House holds Eric Holder in contempt: What happens to him now? (+video)
Republicans say Attorney General Eric Holder is withholding documents that could show a coverup. Democrats say the investigation is a witch hunt. The outcome? Likely, more delay.
In a debate and vote that was emotional, rhetorically explosive, and bitterly divisive – even by congressional standards – the House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the Fast and Furious gun-walking debacle. The House held Mr. Holder in contempt on two separate votes of 255 to 67 on criminal charges and 258 to 95 on civil charges.Skip to next paragraph
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Seventeen Democrats joined all but two House Republicans on the first vote, while 21 Democrats joined a united Republican front for the second. The National Rifle Association’s announcement that it will score the vote on on its annual ratings of members of Congress pressured Democrats from conservative-leaning districts to favor the measure.
Several dozen Democratic members led by the Congressional Black Caucus but including the party leaders like minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and House whip Steny Hoyer walked out of the House chamber in protest, holding a press conference on the House lawn where they derided the vote as a “ridiculous partisan stunt.” More than 100 Democrats did not vote on the first measure, while 70 were absent for the second.
The votes were the first time in the nation’s history that a sitting Cabinet member had been held in contempt by either house of the US Congress. Only once before has Congress even used its other significant power of disdain, impeachment proceedings, against a sitting Cabinet official. That was in 1870 against William Belknap, President Ulysses Grant’s Secretary of War, according to Senate Historian Donald Ritchie.
So what’s the outcome of a pair of historic votes in the House today?
In all likelihood, nothing.
When the House’s measure is referred to the Justice Department, the institution could use what’s known as prosecutorial discretion to avoid taking up the issue. That’s what the Justice Department decided under President Bush when House Democrats moved criminal contempt charges against two members of the White House staff who refused to testify before Congress in 2008.