House Speaker John Boehner is pressing ahead with a vote this week on whether to hold the government's top attorney in contempt of Congress, a move the White House warned Tuesday is a confrontational political ploy.
But Democrats may be signing up. On Tuesday, the chief Democratic House head counter, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, declined to tell reporters how many defections he expected, but acknowledged that some in his party would consider heeding the NRA’s call for a “yes” vote.
Attorney General Eric Holder faces a historic censure by the House should a contempt resolution be brought to the floor for a full vote Thursday in what Democrats say is an extraordinarily abbreviated time frame.
The censure focuses on the handling of a botched plan for US agents to track guns smuggled into Mexico, and specifically over the Justice Department's withholding of documents related to the operation's aftermath.
A Republican member of that committee, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, tells Newsmax that the full House of Representatives will definitely pass the orders of contempt and calls the Justice Department’s actions regarding Fast and Furious “egregious.”
Gosar, who has been among those calling for Holder to resign, said Fast and Furious “really puts the administration in a quandary, because if the president really wasn’t involved, why would he have executive privilege here?
“This is one of the worst scenarios I could think of because we allowed our federal government to put guns in the hands of convicted criminals and international thugs and did not follow proper protocols for law enforcement.
“That’s why it’s such an egregious action.”
Gosar also tells Newsmax.TV he expects bipartisan support in the contempt citation, despite the earlier party-line committee vote.
“We know upper-level Justice Department officials were involved in some of the decision-making and oversight, and they could have stopped this – and that was in 2010.
“So the facts are there. This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. This is where a government, particularly the Department of Justice, has gone wrong.”
Amid the swirling political showdown between President Barack Obama's administration and the Republican-led House of Representatives, Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel suggested there was little likelihood that the vote would be put off unless Holder's office complies with congressional requests.
"The only way to stop the vote is for the Department of Justice to turn over the documents we are seeking," Steel told AFP.
At the 11th hour last week, Obama invoked executive privilege in withholding the documents, triggering allegations that the White House was more deeply involved in the scandal than it had let on.
Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee which voted along strict party lines to censure Holder, wrote to the president urging him to retract his decision or risk being seen as obstructing a probe.
"Your privilege assertion means one of two things," Issa wrote in his letter dated Monday and made public Tuesday.
"Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it . . . or you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation."
Launched in Arizona by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Fast and Furious was a sting designed to track weapons bought by Mexican drugs cartels.
The agents had abandoned the bureau's usual practice of intercepting the weapons, opting instead to allow guns to be smuggled so they could track who they went to.
But a large number of arms went missing, and two were later found at the 2010 murder scene of a US Border Patrol agent.
A congressional investigation has plodded on for more than a year, but has moved swiftly recently, despite a long list of pressing legislative issues facing lawmakers.
Hoyer, the number-two House Democrat, said that while the period between a committee vote and a full chamber vote on contempt has averaged 95 days since the 1970s, the House is set to take up the Holder resolution barely a week after the committee voted.
"In less than nine days, this Republican led House rushes to judgment, creates confrontation, and distracts the Congress of the United States from dealing with the most important challenge confronting it, and that's creating jobs for the American people," Hoyer told reporters.
The White House weighed in as well, with chief Obama spokesman Jay Carney stressing that "this could very easily be resolved" if Republicans were not bent on making the case purely political.
"But it has not been resolved yet. I think that points to the obvious political nature of this effort by House Republicans," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on Issa's committee, expressed exasperation about the push for contempt, but also hope that a showdown on the House floor could be avoided.
"This has gone too far," Cummings added. "I am hoping that Mr. Boehner will step in and talk directly to the attorney general. I do believe that this can be worked out."
Issa wants to know why the Justice Department sent a letter to Congress in February 2011 which inaccurately stated that no weapons were walked across the border with US government knowledge.
He also wants to know why it took 10 months to retract that letter and who was involved in the deliberations.
The Holder case has emerged as a political battle less than five months before the election pitting Obama against his Republican rival Mitt Romney.
Boehner has scheduled the contempt vote for Thursday — the same day the Supreme Court is widely expected to rule on Obama's health care reform law.
© AFP 2013