The U.S. House moved toward the first vote in history to hold a sitting Cabinet officer in contempt of Congress as it began debate on citing Attorney General Eric Holder for his refusal to provide documents related to a federal gun operation.
California Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said no negotiations were planned before this afternoon’s scheduled vote, the first time a sitting Cabinet member would be held in contempt by either chamber of Congress.
The contempt vote would escalate a standoff that began last year between President Barack Obama’s administration and Republican lawmakers over Fast and Furious, which allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. in an effort to link the weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
The House is seeking documents describing internal Justice Department discussions about a February 2011 letter to lawmakers on Fast and Furious that Holder later said mistakenly contained incorrect information. The documents sought by the panel cover the 10-month period between the initial letter and a subsequent one the Justice Department sent to correct the erroneous statements.
“This is about holding people accountable,” Representative Richard Nugent, a Florida Republican, said on the House floor today.
Obama has asserted executive privilege over the documents and declined to turn them over.
“What the Republicans are doing with the motion today is contemptible,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters today. “This is something that makes a witch hunt look like a day at the beach” because it is “based on a false premise” of a cover-up by the Justice Department.
Pelosi said she supports plans of Congressional Black Caucus members to walk off the floor to protest the vote yet she “will stay long enough to vote ’No.’”