“Here in the House,” Speaker John Boehner announced after meeting with his caucus Wednesday morning, “Republicans are going to continue to stay focused on jobs.”
It’s true. Technically, House Republicans are focused on jobs: Eric Holder’s and President Obama’s. They want to put both men out of work.
Tying up this administration is Job One for the opposition party, and never more so than this week. Republicans have been awaiting with giddy anticipation a Supreme Court decision Thursday that they expect will overturn Obamacare, the signal achievement of Obama’s presidency. “If the court does not strike down the entire law, the House will move to repeal what’s left of it,” Boehner vowed.
At the same time, Republicans decided to dedicate Thursday to a spectacle on the House floor: voting to hold Holder, the attorney general, in contempt of Congress for declining to hand over certain documents related to the Operation “Fast and Furious” guns program on the Mexican border.
Fox News Channel’s Chad Pergram asked Boehner (R-Ohio) whether he thinks “the American public is buying the narrative that you’re here to talk about jobs, when in the next 24 hours . . . everything emanating from the House floor is about contempt of Eric Holder?”
“We’re going to continue to focus on jobs,” Boehner repeated.
After that, the next jobs-related activity for House Republicans was to hold a meeting of the Rules Committee to determine procedures for Thursday’s vote on Holder.
Republicans rushed the contempt citation to the floor — the first time in history that the body has taken such action against a sitting attorney general — under “emergency” procedures. They did so even though Boehner had not yet met with Holder and even though the committee handling the investigation had not allowed a single witness whom Democrats wanted to testify publicly. Had they worked with such alacrity to create jobs, the economy would probably be booming.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the panel investigating Holder, told the Rules Committee that the attorney general has been “uncooperative at every step of the way” and that the Justice Department “lied” to Congress, and he suggested that Justice officials are “covering up a crime.”
Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on Issa’s committee, said the inquiry is “one of the most highly politicized congressional investigations in decades.” The reason for the contempt vote, he said, “is plain and simple: politics.”
It was but an appetizer for Thursday’s food fight, but even this session, in a small, ornate hearing room at the Capitol, got nasty and personal, as lawmakers addressed one another by their first names. A trio of Republicans maintained that, as Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) put it, “this is not something that is desirable for any of us.” But Issa seemed to be enjoying himself as he mixed it up with the Democrats on the panel.
“It has all the trappings of a witch hunt,” charged Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the rules panel’s ranking Democrat.
“Looks and smells like a witch hunt,” agreed Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
Issa retorted: “That’s been the Democratic talking point all along.”
At another moment, McGovern said Republicans “keep on moving the goal posts” in their requests of Holder.
“Not just moving the goal posts, moving the stadium,” Cummings added.
Responded Issa: “We keep moving the goal posts closer, but he can’t kick a two-yard field goal.”
Democratic complaints continued at great length: “You absolutely did not answer the question!” “Hold on, just a minute!” “A cynical maneuver.” “A disservice to the American people.” “A scripted sideshow.” “A dark, dark day.”
In response, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) shared with the panel lessons she had learned during her morning Bible study, and Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) shouted about serving as “stewards of the United States Constitution.” Issa taunted the Obama administration: “You own that mistake.”
Democrats did get Issa to admit that “I’ve never said Eric Holder knew anything specific” about the Fast and Furious program and that his contempt action “isn’t even about the program. It’s about the failure to tell us the details of post-lying events.” He further acknowledged that he didn’t call a George W. Bush administration attorney general to testify because he was “narrowly focused” on Holder and that he didn’t call other Democratic witnesses to testify because he was concerned about grandstanding.
“That’s the new definition of irony,” McGovern said, pleading for “the speaker to approach this in a more rational way.”
Unlikely. “I have no role in it,” Boehner said when reporters asked about the Holder vote.
Remember? He’s focused on jobs.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 27, 2012
The House is due to vote Thursday on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress — setting up a protracted, unnecessary and expensive court battle between coequal branches of government about the extent of executive privilege. To say this is a terrible misuse of Congress’s power is an understatement.
The dispute stems from a botched federal investigation into firearm trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. In an operation named after a blockbuster movie, “Fast and Furious,” federal law enforcement used the scandalous tactic of letting guns “walk” in hopes of tracking them to cartels. Unfortunately, federal officials failed to follow the guns across the border. We have learned that the Bush administration tried the same tactic in an operation called Wide Receiver — with similar results. Some guns from Fast and Furious were among those found where a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, tragically lost his life.
