The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to cite Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to release documents relating to Fast and Furious, a failed government operation that put guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The was vote viewed by many as a legal and political showdown between the Republican-led House and Democratic President Barack Obama and his attorney general.
With Democratic lawmakers in the mood to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling upholding President Obama’s health care law, Republican Speaker John Boehner agreed to bring the contempt votes to the floor of the House.
“Now, I don’t take this matter lightly and I would frankly hope that it would never come to this,” said Boehner. “The House’s focus is on jobs and on the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law, and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold.”
While Republicans stressed that Congress deserve to hear all of the facts about the failed Fast and Furious operation, Democrats accused Republicans of unfairly targeting the president’s attorney general in an election year to score political points with their voters and with the National Rifle Association gun lobby that urged lawmakers to vote for the contempt resolutions.
Seventeen Democrats joined the majority of Republicans in voting for the contempt resolution. The vote was 255 in favor and 67 against. Scores of Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, walked out of the House chamber and did not vote.
House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the Republican majority “contemptible.”
A citation for contempt of Congress has symbolic importance, but its impact is limited because the Executive Branch controls prosecution decisions. And in this case, that means the Justice Department. Experts says it is highly unlikely that one of Holder’s employees at the Justice Department would put his or her boss in front of a grand jury for prosecution, especially because President Obama has asserted executive privilege over the release of the documents.
The White House released a statement after the House vote, saying that Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General, and calling the vote a “transparently political stunt.”