Friday, December 20, 2013
Senate Democrats used the new filibuster rules Friday to win confirmation of a controversial top Homeland Security official, approving a new deputy secretary who is still under investigation of wrongdoing in his current post as head of one of the immigration agencies.
The vote was the latest sign of how bitter the partisanship has become in the Senate, with each party saying there’s a total lack of trust with the other side, and questioning whether that can be rebuilt next year.
Republicans said it’s the first time the Senate has ever knowingly confirmed such a high official who is currently being investigated by an inspector general, and said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has set a new precedent.
But Mr. Reid questioned the investigation’s credibility and said approving Alejandro Mayorkas to the No. 2 post at Homeland Security was too important to put off until after Congress’s two-week Christmas vacation.
“This is all kind of inside Washington politics,” he said in dismissing investigation. Indeed, the inspector general who was leading the probe quit his job earlier this week in order to duck criticism, adding to the drama.
Mr. Mayorkas is currently the chief of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one of the immigration branches within the Homeland Security department. As director, he has been accused of overruling career officers in his agency in order to approve visa applications sought by well-connected Democrats, including Mr. Reid.
The vote was along party lines, 54-41, signaling that it’s clear Mr. Mayorkas wouldn’t have been cleared if the old filibuster rules were still in place. But late last month Democrats used the so-called “nuclear option” to change the rules and allow them to overcome filibusters with just a majority vote, stripping the GOP of its ability to block nominees.
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told colleagues he was stunned they were going ahead with the vote.
He said he’d had analysts research the record and they couldn’t find any instances where a nominee under active investigation had been confirmed.
“It’s never been done before,” he said.
Mr. Coburn said if the review, which he said could take a few more months, cleared Mr. Mayorkas then he should easily be confirmed.
The Oklahoma senator also said President Obama was being hypocritical by continuing to push Mr. Mayorkas’s nomination, saying that when he was Sen. Obama he objected to moving ahead with one of President George W. Bush’s nominees while that person was under investigation.
Democrats counter that Republicans refused to even meet with Mr. Mayorkas to let him clear up the allegations, and said that he has suffered damage to his reputation because of that.
“This gentleman who we should be thanking every day for stepping up and wanting to take this job has to be dragged through this,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat.
Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, also said the whistleblowers who have lodged the accusations against Mr. Mayorkas have refused to talk publicly or to meet with him.