This certainly merits vigorous congressional oversight. But after 16 months, 7,600 documents and nine hearings with the attorney general, the investigation has become unmoored. It is no longer an examination of what went wrong in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives under both administrations. Rather, it has devolved into the latest partisan attack on the Obama presidency.
Holder has bent over backward to comply with all the requests from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The attorney general only refused when Issa asked for materials such as internal deliberative communications, which the Justice Department is prohibited by law and privilege from providing.
GOP leadership has now made the absurd claim that assertion of executive privilege establishes that the White House was involved in the planning and aftermath of Fast and Furious. This fantasy shows a complete disregard for the well-established facts of this case and the law as argued by administrations from both parties. The White House assertion is backed by decades of precedent that has recognized the need for the president and his senior advisers to receive candid advice and information from their top aides.
So why is the House moving forward with this vote to hold the attorney general in contempt? Because the GOP leadership won’t take yes for an answer. It wants — and needs — a fight.
This contempt vote is over documents produced after February 2011 — a month after Fast and Furious reached its ignominious end. The papers could not shed light on what DOJ officials were thinking years earlier. It’s clear that this has morphed into an election-year hunt for a senior administration official’s scalp.
This is the type of politics that makes the American people fed up. It’s a lamentable distraction from the work we should be doing to get at the real problem — the mutually destructive trade of guns and drugs that has made our southern border less safe, resulted in the deaths of Americans and killed tens of thousands of Mexicans.
Pressing forward with the ATF rules requiring reporting when an individual buys more than one high-powered rifle along the border, as the administration is pursuing, or passing legislation to crack down on gun traffickers and those that provide them with weapons, as I have proposed, would give investigators and prosecutors the tools they have asked for and need.
It is difficult for Americans to grasp the scale and the brutality of the violence in Mexico — the battle against the drug cartels is a literal war for the Mexican authorities. But it’s a war fought with U.S. weapons. The cartels use the U.S. as their armory because of the easy availability of high-powered firearms.
For all the talk about Fast and Furious, Issa has been loath to discuss the steps we must take to stop the flow of weapons to some of this hemisphere’s most violent criminals.
The irony of this Republican plan to push ahead with a contempt citation is that it can only play out in a predictable scenario. The House will most likely pass the resolution on a party-line vote Thursday. The GOP majority will then go to court to obtain the documents. It will settle after months, or years, of costly litigation — and get exactly what Holder offered it last week.
But we will have lost an opportunity to put the politics aside and finally do something meaningful to fight the traffickers flooding Mexico with guns.
By: Rep Adam Schiff, Politico, June 26, 2012
When the Obama administration announced last week that it would invoke executive privilege and not release some documents related to the “Fast and Furious” operation, Mitt Romney’s campaign was quick to call the president a hypocrite. But in 2007, Romney endorsed a similar move by a Republican administration.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul attacked the Obama administration’s executive privilege claim last Wednesday in a statement, saying “President Obama’s pledge to run the most open and transparent administration in history has turned out to be just another broken promise.”
But as Congress sought to compel President George W. Bush’s administration to allow Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to cooperate with an investigation into the U.S. Attorney’s scandal, Romney could not have been more forceful in his support for the executive privilege claim. Asked by a conservative radio show how whether he agreed with President Bush’s decision to simply ignore the subpoenas, Romney said:
Yeah, he’s got a responsibility to protect executive privilege. That’s just part of preserving the powers of the presidency… He should do what he thinks is the right thing with regards to members of his team but preserve executive privilege.
By: Josh Israel, Think Progress, June 26, 2012
The historic significance of the day was not lost on the congregation that packed St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom two Sundays ago.
People from across the region gathered to celebrate the anniversary of a church founded 145 years ago.
They also had come to hear the morning’s prized speaker: the 82nd attorney general of the United States, and the first African American, Eric H. Holder Jr.
St. Mary’s, the church my wife, Gwen, and I attend, was the vision of 28 free African American men and women, many of whom had been slaves themselves. What a sweep of history: from bondage to the top suite in America’s Justice Department, in the space of a few lifetimes.
