Lead by Delaware Democrat Sen. Tom Carper, the Senate Homeland Security Committee moved to forward Alejandro Mayorkas to the full Senate for confirmation as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday, despite the absence of almost half of the committee.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and the seven other Republican members of the committee all boycotted the hearing, due to an ongoing investigation into possible impropriety on Mr. Mayorkas’ part during his time as head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
As head of USCIS, Mr. Mayorkas oversaw the EB-5 visa program, which offers green cards to foreign businesses that create at least ten jobs and invest between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in certain “Regional Centers” throughout America. An Inspector General’s investigation is currently looking into whether Mr. Mayorkas used his position to steer visas to foreign companies that had not been subjected to proper security checks and that did not meet the program’s standards.
In a statement, Coburn condemned the hearing as unfair to the IG leading the investigation, to Mayorkas himself, and to Senators uncomfortable with holding the hearing due to the ongoing investigation.
“Holding this hearing … over the objections of the ranking member and others appears to be virtually without precedent in the history of this or any other Senate committee,” Coburn’s statment read.
Without the GOP contingent, the hearing took on a casual, almost perfunctory tone, with friendly Senators joking about Mr. Mayorkas’ physical attractiveness in relation to his brothers, who were present at the hearing.
At certain points during the hearing, Senators appeared to guide Mayorkas through his answers to their questions. When Mayorkas gave an unclear answer to a question regarding his allegedly irresponsible treatment of visa-seekers, Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill re-worded Mayorkas’ answer for him.
“So the folks that they’re alleging you tried to help are still not happy, is what you’re saying,” McCaskill said, summarizing Mayorkas’ claim that the businesses he allegedly treated with preference were actually unhappy with him. Satisfied with Mayorkas’ agreement, McCaskill ended her line of questioning.
Though the IG’s investigation was only made public on Monday night, the committee dismissed concerns about Mr. Mayorkas’ qualifications.
“Rather than allowing rumor, speculation and innuendo to rule the day, this hearing will allow us to continue the process of vetting this nominee,” Carper said in his opening statement. Citing absences in DHS leadership positions as reason enough for confirmation, Carper added, “We need to move.”
However, Carper also said that “this investigation will not be concluded in a timely manner.”
During his testimony, Mayorkas dismissed the investigation outright.
“I do not put my finger on the scale of justice,” he said.
Given a chance by McCaskill to respond to the allegations made against him, Mayorkas admitted, “I still don’t understand them,” but maintained that his only crime was “resolving difficult issues” and that “I did nothing that I haven’t done hundreds and hundreds of times.”