A sprawling series of barbed-wire barricades surround the US Capitol, and so many members of the National Guard are camped inside that they sleep on floors.
Bracing for the possibility of more violence in Washington and beyond, they are pushing for prompt confirmation from President-elect Joe Biden's national security team.
There is one obvious problem, however: Before the storming of the Capitol, which killed five and left a nation bewildered and tense, Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden & # 39; s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, faced a of the toughest confirmation fights of all Biden nominees. . And the concerns about him among the Republicans haven't gone away with the tear gas.
(Retired Army General Lloyd Austin III, the president-to-be's choice for defense secretary, also faces confirmation hurdles, although there is some opposition from Democrats concerned about preserving civilian leadership in the Pentagon.)
Democrats want to speed up both confirmations and stress the need to fill a leadership vacuum with key national security agencies. Former Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf was one of several Trump administration officials who resigned in the aftermath of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill by Trump supporters. Pete Gaynor, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and a Trump appointee beloved across the aisle, is now in charge of DHS, but Biden is eager to have his own team.
With the nation still grappling with the violence in the Capitol and the GOP split over Trump's subsequent impeachment, it's unclear whether Senate Republicans have the courage to fight controversial cabinet appointments.
It doesn't take long to find out. Sens. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who will chair the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee in the new congress, along with Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who will serve as the rank member of the panel, set Mayorkas' hearing for Tuesday, one day before Biden's inauguration.
Ron Klain, the new White House Chief of Staff, publicly thanked Senate Republicans for planning hearings.
"We need to act quickly to get the right people into these agencies, and make sure we keep this country safe and ready for any threat," Klain said in a Washington Post interview on Friday. streamed live.
Mayorkas' track record indicates he has both the pedigree and the desire to lead a reversal of Trump's immigration policy, which Biden has promised. Mayorkas, a Cuban-born naturalized citizen, knows the agency well, having served as deputy DHS secretary and the director of the U.S. during the Obama administration. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In that role, he developed the Delayed Action for the Arrival of Children, or DACA, which protected immigrants who were illegally brought to the US as children from deportation and allowed them to work legally.
"We must immediately end the inhuman and unjust treatment of immigrants," Mayorkas said in recent remarks to the American Business Immigration Coalition. "There is no more powerful and heartbreaking example of such inhumanity than the separation of children from their parents."
Mayorkas' background seems perfectly in line with Biden & # 39; s promise of a major immigration reset, but his previous tenure at DHS is both a blessing and a curse.
In 2013, every Republican, including several centrists who broke with Trump regularly, voted against Mayorkas's nomination to become deputy DHS secretary. Those Republicans include Sens. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, Susan Collins from Maine and Portman, who will serve as the top Republican on the Homeland Security panel.
The GOP's general opposition stemmed from an investigation by the Inspector General into the USCIS-managed EB-5 visa program, which found Mayorkas interfered inappropriately to help business interests, including some ties to then-majority leader Harry Reid, the brother of Hillary Clinton and Terry McAuliffe. , a former Governor of Virginia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Among the entities that received special treatment to obtain the visas, according to the IG report, were investors in a hotel and casino project in Las Vegas that Reid pushed for, and an investor proposal to finance electric car production. , involving a company whose board was chairman of McAuliffe. The IG investigation also involved Hillary Clinton's brother Anthony Rodham for running an investment company that spent money on electric car production.
Mayorkas was not able to get confirmation on the DHS post until 2013, as Reid changed Senate rules a month earlier to allow a simple majority to end the nomination debate, not the threshold of 60 votes that had to be overcome before.
The latest IG investigation into the allegations found that Mayorkas created the semblance of cronyism and special access at UCIS when he was director there from 2009 to 2013, and noted that investigators were surprised by the number of whistleblowers who came forward to to complain about him. In addition, officials and staff also mentioned his unprofessional management style.
“During our assessment, we found that a number of employees described Mr Mayorkas' communication and management style as very aggressive. … A staff member said Mr Mayorkas was "full of emotion, impulsive, volatile and tenacious," the IG report said. "Another senior USCIS official told us that employees were afraid to voice their opinions at the meetings because if they had a different opinion, Mr. Mayorkas would" cut them apart, take them apart or put them in their place. " # 39 ;. & # 39; & # 39;
A source familiar with the complaints told RealClearPolitics that several DHS officials were baffled by Biden & # 39; s decision to nominate Mayorkas, given the IG's findings and also for yelling at staff and scolding. of those who disagreed with him. This source also expressed concern that some whistleblowers who have filed complaints against Mayorkas remain with DHS and may receive retaliation from him.
Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who first publicly complained about Mayorkas' tenure at UCIS, is likely to oppose his nomination again, and he doesn't mince words.
For years, including during Mr. Mayorkas' tenure at DHS, the EB-5 program was prone to fraud and abuse. But instead of solving these issues, the IG found that Mr. Mayorkas gave some visa applicants preferential treatment over others. Grassley told RCP in a statement. The IG noted that this favoritism gave rise to an unusually wide range of complaints from whistleblowers.
"That brand of leadership is not good for the bureaucratic culture or the security of our country."
Other Republicans have been even tougher. In November, Arkansas State Senator Tom Cotton accused Mayorkas of "selling green cards to Chinese nationals on behalf of wealthy Democratic donors."
"Think about that," Cotton said about “Fox & Friends. "" … That's disqualifying to run the Department of Homeland Security. "
The visa scandal is not the only background baggage of Mayorkas that Republicans are expected to bring up at Tuesday's hearing. The nominee, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Biden's pick as Secretary of Health and Human Services, were key figures in a scandal surrounding the early release of a convicted cocaine dealer by President Bill Clinton in 2001.
Becerra and Mayorkas at the time were among several prominent Democratic figures in Los Angeles who contacted the Clinton White House about commuting the sentence of Carlos Vignali Jr., whose father, Horatio, was a wealthy entrepreneur and a major Democratic door.
Vignali Jr. was convicted in 1994 of involvement in a drug gang that shipped hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to Minnesota, where it was turned into crack and sold on the street. Media reports at the time characterized the prosecution as the largest drug case in the history of the state of Minnesota.
Clinton commuted Vignali's sentence on his last day. The move received intense attention and led to an investigation in 2002 by the GOP-led House Committee on Oversight and Reform, because the ransom was granted on the basis of objections from the Justice Department's pardon office, and Vignali was released while several of his black co-defendants were in prison. .
A group of well-connected Democrats had close ties to Vignali's father, including Becerra, then a US Congressman, and Mayorkas, then a US attorney in Los Angeles. Vignali & # 39; s father also paid $ 200,000 to Hillary Clinton's other brother, Hugh Rodham, to help obtain Vignali & # 39; s release. The Clintons said they did not realize Hugh Rodham was paid for his role until press releases revealed it; they then called on him to return the money.
Mayorkas said his role amounted to one phone call to the White House, and that he never asked Vignali for a ransom, just that his case would be carefully considered. Shortly after Clinton's buyout, Mayorkas issued a statement calling his call to the White House a "mistake."
Mayorkas echoed that regret during a sworn testimony before the Senate in 2009, when he was nominated by Obama to lead UCIS. At the time, Mayorkas overcame his role in the scandal to be unanimously confirmed, but that was before the IG's findings in the EB-5 scandal.
. (tagsToTranslate) Biden cabinet (t) Lloyd Austin (t) Alejandro Mayorkas