Biden’s Homeland Pick Mayorkas Faces Narrow Confirmation Path

  • Alejandro Mayorkas’s 2013 Senate vote was along party lines
  • ‘Dreamer’ program he developed has mixed support among GOP

Alejandro Mayorkas, Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Homeland Security Department, faces a tough confirmation if the Senate rests in Republican hands, several lobbyists and former DHS officials say.

A Cuban-born naturalized American citizen, Mayorkas would be the first Latino to lead DHS if he is confirmed by the Senate next year. The balance of the Senate depends on two run-off elections in Georgia.

“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones,” Mayorkas tweeted shortly after the Biden-Harris transition team announced their intent to nominate him to lead DHS. Mayorkas is currently a partner and Covid-19 Coronavirus Task Force leader at law firm WilmerHale.

If the GOP holds the Senate, Mayorkas would have to convince several Republicans to back him who voted against his 2013 nomination to be deputy DHS secretary. His nomination was complicated at that time by an investigation into his intervention into a visa program on behalf of several high-profile people, including then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Hillary Clinton’s brother.

Mayorkas was confirmed in a 54-41 vote in December 2013. He went on to develop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which protects people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, often called Dreamers, from being deported and allows them to work legally.

“Obviously, DACA was an issue where people were of varied opinions. But I think that regardless, if you talk to Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill in the House or in the Senate about him, they will they will all say he is a person of extraordinary integrity, who spends a lot of time and energy getting to know his issues and deliberating over the best path forward,” Andrew Howell, a partner at Monument Advocacy, said in an interview.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alejandro Mayorkas, then director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, speaks during a news conference to announce the launch of E-Verify Self Check service on March 21, 2011, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Senate Challenge

Mayorkas’s 2013 nomination was opposed by some of the moderate Republicans to whom Democrats have looked during the Trump administration to cross party lines, such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Sen Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who’s likely to be the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also voted against Mayorkas in 2013.

Republicans’ opposition to Mayorkas’s nomination was tied to a Homeland Security inspector general investigation into Mayorkas’s role in the EB-5 investor visa program while he worked at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Office of Inspector General eventually found that “employees’ belief that Mr. Mayorkas favored certain politically powerful EB-5 stakeholders was reasonable.”

DACA, one of Mayorkas’s main achievements in his last role at DHS, is unpopular with President Donald Trump and a subject of ongoing litigation, but some Senate Republicans have indicated a willingness to continue or expand the program. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) indicated that immigration, including DACA, is an area where Biden might find room for compromise with Senate Republicans. Portman supports codifying the DACA program.

The Biden team would have vetted Mayorkas in advance with Senate Republicans and nominated him with the confidence that he could make it through his confirmation process, two former DHS officials said.

Portman will consider the nomination when it comes before the committee, a spokesperson for the senator said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com

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