It was a time of celebration, a moment to reflect on how far the church, and the nation, had come since 1867.
No more separate pews in corners of the church for “people of color.” No more whites first, colored second when Holy Communion is served. No more separate Sunday school classes for white and black children. No more Washington as a bastion of segregation.
June 10, 2012, was the day to take stock of the church’s rich history, to come hear the attorney general speak of the critical role, as he told the congregation, “that houses of worship and faith-based organizations always have played in strengthening this nation — and bringing us closer to fulfilling America’s founding promise of liberty, opportunity and justice for all.”
It was a day to listen as Holder held up for praise the redeeming power of God’s grace and the values of tolerance, nonviolence, compassion, love and — above all — justice.
He used the occasion to call for a renewed faith in the power of those values “not only to heal fresh wounds and bridge long-standing divisions but also to fuel tomorrow’s progress.” “Seize the opportunity,” Holder said, “to look upon our nation as the founders of this church once did: seeing both its history — however imperfect — and its future of limitless promise; understanding both its weaknesses and its strengths, appreciating both the challenges we face and the infinite opportunities that lie ahead.”
It was a good day.
But then, as the elders like to say, “up popped the devil.”
In fact, 23 devils.
Actually, they aren’t devils. They are the 23-member Republican majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who like to do devilish things such as recommending that the attorney general be held in contempt of Congress simply because they have the power and lust to do so.
Their pack is led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a headline-chasing publicity hound who never met an accusation too loopy to hurl. Issa got the Republican members to believe — or at least to say they believe — that Holder is withholding critical information from the panel. The committee’s 17 Democrats believe otherwise and voted against the contempt citation, noting that Holder’s Justice Department has turned over 7,600 documents relating to the issue that’s got Issa in a faux snit.
The issue is called “Operation Fast and Furious,” a venture of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that allowed illegal gun buyers to take weapons to Mexico in the hopes that federal agents could track the weapons to a drug cartel.
Committee arithmetic being what it is, Issa got his way, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised a vote on the House floor next week if Holder doesn’t turn over all of the internal documents that Issa seeks. With the Obama administration citing executive privilege to withhold some documents, a nasty, partisan floor fight is likely.
Score one for cheap political opportunism.
Neither Fast and Furious nor Issa’s fake fury justifies the looming crisis between the House of Representatives and the Obama administration. This politically inspired dispute diverts attention from issues of real consequence. That’s the shame of it all.
Two weeks ago, the talk at St. Mary’s was about the urgent priority of fulfilling the promise of security, liberty, opportunity and justice for everyone in this country. It was all about progress and the ability to come together to realize the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. entrusted to us.
There was optimism in the congregation that Sunday morning. People in the pews seemed to share Holder’s view that the record of progress passed to them can be extended, and that, as he said, they should “keep faith — in the Divine, in one another, and in the great nation it is our honor to help lead — and our solemn responsibility to serve.”
It was all about shared purpose and common cause, collective efforts, individual actions and marching toward progress.
Alas, that was before this week, Darrell Issa and his devilish ways.
By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 22, 2012
The system of checks and balances works best when the separate branches of government are inherently and proudly adversarial toward one another. But that can’t happen when partisanship defines when and how accountability moments play out.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa — the headline-hungry California Republican who on Wednesday engineered a committee vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt — forgot that essential rule.
He failed to build a credible case or a credible coalition for his initiative. After a day of increasingly ridiculous posturing, Issa secured the contempt citation he sought. But it came on a straight party-line vote that rendered the decision all but meaningless.
The chairman’s heavy-handed style invoted the reproach that the contempt vote was “nothing more than a political witch hunt,” as People for the American Way president Michael Keegan termed it.
“To be sure, Congress has a legitimate interest in investigating Operation Fast and Furious, but Chairman Issa and Republican majority on the Committee appear to be more interested in scoring political points than in getting to the bottom of what happened,” argued Keegan, who added that, “The hoops the Committee is demanding the Attorney General jump through illustrate that these contempt hearings are as partisan as they are extreme. Over the course of this ‘investigation,’ the Committee has ordered the A.G. to produce documents whose confidentiality is protected by federal law, has refused to subpoena Bush Administration officials to testify about their knowledge of the operation during their time in office, has refused to allow public testimony from officials whose testimony counters Issa’s partisan narrative, and has repeatedly rejected the A.G.’s efforts to accommodate the committee, making compliance all but impossible.”
