Alejandro Mayorkas to Helm DHS After Narrow Senate Confirmation, GOP Delays

The Senate has approved President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), making Alejandro Mayorkas the first Latino and immigrant to helm the federal agency.

The Senate's 56-43 confirmation of Mayorkas is the tightest margin for a Biden appointee to date. But he still got bipartisan support, despite objections from Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who urged his colleagues to reject the nomination because of concerns over Mayorkas' work in previous administrations.

Before the vote, McConnell blasted the Biden nominee, accusing the former Barack Obama appointee of creating an "unethical favor factory for Democratic Party royalty" during his previous role at DHS, and urged Republicans to vote against his confirmation.

"It's frankly remarkable that someone with this record is even up for a Cabinet appointment," McConnell said from the Senate floor, noting he had backed confirmation of Biden's other appointees.

McConnell pointed to a 2015 inspector general's report that raised ethical issues with a visa program overseen by Mayorkas while he led DHS's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"We are talking about shoving through green cards as political favors and intervening to overturn denials," McConnell said.

Mayorkas denied any wrongdoing at the time.

Six Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favor of confirmation: Senators Shelley Capito of West Virginia; Susan Collins of Maine; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Rob Portman of Ohio; Mitt Romney of Utah; and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

But Mayorkas' successful confirmation vote came after several other GOP members, including Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, threw up roadblocks over federal immigration policies that delayed the vote. Biden's allies, meanwhile, argued that national security would be at risk without the DHS role being quickly filled.

"It is the Senate's responsibility to make sure key national security officials are on the job, keeping our country safe," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor last week. "My friends on the other side don't have to agree with Mr. Mayorkas on the finer points of every policy, but surely we can all agree that he knows the department, he understands the threats to our nation's security and has what it takes to lead DHS."

Biden was set to sign a series of executive orders Tuesday afternoon addressing immigration policies.

One of Mayorkas' top tasks will be leading a new federal task force to reunite families that have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed last week.

Mayorkas, an attorney whose family fled Cuba when he was a child, was a DHS deputy secretary under Obama and helped develop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Alejandro Mayorkas, President Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of homeland security, is sworn in during the confirmation hearing by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on January 19. Bill Clark-Pool/Getty