The Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday voted to move forward Alejandro Mayorkas’ nomination to lead the Department of Homeland Security — edging him closer to a confirmation vote.
The 7-4 vote puts the Biden administration one step closer to having a confirmed head of the department that will be key in the rollback of the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies. If confirmed, Mayorkas will also play a role in handling national security threats and helping coordinate on the pandemic response.
Senate Democrats and the Biden administration had pushed to get Mayorkas confirmed before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, but it was delayed by GOP Sen. Josh Hawley last week.
Senate leadership has not yet weighed in on when Mayorkas’ nomination will come up for a floor vote. But he is widely expected to be confirmed.
Mayorkas is a Cuban-born lawyer and one of the chief architects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He served as DHS deputy secretary under former President Barack Obama.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and other Republicans used the committee meeting for the vote to reiterate their concerns over a 2015 DHS inspector general report that found Mayorkas showed “an appearance of favoritism and special access” for certain visa recipients. Mayorkas has disputed the report’s findings.
A group of eight Republican senators, led by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), on Tuesday urged incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to hold a hearing on Mayorkas’ nomination — a move that would drag out his path to confirmation.
“All Members of the Committee should have the opportunity to hear from Mr. Mayorkas directly, and to publicly discuss with him his plans with respect to the Department’s immigration components and functions,” the GOP senators wrote in a letter.
GOP Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Rob Portman (Ohio) both voted to move Mayorkas’ nomination forward.
Durbin told POLITICO he didn’t think it was necessary and was "another opportunity for [a] political swing by Sen. Hawley."
But he also told reporters: "I don’t want to rule anything out to get the job done but I will tell you… If a man with his background is being held it’s totally political as far as I’m concerned."
Mayorkas, if confirmed, will represent a major shift in tone and direction for DHS, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Under Biden, the agency is expected to also put more focus on cybersecurity and emergency response.
Mayorkas, who served in the role of DHS deputy secretary under Jeh Johnson, would be the first immigrant and Latino to lead the department. He has been confirmed by the Senate three times already: for deputy secretary at DHS, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and as U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.
Marianne Levine contributed to this report.
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