WASHINGTON — Marching ahead with multiple impeachment plans, House Republicans set their sights Wednesday on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who they intend to prove is “derelict in his duty” over handling the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Mark Green, launched Mayorkas impeachment proceedings with a group of witnesses that included Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and University of Missouri law professor emeritus Frank Bowman III. 

It comes at a peculiar political moment: On one side of the Capitol, a bipartisan group of senators has been engaged in almost daily negotiations with Mayorkas over a landmark border security package. On the other, the House wants to remove him from office.

Opening the hearing, Green, R-Tenn., said there is “no reasonable alternative but to pursue the possibility of impeachment."

The House panel has been circling Mayorkas all year, at times expected to lurch ahead with impeachment proceedings against him as the border crossings hit record highs, topping 10,000 on some days. The number has recently dipped.

But impeaching a Cabinet secretary is rare, having only happened once before in the nation’s history when the House impeached Defense Secretary William Belknap in 1876 over kickbacks in government contracts. Going after an official for a policy dispute, in this instance over the claim that Mayorkas is not upholding immigration laws, is unprecedented, Bowman argued.

“All the arguments for impeaching Secretary Mayorkas of which I am currently aware boil down to expressions of disapproval of the Biden Administration’s alterations of Trump-era immigration policies coupled with claims that these alterations have produced various allegedly harmful consequences. If one believes that both legal and illegal immigration are bad for the country and ought to be dramatically constrained, then one can fairly oppose Biden’s policy choices. If members of Congress oppose this Administration’s policy choices, they have ample tools to express that opposition through legislation. But, at least if Congress seeks to remain true to established constitutional law and precedent, that opposition cannot be transmuted into a case for impeaching Secretary Mayorkas,” he said in his prepared testimony.

But Bailey, Missouri’s Attorney General who has sued the federal government over issues related to immigration policy, said Mayorkas is “flaunting” the commands of Congress.

"He is nullifying your constitutional authority over the power of the purse and when that authority is no longer effective, impeachment is the last option. I would point out that what we have here is not a policy disagreement it’s a willful violation to carry out an explicit directive of this body and an abdication of his official duties. 

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said evidence in the hearings will show Mayorkas is, in fact, doing his job.

“You cannot impeach a Cabinet secretary because you don’t like a president’s policies," he said. “This is not a legitimate impeachment,” he said.

Speaker Mike Johnson called Mayorkas the “leading perpetrator” of the border problems. “Congress is now going to have to take the next step and hold him accountable,” he said at a press conference.

Johnson also spoke Wednesday with Biden and “strongly encouraged” the president to use his executive authority to secure the southern border, said the speaker's spokesman, Raj Shah.

Green’s committee conducted a multi-part investigation into Mayorkas and the department but kicked the process into high gear when hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene pushed forward the impeachment resolution after Johnson won the speaker’s gavel following the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker.

It remains to be seen if the House investigation will convince lawmakers that Mayorkas' conduct rises to the level of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the Constitution specifies for impeachment.

Many Republicans prefer a return to Donald Trump-era immigration policies, and they blame Biden for taking actions to stop construction of the border wall and end the COVID-19 era restrictions that prevented many migrants from entering the U.S. Both policies had been championed by the former president, who is now the GOP front-runner for the party's 2024 presidential nomination.

Sen. James Lankford, the chief GOP negotiator of the border package, who has been in almost daily negotiations involving Mayorkas, said he understands his colleagues’ frustrations. But he encouraged them to focus as he has on legislation to force Biden’s hand.

“Mayorkas is gearing up President Biden’s policies — that’s what a secretary is going to do,” Lankford told reporters. “So you can swap secretaries, the policies are going to be exactly the same.”

Lankford briefed House and Senate GOP lawmakers privately Wednesday on the border talks, which hit a setback this week. 

Senators struggled with certain differences, particularly over parole programs to allow immigrants who claim asylum entry into the U.S. as they await court proceedings. Reaching a border deal is key to a broader funding package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs.

Over the course of the talks, Mayorkas and Lankford have grown to trust each other as the Cabinet secretary has tried to advocate for an immigration system that brings “order and humaneness,” according to one person familiar with the talks who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

But any goodwill for Mayorkas has not spread to the House, where Republicans are readying their effort to remove him from office. The House Homeland Security Committee plans to hold hearings throughout January with the end goal of impeaching Mayorkas.

If the House agrees to impeach Mayorkas, the case would go to trial in the Senate, where it takes a super-majority to convict. In the Grant-era, Defense Secretary Belknap was acquitted in the Senate.

“Does his handling of that meet the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’? That’s a question we’ll have to get answered,” said Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking GOP leader in the Senate.