With only hours to go before a House vote on holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, lawmakers warred over the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe with dueling press conferences, combative Rules Committee testimony and public statements of outrage.
But the debate, which came sharply along party lines, appeared to make as much progress as the stalemate between the Justice Department and House GOP leaders behind the scenes.
Staffers to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) met with advisers to President Barack Obama at the White House late Tuesday but failed to bridge the impasse over documents to be released to the committee.
And neither side expected that to change. The likely outcome is contempt, followed by a lengthy court battle and settlement negotiations removed from the heat of the vote.
Though Congress has the legal authority to arrest Holder if he is held in contempt, that power has been long dormant, and Republicans confirmed it would not be used now.
Still, the contempt vote is likely to make for awkwardness if Holder were to testify again before House committees.
“The House is going to act. Once we do, the ball will be in the president’s court,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
The main lingering question heading into the vote is how many moderate Democrats will defect to join Republicans in holding their own party’s attorney general in contempt.
Democrats were racing to stem the bleeding after the National Rifle Association announced 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.
Thirty-one Democrats, including Rep. Kurt Schrader (Ore.), signed a letter from June 2011 urging the administration to cooperate with the Fast and Furious probe.
“I’m trying to figure out who’s lying. Is this a witch hunt? Or is there something legitimately there?” Schrader said this week.
Congressional Black Caucus members are planning on walking out of the vote in protest and gathering on the Capitol Steps. In a “Dear Colleague” circulated by the CBC on Wednesday evening, the caucus said: “Instead of focusing on job creation and other critical issues before this Congress, we have been asked to engage in a political stunt on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Our constituents elected us to do real work, not to engage in meaningless partisan activity.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.