The silencing of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) after she called Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas a liar in a hearing has led to a pledge for a more civil House Homeland Security Committee going forward — a standard lawmakers may struggle to meet as they gear up for the secretary’s impeachment.
When Mayorkas appeared before Congress this week, Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) accused him of intentional disruption at the border and said his answers to prior questions show “incompetence.” Rep. Clay Higgins told Mayorkas it was “shameful what you brought upon our country.” Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) accused him of being smug.
Numerous lawmakers accused him of lying before Congress — an argument both Mayorkas and Democrats refute.
But while others accused Mayorkas of being dishonest, Greene on Wednesday explicitly labeled him a liar, something Green determined violated House rules on impugning someone’s character.
A hearing that began with a fiery opening statement from Green ended with a call to “dial the rhetoric down in the country and apparently in the committee.”
“We don’t have to despise someone because they disagree with us. We don’t have to disparage someone because they disagree with us,” he said in closing the hearing.
It was a commitment he made after a sidebar with ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who repeatedly described the panel’s discourse that day as unbecoming for a committee with such a serious jurisdiction.
Whether that moment can be met already appears in doubt for a committee that contains many members eager to impeach Mayorkas — a process that involves holding him personally responsible for the Biden administration’s approach to the border.
Green was chastised early in the meeting by Democrats, who pointed to a story in The New York Times reporting he told donors to “get the popcorn” ready ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.
And Republicans on the panel have offered mixed assessments of whether they believe the tone of the hearing was inappropriate.
Greene called the decision to silence her for the rest of the hearing unfair, noting that numerous Republican speakers before her accused Mayorkas of lying to Congress, even if they did not label him as a liar directly.
“These are all impugning his character also, which is what they claimed were the rules. I think silencing me was extremely unfair. And I think it showed weakness from Republicans on the committee,” she said.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said calling someone a liar is “poor form,” but that doing so is justified in regards to Mayorkas.
“They have been provoked to engage with Secretary Mayorkas in very severe terms,” he said of some of his colleagues. “And there’s a reason for it.”
Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.), however, suggested the committee members take a softer approach in their language if not in their stance, pointing to specific passages from the Bible that guide him.
“We can be unwavering without compromise, and also be gentle and reasonable. And so it hangs on my wall. It’s hidden in my heart. And that’s who I want to be as a legislator,” he said, pointing to James 3:17.
“I can disagree with someone and disagree with them heartily. And that’s what makes our nation great is we have raucous debates, right? But I also want people to know that I love them and that the way I behold them in my subconscious is not through hatred, it is through love towards them as an individual who’s made in the image of God.”
Mayorkas is no stranger to heated rhetoric. At one point last year during an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, one lawmaker compared him to Benedict Arnold, suggesting he was a traitor to the country. And numerous senators this week likewise attacked his character, with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asking whether he had “an ounce of human compassion” about the situation at the border.
At an event Friday, Mayorkas lamented the approach of lawmakers who criticize his character.
“They are not easy to listen to,” he said of the insults. “They also have ramifications that I wish individuals in positions of leadership would consider.”
“I am fundamentally — fundamentally though — I’m impervious to them. Because I may make some mistakes. My decisions may be mistaken. Some may disagree with them, but I have 100 percent confidence in the integrity of my decision,” Mayorkas said in response to a question from The Hill during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Several Democrats, meanwhile, have sought to dismiss the budding impeachment argument from the GOP.
“They can disagree with him on policy, but that is not a high crime and misdemeanor, nor does it in any way violate the Constitution and has no grounds for impeachment,” Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.) said.
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) said while many colleagues offered similar remarks to Greene, her comments have received the most attention, undercutting the effort to focus on Mayorkas.
“I think most of the Republicans are saying the same thing. I think most Republicans were calling [the] secretary names, belittling him and not allowing him to speak, insinuating that he was lying — all things which are false,” Garcia told The Hill.
“Republicans are focused — and they were clear — even in the chairman’s comments at the fundraiser that he had, that he expected today to be a circus, he expected today to be kind of a made-for-TV event, which is how they planned it. And I think it backfired on them,” he said Wednesday.
Green has said he was misquoted in the Times article, though he did not specify how, and noted the impeachment process will ultimately fall to the House Judiciary Committee.
The nearly 20-minute delay in challenging Greene’s comments was a source of embarrassment for some on the committee. Thompson warned the division on display is poor signaling to adversaries who keep tabs on internal dynamics in the U.S.
“Our charge as a committee is to keep the homeland safe from foreign as well as domestic terrorists,” he said.
“And if they see a committee tasked with that responsibility acting like we did today, you’re saying, ‘Well, look, we don’t have to worry anymore since it’s going off the rails.’”
Green told The Hill that going forward committee members need to “just attack the problem. You don’t attack the person.”
But he sees the issue as one on both sides of the aisle, adding that “There better not be any of either side breaking the rules of decorum,” in a nod to a sign brought by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) criticizing Greene’s effort to defund the FBI.
Greene made a similar argument, saying Thompson chaired a committee that impugned her character.
“Bennie Thompson has used his position, especially his chairmanship on the Jan. 6 committee, to literally call Republicans names every single day impugning our character, me specifically,” she said, adding that Democrats have called her an insurrectionist.
Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.) said he appreciated the efforts at the end of the hearing to “rein it back in,” but said whether Green can ultimately do so remains to be seen.
“It varies from different Republican members. I think for some of them, this is the raison d’etre. They’re going for more quotes, more tweets, more sales, more dollars raised on the internet. They’re not going to change,” he said.
“The chairman and some of the other members, I hope that they will step back from that precipice and we can actually get back to doing some reasonable work.”