Rather than fight and take a stand, 108 Democrats turned tail and ran away Thursday from the battle over a criminal contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder, walking out of the House chamber rather than vote.
That left 17 Democrats willing to vote to hold the Attorney General in contempt and joining party-line Republicans in approving the contempt citation by a lopsided 255 to 67 margin, making Holder the first cabinet officer in history to be held in contempt by a Congressional vote.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called it “an irresponsible day for the House of Representatives.” House Speaker John Boehner called the vote an appropriate reaction to to the Obama administration’s “misleading of Congress.”
The full House vote came after Holder and the Justice Department’s refused to hand over many of the documents requests by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as part of its investigation into the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scheme that embarrassed the department after two weapons purchased illegally in the U.S. turned up at the scene of the murder of a U.S. border patrol agent.
Republicans argued the contempt citation was not political but necessary to honor the fallen border patrol agent Brian Terry, killed in December 2010:
Said Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL) from the House floor:
I hear the stuff about witch hunt and about politics and it gets me sick. As a former law enforcement officer, we should be more worried about what lousy policies that Attorney General Holder is covering up that caused the death of one of our own in protecting this country.
Holder issued a statement after the vote:
Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided– and politically motivated– investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety. Instead of trying to correct the problems that led to a series of flawed law enforcement operations, and instead of helping us find ways to better protect the brave law enforcement officers, like Agent Brian Terry, who keep us safe — they have led us to this unnecessary and unwarranted outcome.
Rep. Darrel Issa, chairman of the oversight committee, responded to Holder:
False and partisan allegations by the White House and some congressional Democrats about the Oversight Committee’s efforts were undermined by the votes of 17 Democrats. These Members resisted the pressure of their own leadership and the Obama Administration to support this investigation on the House floor.
The House also approved a civil contempt citation against Holder.