By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After nuking the Senate’s filibuster rules, Democrats are ready to push through the nomination of a controversial immigration director as deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Republicans pushed back on Wednesday, but it wasn’t enough.
Alejandro Mayorkas — under ongoing investigation by DHS for his handling of the EB-5 visa-investor program and meetings he held with GreenTech Automotive Chairman Terry McAuliffe — was approved by all nine Democrats on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The seven Republican members voted “present.”
The nomination will go to the Senate floor for additional, but truncated, debate and confirmation
Republicans boycotted Mayorkas’ initial committee hearing in July, saying they wanted to see the DHS Inspector General’s findings before proceeding.
Among the accusations swirling around Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are his personal contacts involving GreenTech, an electric-car startup co-founded by McAuliffe.
Watchdog.org reported that McAuliffe, now governor-elect of Virginia, was among the company officials who met and pleaded repeatedly with Mayorkas for approval of investor applications
In at least one case, officials from GTA’s funding arm, Gulf Coast Funds Management, pressed Mayorkas’ agency to grant the visa application of a foreign investor with ties to a Chinese company on a U.S. spy list.
Emails recently obtained by Watchdog through the Freedom of Information Act show USCIS under internal and external pressure to approve Gulf Coast’s applicants, as well as agency questions about GreenTech’s business plan.
While the investigation of Mayorkas is still under wraps, Senate Democrats launched the so-called “nuclear option” that knocked out the chamber’s filibuster rule. The move effectively silences GOP objections and allows Obama administration nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority vote.
Previously, Republicans could freeze judicial and administrative nominations by staging filibusters that required 60 votes to halt. Democrats hold 55 of 100 Senate seats.
With the bar lowered for final confirmation, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., scheduled Wednesday’s vote to advance Mayorkas’ nomination.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the panel’s ranking Republican, called the vote “without precedent” and a “disservice to the American people.”
“Senators (Barack) Obama and (Joe) Biden held up previous nominees under investigation. If we confirm Mr. Mayorkas under a cloud, we haven’t helped him, we haven’t helped DHS … with a less-than-informed vote.”
Noting that under the new filibuster rules, “it’s possible to deliver this nomination without a single Republican vote,” Coburn said he sees “validity in allegations over conflicts of interest, misuse of position, mismanagement and the appearance of impropriety” by Mayorkas.
Mayorkas did not appear at the hearing. DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard did not respond to inquiries, and USCIS spokesman Chris Bentley declined comment.
“The real story will be whether the GOP can stall (Mayorkas’) nomination on the Senate floor, despite the new filibuster rules,” said David North, a policy expert at the enforcement-oriented Center for Immigration Studies. “I bet they can stall it, if not block it.”
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, isn’t so sure.
“I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that all Democrats – and a few Republicans — won’t vote to confirm,” he said.
Mehlman called USCIS under Mayorkas a “rubber-stamping operation that will bend and stretch any rules to get people into the country.”
“He is a loyal soldier who has facilitated a policy of non-enforcement at an agency where the mission is to ‘get to yes’” on EB-5 applications, Mehlman said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tentatively scheduled a floor vote this week for confirmation of former Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson as DHS secretary.
Kenric Ward is chief of Watchdog’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward
(This article was updated at 11:33 a.m.)
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