Issa’s actions undermined not just his own credibility but any sense that he and his allies might be acting in defense of — or with any regard for — the Constitution.
There is no reason to suggest that Holder is above criticism for his actions as Attorney General. He has been called out by Democrats as well as Republicans on a variety of issues. And he has not always managed his response to Issa’s abuses well. Nor should anyone who values transparency and government oversight be pleased when a president determines that it is necessary to invoke “executive privilege” in a fight with Congress, as Barack Obama has done to thwart Issa’s demands.
But it is Issa whose actions have been contemptible. He is demanding deliberative documents that are ordinarily off-limits to Congress, a big ask, yet he has not built a credible coalition of supporters for the demand. And when the details of the documents and the issues involved are laid out—along with the offers by Holder to brief the committee—it quickly becomes evident that the committee chairman is so unwilling to compromise that he won’t take “yes” for an answer.
Issa has failed to respect the House as an institution, or to make even the most basic moves to organize the chamber for a challenge to the executive branch. Instead, he’s gone to hyper-partisan and divisive extreme, redesigning the Oversight Committee’s website to look like a Fox News “alert”—with dubious images of Holder and headlines reading “Contempt” splashed all over the page.
Indeed, says Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Issa has pursued Holder throughout the wrangling over the bungled “Fast and Furious” program with his “mind made up” to provoke. Cummings has argued that the tensions between the committee and the Department of Justice—which extend from Issa’s demands for documents relating to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona’s approach to intercepting weapons believed to be illicitly purchased, as part of a scheme to track weapons to high-level arms traffickers—could have been resolved easily. Instead, he says, Issa has evidenced “no intention” of cooperating with the Department of Justice and the Obama administration to achieve a resolution.
Instead, argues Cummings, Issa has resorted to “partisan and inflammatory personal attacks.”
For the partisan punditocracy, Cummings’s comments will be dismissed as tit-for-tat politics. But that misses the point of Issa’s responsibility as chairman of a key committee.
His first job was to get at least some Democrats to work with him, just as former House Judiciary Committee chairman Peter Rodino, D-New Jersey, organized Republican support for Democratic moves to hold President Nixon to account during the Watergate era; just as former House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, tried to get Democrats to back Republican attempts to challenge President Clinton in the 1990s.
Could Issa have built a bipartisan coalition in favor of transparency and accountability?
The current Oversight and Government Reform Committee has many maverick Democrats, independent thinkers and straight shooters on its membership roll. Indeed, if ever there was a House Committee that was well-suited for a reasonable bipartisan push on behalf of White House accountability, this is it.
Several Democrats on the Committee have records of breaking with and criticizing the Obama administration when they disagree with the president and his appointees. Some, like Tennessee’s Jim Cooper, have done so from the right. Others, like Vermont’s Peter Welch, have done so from the left.
Then there is Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the most independent of House Democrats, a frequent critic of the current administration and a member with a long history of fighting for open government, transparency and checks on the executive branch. Kucinich, recently defeated for reelection in a Democratic primary but still highly engaged, was a natural ally for Issa, if the chairman’s push was going to be a serious and legitimate challenge to executive overreach.
Kucinich has challenged Holder before, and he will do so again.
Yet, as tensions spiked Wednesday, Kucinich was not at Issa’s side.
Instead, the Ohio Congressman was calling for postponement of any contempt vote.
“It would be a shame to produce a titanic contest between two branches of government,” said Kucinich, who objected that there was no need for a contempt vote when it was so obvious that differences could be quickly and easily resolved.
The shame is on Issa. He knew full well that he was making a rare demand of an administration with which he has tangled before. He knows that to make such a demand, he needed to attract support from independent Democrats. He could have done so. But Issa chose instead to play purely partisan politics.
That’s damaging to the committee’s credibility.
That’s damaging to Congress.
That’s damaging to the Constitution, which establishes a system of checks and balances that is essential to the right functioning of the republic. If Issa respected Congress and the Constitution, he would have raised a credible challenge to the White House. Instead, he played politics. Badly.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, June 20, 2012