The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, but the majority of the Democratic caucus walked off the floor and refused to vote in protest of the vote.
The House voted by a 255-67-1 margin to hold Holder in criminal contempt, but 108 representatives refused to vote on the measure.
Republicans also voted to hold the Attorney General in civil contempt, because a criminal contempt charge would be prosecuted by the Justice Department, which Holder heads.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gave the walk-out her blessing in an emotional floor speech, saying, “What is happening here is shameful.” She added that she had planned to vote no on the motion, but that she had come to agree with the Congressional Black Caucus, which had decided to walk out rather than recognize the legitimacy of the vote. “This is something that makes a witch hunt look like a day at the beach.”
“We are non-participants in what we believe to be a calamity,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., in a statement given to reporters after the walk-out.
Republicans have attacked Holder for refusing to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious program, though they have not been able to point to any specific wrongdoing by Holder himself. President Barack Obama has invoked executive privilege with regard to the documents in question, and the Justice Department has offered to discuss ways that the department could share the documents with the House.
Democrats accused the Republicans of playing politics with the serious matter of a contempt citation, but Republicans said they were only trying to get to the bottom of the mistakes made in the Fast and Furious gunwalking program, which was tied to the death of border patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010.
“A man died serving his country and we have a right to know what the federal government’s hand was in that,” said Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla. “It’s clear this country somehow played a role in his death. We need to root it out, find the cause, and make sure this never, ever happens again.”
Holder blasted the vote, saying in a statement that it was “a misguided – and politically motivated – investigation during an election year.” Holder added, “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.”
The White House called the vote a “transparently political stunt.” In a statement, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said, “In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.”
17 Democrats voted with Republicans to hold Holder in contempt. Some Democrats were expected to do so, as the National Rifle Association announced it would score the vote. Democrats voting for contempt were Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Penn.; John Barrow, D-Ga.; Dan Boren, D-Okla.; Leonard Boswell, D-Ia.; Ben Chandler, D-Ky.; Mark Critz, D-Penn.; Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.; Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y.; Ron Kind, D-Wisc.; Larry Kissell, D-N.C.; Jim Matheson, D-Utah; Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.; Bill Owens, D-N.Y.; Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Nick Rahall, D-W.V.; Mike Ross, D-Ark.; and Tim Walz, D-Minn.
Two Republicans crossed party lines and voted against contempt. Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Rep. Scott Rigel, R-Va., voted against the resolution.
Image Credit: Ryan J. Reilly