The Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday to be the new secretary at Homeland Security, giving President Biden a point person to begin unwinding what he called the “cruelty” of the Trump administration toward immigrants, both legal and illegal.
The 56-43 vote was the closest of any of Mr. Biden’s nominees so far, underscoring troubling questions that have dogged Mr. Mayorkas since his previous time at Homeland Security during the Obama years, when an inspector general accused him of berating employees and making decisions to benefit high-powered Democratic figures.
Mr. Mayorkas vehemently denied the accusations but, according to some senators, also acknowledged missteps and vowed to learn from them — a pledge that helped him earn at least some GOP support Tuesday.
He becomes the sixth member of the president’s Cabinet to be confirmed.
He now inherits the most sprawling and troubled bureaucracy in the federal government, with duties ranging from controlling the borders to catching child pornographers and from stopping cyberattacks to sniffing out fake COVID cures.
Mr. Mayorkas, who came to the U.S. with his parents fleeing Cuba, also makes history as the first Latino and first immigrant to hold the top post at the department, which was stood up in 2003 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
It’s been nearly two years since Homeland Security had a confirmed secretary. President Trump preferred to manage through a series of acting chiefs at the department and its key immigration agencies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement went all four years without a confirmed head.
Mr. Mayorkas was a U.S. attorney in the Clinton years, then served as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for four years under President Obama, where he created the DACA deportation amnesty for “Dreamers.” Mr. Obama rewarded Mr. Mayorkas with a promotion to deputy secretary of the full Homeland Security department in 2013.
That experience, and the chance at steady leadership, was attractive to Democrats and the seven Republicans who joined them in backing the nominee.
Other GOP senators, though, said Mr. Mayorkas’s history was too checkered to ignore.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said while at USCIS, Mr. Mayorkas turned the agency “into an unethical favor factory for Democratic Party royalty. Among those he intervened to help were then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, and Anthony Rodham, brother of Hillary Clinton.
“And when questioned about these actions, Mr. Mayorkas responded with false and conflicting statements, including while under oath,” Mr. McConnell said Tuesday, pointing to the 2015 inspector general’s report containing those findings.
But Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, said Mr. Mayorkas’s record as deputy secretary should supersede that report.
“I know that Ali can do this job, he’s already demonstrated that,” Mr. Carper said.
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