Alejandro Mayorkas, President Biden’s pick to run Homeland Security, cleared his first hurdle Tuesday as senators brushed aside a scathing inspector general’s report and pushed him through committee.
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 7-4 to report Mr. Mayorkas to the chamber floor, where he is expected to be confirmed, perhaps later this week.
Democrats are enthusiastic about Mr. Mayorkas, who served as deputy secretary in the latter years of the Obama administration and brings a wealth of experience to the job.
Republicans were torn over the pick, pointing to the inspector general’s report that accused Mr. Mayorkas of ethical lapses stemming from political interference on behalf of well-connected Democrats during his time running U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one of the department’s agencies.
“This simply can’t be ignored,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and chair of the panel.
But Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said the calculation was more complicated.
While the inspector general’s investigation troubled him, he said in his dealings he found Mr. Mayorkas to be willing to listen to Republicans, and “as compared to other officials in the Obama administration, actually more toward the middle.”
The overriding issue, though, was that Homeland Security has been adrift, without a confirmed secretary or much of its other top leadership, for years.
“He’s going to be confirmed no matter what we do here this morning,” Mr. Portman said. “The question is how quickly does he get in place.”
Had the GOP retained control of the Senate Mr. Mayorkas’s fate might have been more in doubt, but Democrats now control the chamber and are determined to give Mr. Biden his team.
Republicans did throw a new wrinkle into the schedule, though, when members of the Judiciary Committee asked that they also be allowed to hold a hearing with Mr. Mayorkas before he’s confirmed.
Mr. Mayorkas already sat for a hearing with the Homeland Security Committee, but GOP members of the Judiciary Committee said their panel shares jurisdiction over immigration matters, and they deserve a chance to hear from him on those issues.
“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 Republican senators wrote.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is slated to take over as chair of the Judiciary Committee, rejected the idea.
“To hold a second hearing would only delay the confirmation of Mr. Mayorkas, needlessly putting our national security at risk,” he said in a letter back to the Republicans.
He also said since he’s not yet chair, he couldn’t order the move anyway.
And Mr. Durbin said Republicans, when they controlled the committee over the last two years, didn’t hold any hearings on immigration oversight of President Trump.
Several Democrats on Tuesday also pointed out that Mr. Trump had his Homeland Security pick in place on Inauguration Day in 2017.