Senate Tees Up Vote to Confirm Biden Pick for Homeland Security

Alejandro Mayorkas is one step away from becoming secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Jan. 19, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate continued to advance President Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks Thursday, approving a procedural motion for his Department of Homeland Security nominee while wrapping up a confirmation hearing for two others.

An architect of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects qualifying immigrants from deportation, Alejandro Mayorkas cleared another Senate hurdle to tee up a confirmation vote for his DHS leadership role.

Senators voted 55-42 on Thursday to invoke cloture on his nomination, or limit debate on the issue. That vote stopped a filibuster that had been threatened by GOP lawmakers. The standoff prevented a quick confirmation vote, which is now not expected until Monday evening.

Mayorkas’ Sephardic Jewish parents fled Europe for Cuba in the 1930s to escape Nazi death camps. They moved to Miami, Florida, then to Los Angeles, California — a state in which Mayorkas would later become the youngest U.S. attorney in the nation, after his appointment to the post by President Bill Clinton.

As head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, Mayorkas was investigated by the DHS inspector general over allegations he helped top companies secure visas for foreign workers. The probe found he broke no laws but created poor optics for the visa program known as EB-5. Mayorkas maintained he was only trying to navigate an already fraught immigration system.

Mayorkas face some pushback during his confirmation hearing last week. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley – a Republican now under pressure to resign after voting against the certification of Biden’s victory just hours after the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol – said he would object to Mayorkas’ swift appointment. Hawley claimed the nominee hadn’t adequately explained how he planned to enforce federal immigration law.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that Republicans had only forced the body to jump through hoops to confirm Mayorkas. It had been eight days since Biden’s inauguration, Schumer said, and with Hawley’s objection the Senate would have to wait another four days before it could vote on Mayorkas’ confirmation.

“There’s a reason that there has been bipartisan cooperation in the past to confirm the Homeland Security secretary,” Schumer said. “Whatever our differences on policy, both parties have agreed that the prolonged delay of these nominations is no good, no good, for our national security.”

America has been under a heightened national security threat since the Capitol attack, and Schumer said a nomination to a critical post is now being needlessly stalled.

“My friends on the other side don’t have to agree with Mr. Mayorkas on the finer points of every policy,” Schumer said. “I’m sure they don’t share the exact views of every appointment to a Democratic president’s Cabinet but that is not a sufficient reason to oppose a nomination, especially one as important as Homeland Security.”

Two of Biden’s other nominees appeared before a Senate committee Thursday. Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge is the president’s choice for secretary of Housing and Urban Development, while he tapped Princeton economist Cecilia Rouse to chair the Council of Economic Affairs.

Both nominees appeared virtually before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Fudge testified alongside a group of her family and friends in what appeared to be a large conference room. After having the group wave to senators from afar, Fudge outlined her lifetime of public service, beginning as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, where she helped to expand affordable housing opportunities.

“Our housing issues do not fit into a cookie-cutter mold — and I know that the same is true in each of your states,” Fudge testified. “We need policies and programs that can adapt to meet your unique housing challenges and I would very much like to work with each of you to find the right answers for your states.”

Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, asked Fudge to elaborate on the difference between racial equality and equity — the latter being a campaign goal of Biden’s to improve opportunities for disadvantaged Americans.

Fudge said that in tackling issues like available and affordable housing, a central problem is racial minorities are denied loans to purchase housing because of their inability to access generational wealth through homeownership.

So even though opportunities may be extended in a similar way to all Americans, not everyone is treated the same, she said, explaining that equity means shoring up equality through providing more opportunities to underserved communities.

“So, just to be clear then, stuff like racial equity means treating people differently based on their race, correct?” Cotton asked.

“Not based on race but it can be based on economics. It can be based on the history of discrimination that has existed for a long time, it can be based on educational levels, it can be based on many things,” Fudge said. “Not necessarily just race.”

Rouse, meanwhile, outlined her early college experiences and how they lead to her interest in the U.S. economy. She said her mother had steered her towards an economic class her freshman year, but a spike in unemployment in the 1980s also piqued her interest in alleviating a depressed market.

“I was drawn to the discipline because I want to know why this was happening,” Rouse testified. “Why had jobs disappeared — and what could be done to bring them back? I focused my work on the labor market and in particular the impact of education on people’s job prospects, ways to tear down barriers to job growth and policies to make it possible for more people to achieve long-lasting economic security.”

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