For the first time in history, the House today held a sitting attorney general in contempt of Congress. The final vote, 255-67, reflected the absence of scores of Democrats who walked off the floor in protest rather than vote on whether Attorney General Eric Holder was in contempt.
The stage is now set for a protracted court battle over whether the Justice Department can shield internal documents under executive privilege.
Speaker John Boehner said the contempt vote was necessary to defend Congress’ constitutional oversight authority and get to the bottom of a botched gun-smuggling investigation that played a role in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
“I don’t take this matter lightly, and I frankly hoped it would never come to this. The House was focused on jobs and the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law,” the Ohio Republican said on the House floor.
But Democratic leadership ripped the GOP for “rushing” into the vote, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led Members in walking off the floor in protest, refusing to even participate in what they called an “illegitimate” charade.
“What the Republicans are doing with this motion on the floor today is contemptible — even for them — it’s contemptible,” Pelosi said at a briefing earlier in the day.
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.