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In House, Contempt Comes Into Focus

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Adam Schiff (left) said he was “disgusted” by Republicans’ investigation, while Rep. Carolyn Maloney dubbed the proceedings “Operation Vast and Spurious.”

For months, some Republicans had warned against a racial backlash if the GOP was seen as unfairly targeting the first black attorney general, who is serving under the first black president. The contempt movement has taken on a life of its own in the past two weeks, but the race issue has not gone away.

As the issue has heated up, many have asked themselves the same question  and found the complexities of the controversy difficult to navigate.

For instance, in a Rules Committee hearing Wednesday, lawmakers appeared tempered from their normal partisan snarl by a lack of familiarity with the subject matter, with aides whispering in their bosses’ ears and flashing BlackBerry screens to them.

Issa dove into intricate detail about his inquiry, parrying Democratic retorts, although Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform panel, kept him on his toes.

In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns bought by straw purchasers to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.

Even while lambasting Republicans, Democrats frequently stated that they’re not defending the operation or the rescinded letter to Congress.

At a press conference with Democratic Members and several local and state law enforcement officers, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called Fast and Furious “deeply disturbing” and the idea of investigating it entirely appropriate.

But Schiff said he was “disgusted and disappointed” by the Republicans’ actual investigation.

Offering a minority opinion, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) dubbed the whole to-do “Operation Vast and Spurious” and said there’s “nothing there.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said the controversy shows how important new gun control laws are. “There’s been a deliberate attempt to suppress a conversation about gun control and the need for gun control,” he said.

Throughout the day, key Democrats registered their intentions to vote against contempt, providing momentum as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and White House officials intervened to keep the number of defectors down.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a member of the Oversight panel and a Blue Dog, said, “In my opinion, the House is rushing to judgment on this important issue.”

Schrader cited Cooper’s opinion as influential, saying it “weighs heavily” in his mind.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the House and a formidable champion of Congress’ oversight power when he was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a “Dear Colleague” letter, “I am offended by the way the Majority has handled this investigation.”

Schiff said the NRA’s move to score the vote could influence as many as two dozen Democrats.

Schrader, who noted that he has a concealed weapons permit, said: “I understand the NRA’s concern. Holder’s not been a friend of the Second Amendment.

“But I don’t agree with everybody all the time.”

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