Is it still a fight if only one side is throwing punches?
Although House Republicans announced Monday they were taking a major step toward holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, an escalation in the oversight battle over the “Fast and Furious” operation scandal, Democrats offered a relatively tame response.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that although it was “unfortunate,” he was still “guardedly optimistic” the two parties could reach an accommodation.
A Justice Department spokeswoman called the move “unwarranted” and touted a new letter of support for Holder from the Fraternal Order of Police. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the GOP was playing “politics” with its investigation.
A spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to comment. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement, “I disagree with House Republicans’ decision to not let the process work,” saying Republicans should wait for a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general to be released.
Some veteran Democratic operatives were surprised at the relatively meager pushback to defend Holder.
“The silence is stunning and shocking,” said Lanny Davis, a veteran of oversight wars from the Clinton administration, about the lack of a forceful Democratic response to defend Holder in recent weeks.
Davis, who said he was Holder’s longtime friend, “respectfully” urged Pelosi to defend Holder and for the White House to be “much tougher” on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has led the drumbeat against the attorney general.
In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.
The tactic, which was intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes, has been roundly condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.
After initially denying the tactic was ever used, the Justice Department conceded it was but insisted senior officials were not aware of its use.
Monday morning, Republicans hit Holder with the announcement that Issa’s panel would consider the contempt resolution, as well as statements from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) backing Issa’s move.