violence and unstable governments.
Representative Clay Higgins, Republican of Louisiana, who has a history of tense exchanges with Mr. Mayorkas, asked a series of questions that appeared to lay the groundwork for a potential buffet of charges against Mr. Mayorkas. Because Democrats will continue to hold the majority in the Senate, it is not likely Mr. Mayorkas would ever be convicted even if a G.O.P.-led House were to impeach him.
Mr. Higgins asked whether the secretary had tried to “suppress exculpatory evidence” regarding Customs and Border Protection employees who have come under public attack by the Biden administration. He also asked Mr. Mayorkas whether he had used his authority to punish homeland security agents identified as conservatives or supporters of Mr. Trump. Republicans have been building a similar argument against the attorney general, whom they have also said they want to impeach.
Mr. Mayorkas attempted to answer Mr. Higgins, but the men mostly talked over each other. The secretary was able to interject a few words, and said he did not know what Mr. Higgins was referring to in some of his questions.
When it comes to bringing impeachment charges, there is no legal standard to be met, said Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law expert at Tulane University’s law school. That means if Republicans win control of the House, they can start the process once the new Congress is in session.
But Representative Kevin McCarthy, who won his party’s nomination for speaker on Tuesday even as it awaits word that it has gained control of the House, has shown some reluctance to use impeachment proceedings for political purposes. Republicans were critical of the two Democrat-led impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump.
Professor Griffin said that in a clear case of wrongdoing by a cabinet official, “any administration can easily avoid the embarrassment of impeachment simply by getting rid of the official.”
Only one cabinet member has ever been impeached — William Belknap, in 1876. Mr. Belknap was secretary of war in the Grant administration. He was accused of accepting bribes.
Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.