WASHINGTON >> Attorney General Eric Holder today became the first sitting Cabinet member held in contempt of Congress, a rebuke pushed by Republicans seeking to unearth the facts behind a bungled gun-tracking operation and dismissed by most Democrats as a political stunt.
The vote was 255-67, with more than 100 Democrats boycotting.
African-American lawmakers led the walkout as members filed up the aisle and out of the chamber to protest the action against Holder, who is the nation’s first black attorney general. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California joined the boycott, saying Republicans had gone “over the edge” in their partisanship.
Seventeen Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of the contempt vote, while two Republicans — Reps. Scott Rigell of Virginia and Steven LaTourette of Ohio — joined other Democrats in voting no.
The National Rifle Association pressed hard for the contempt resolution, leaning on members of both parties who want to stay in the NRA’s good graces. Holder said afterward the vote was merely a politically motivated act in an election year
Republicans cited Holder’s refusal to hand over — without any preconditions — documents that could explain why the Obama administration initially denied that a risky “gun-walking” investigative tactic was used in Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed hundreds of guns to be smuggled from Arizona to Mexico.
The vote on a criminal contempt resolution sent the matter to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who is under Holder.
A separate vote on civil contempt passed 258-95. It will allow the House to go to court in an effort to force Holder to turn over the documents.
In past cases, courts have been reluctant to settle disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government.