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House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is pressing his colleagues to back Attorney General Eric Holder when the House votes on whether to hold him in contempt of Congress on Thursday, but Democrats are bracing for defections.
The reason? The National Rifle Association.
The gun rights group announced June 20 that it is scoring the contempt vote, ratcheting pressure on Democrats in marginal districts who count on its support to bolster their appeal to voters for whom the Second Amendment is paramount.
The problem was illustrated vividly Tuesday, when Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), a Blue Dog and perennial target of Republicans who faces an uphill battle this year, said he would vote to hold Holder in contempt because of his “evasiveness” on House Republicans’ investigation of the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation.
“Utahns expect and deserve transparency and accountability from government officials. ... Sadly, it seems that it will take holding the Attorney General in contempt to communicate that evasiveness is unacceptable. It is a vote I will support,” Matheson said in a release.
Hoyer acknowledged he would bleed votes because of the NRA’s involvement. But asked to estimate how many, the Maryland Democrat said, “I can’t.”
The NRA’s involvement on a vote that will not directly affect gun laws is an aggressive move for an organization that has recently faced complaints from the right that it isn’t partisan enough.
It prompted some Democrats to privately convey their anger at the decision to NRA lobbyists.
Hoyer criticized a letter from Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, announcing the organization’s decision to score the vote, drawing a blistering response from the gun group.
“Mr. Cox says we are no fan of Mr. Holder’s. Now, why that is necessary to be stated in the letter other than to point out that they are opponents of Mr. Holder and have been since he was sworn in ...” Hoyer said, trailing off.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said, “For anyone to claim this is politically motivated is not only inappropriate, but it is, frankly, thoughtless.”
A Democratic aide said the decision could hurt the NRA’s credibility. A second Democratic aide said, “Voters are already so frustrated at what they see as Washington focusing on the wrong issues, and this reinforces that.”
But Republicans feel political momentum is on their side.