The House of Representatives today followed through on its threat to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over additional documents beyond the more than 7,600 he has already given to Congress in the botched ATF Fast and Furious Operation. And led by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus, 108 members of Congress followed through on their threat to skip the vote and stage a walk out if the House went through with the theatrics.
The measure passed 255-67, with 17 Democrats voting for contempt with the Republican majority and two Republicans, Reps. Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Scott Rigell of Virginia, voting against it. This is the first time in Congressional history that the body has voted to hold a sitting attorney general in contempt.
But beyond theatrics and a chance for Republicans to embarrass Holder and President Obama, does the vote have any real meaning? Not much. If Republicans continue to push it—which some observers doubt, since they got the political drama today that they really wanted—it will just wind up dragging through the courts for years, with lawyers writing long-winded briefs back and forth and judges issuing obtuse rulings. By the time anything resembling a resolution came out, the matter would be long forgotten in the public realm and Holder probably would have long since moved on from the AG position.
In his response to the vote, Holder read a statement that accused Rep Darrell Issa, head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the engineer behind the contempt vote, of being “focused on politics over public safety.”
“Instead of trying to correct the problems that led to a series of flawed law enforcement operations, and instead of helping us find ways to better protect the brave law enforcement officers, like Agent Brian Terry, who keep us safe — they have led us to this unnecessary and unwarranted outcome,” Holder said. “I had hoped that Congressional leaders would be good-faith partners in this work. Some have. Others, however, have devoted their time and attention to making reckless charges—unsupported by fact—and to advancing truly absurd conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, these same members of Congress were nowhere to be found when the Justice Department and others invited them to help look for real solutions to the terrible problem of violence on both sides of our Southwest Border. That’s tragic, and it’s irresponsible. The problem of drugs and weapons trafficking across this border is a real and significant public safety threat—and it deserves the attention of every leader in Washington.”
What this was about was a chance for Republicans to exact revenge on Holder for his outspokenness, his willingness to challenge Republicans on their attempts to restrict voting rights across the country in order to lower voter participation among people of color. It was also about the NRA flexing its political muscle, in effect threatening Republicans and some Democrats into voting for contempt—under a bizarre theory that the ATF case was an effort by the Obama administration to ratchet up public support for gun control.
“AG Holder was in essence ‘stopped & frisked’ without probable cause, and after he cooperated, he was made an example of,” Rev. Al Sharpton wrote on the Huffington Post. “What [California Rep. Darrell] Issa just showed us is that no matter what our stature in this world, someone can easily try to ‘put us in our place.’ What could be more outrageous?”
Now that the Republicans got smacked down by one of their own, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted with the more liberal members of the court in the 5-4 decision upholding Obamacare, the contempt vote was a chance to Republicans to at least salvage some measure of redemption in an otherwise horrible day for conservatives.