House Republicans’ failure by a single vote to impeach embattled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas – sealed by a wheelchair-bound Democrat rolled in from the emergency room – has brought renewed scrutiny to GOP commitment and ability to fight.
The long-awaited vote ultimately was doomed when Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Republican leadership failed to anticipate the number of Democrats who would be present and were unable to take the steps necessary to pressure three fellow Republicans to vote to impeach Mayorkas.
The circumstances also brought to light the continued absence of Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), whose unfortunate health battles have him working from home in Louisiana.
Scalise’s office announced his absence on January 5, 2024 as the House was set to reconvene after an extended Christmas break that began December 13, 2023. That statement from his staff said the Majority Leader would be out until February while receiving treatment for multiple myeloma – unquestionably circumstances beyond his control.
But with one of the few remaining achievable goals this Congress for House Republicans stuffed at the goal line, rumblings on Capitol Hill about Scalise’s health and ability to continue serving in leadership may continue to intensify.
The significance of Scalise’s absence was driven home by last-minute theatrics on the other side of the aisle.
Democrats rolled Rep. Al Green (D-TX) into the chamber in a wheelchair and hospital gown, reportedly without shoes, while the vote was underway, deadlocking the tally at 215 on each side. The tie forced Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT), who supports impeachment of Mayorkas, to change his vote to “no” in a procedural move that enables the House to take up the resolution again when – or if – it is ready.
Green, 76, came from the emergency room, where he had had abdominal surgery. An attending physician checked his vitals after his arrival.
“I was determined to cast the vote long before — I had no idea how close it was going to be,” Green said in an interview from his hospital bed, according to the New York Times. “I didn’t come assuming my vote was going to make a difference. I came because it was personal.”
Mayorkas is a “good, decent man whose reputation should not be besmirched,” Green said.
In a television interview filmed in Louisiana the day of the vote, Scalise discussed his support for impeachment. But fair or not, the contrast of Scalise in a coat and tie performing an interview while missing a key vote and Green being wheeled in after surgery to drive a stake in the heart of the long-anticipated impeachment was striking – and could have election year consequences.
Many Republicans are worried the powerful split screen suggests Democrats are willing to fight by any means necessary, while Republicans are content to continue messaging through multiple setbacks, underperformance, and dysfunction.
The defeat by the absolute slimmest of margins was a hammer blow to House Republicans in desperate need of a win. But it wasn’t just Scalise’s vote that was needed. Moore, who took one for the team by taking the difficult-t0-message and politically risky procedural vote, performed the task generally the duty of the Majority Leader.
“Our Majority Leader Steve Scalise is typically who would do this,” Moore said in a video posted to X to explain the procedural nuance. “But Steve is unfortunately and sadly in cancer treatments right now.
“He’s doing great, he’s gonna be okay, but he couldn’t be here on the House floor, so it was passed to me as another member of leadership to do it.”
The Moore You Know (About Procedure): Clearing up the confusion on last night’s House impeachment vote. pic.twitter.com/k8LhKJJr34
— Congressman Blake Moore (@RepBlakeMoore) February 7, 2024
As Moore noted, this was not the first time the Majority Leader’s team asked him to step up to perform the duty for Scalise.
Drama previously unfolded regarding Scalise’s poor health in the fall of 2023 during his ultimately unsuccessful run for Speaker.
Scalise himself said his speakership bid that October was undercut by questions about his health – questions he insisted were fabricated. The Majority Leader even suggested his delegation mate Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA) was responsible.
From the Times-Picayune on December 1, 2023:
Scalise complained at length about misinformation that had been spread about his cancer diagnosis – a campaign he implied Graves was involved in.
“I know what was being said,” Scalise told Politico. “I mean, medical opinions that were being given out were completely false. I had a doctor from M.D. Anderson, the top myeloma cancer specialist in the world, who, along with my local doctor, was looking at all of my blood work and meeting with me on a regular basis, who said, ‘Everything you’re doing is fine, the cancer is almost gone and you’re going to live a long life.’ He’s looking at my blood work. And then there’s some, you know, member, unnamed member of Congress, who’s naming somebody that might not even be a doctor saying he’s going to die in six months. That’s how bad it was.
It is not known when Scalise learned he would have to undergo, or when he began, the treatments he first revealed in his January 5 statement as the House was returning to session. That statement describing the seriousness of his diagnosis, issued only 36 days after the Times-Picayune piece, read in part:
Last month, Leader Scalise successfully completed induction chemotherapy and had a positive response. It has now been determined he is eligible for an autologous stem cell transplant. He is currently undergoing the transplant process, marking a significant milestone in his battle against cancer. Once the procedure is completed, he will be recovering under the supervision of his medical team and will work remotely until returning to Washington next month.
Scalise and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had a notoriously frosty relationship, with many of the duties typically handed to a majority leader delegated to others, including fellow Louisianan Graves, a longtime rival to Scalise, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who McCarthy designated as Speaker Pro Tempore after McCarthy’s ouster.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Reps. Ken Buck (R-CO) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) announced they would vote against impeachment. They were joined by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), who had expressed concerns with impeachment Tuesday morning , in siding with a unified block of Democrats.
Johnson and other senior Republicans pressured Gallagher, who chairs the Select Committee on the China, without success, holding the vote open as a recalcitrant Gallagher crossed his arms.
It is unknown if Republican leadership threatened Gallagher’s gavel to secure his vote and bail out Republicans. Gallagher could have voted “present” and prevented Republican embarrassment.
House Republicans may have another shot at impeaching Mayorkas. But the window could close Tuesday.
That is the next day the House is scheduled to be in session, but it is also the day of the special election in New York’s Third Congressional District to replace expelled Rep. George Santos (R-NY).
Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who held the seat for years before an unsuccessful run for governor in 2022, is expected by many to have an edge against his largely unknown Republican opponent in a district Biden easily carried.
If Suozzi is successful, he likely would be sworn in the next day, rendering a future Scalise vote to impeach Mayorkas inconsequential (barring a vote held in the event of Democrat absences or future changes in House membership).
Yet even if Republicans are successful in impeaching Mayorkas, the impact will be dulled after Tuesday’s setback.
And the visual of Green’s triumphant vote against seemingly hapless Republicans will persist.
Bradley Jaye is a Capitol Hill Correspondent for Breitbart News. Follow him on X/Twitter at @BradleyAJaye.