The mostly partisan vote of 255-67 marked the first time a sitting attorney general and presidential Cabinet member was cited for contempt by the full House.
Nearly all Republicans voted to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with criminal contempt, along with 17 Democrats. The House also voted 258 to 95 on a civil contempt resolution, writes The Huff Post.
At the beginning of the voting, about 100 Democrats led by Congressional Black Caucus members, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), marched quietly out of the House chamber, in single and double-file, expressing solidarity with Holder and the president.
Pelosi accused Republicans of using the election-year contempt charge to undermine Holder’s efforts to combat voter suppression in some states, according to Reuters.
“This is something that makes a witch hunt look like a day at the beach,” Pelosi told reporters. “It is a railroading of a (contempt) resolution that is unsubstantiated by the facts.”
Operation Fast and Furious, run by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, began in the fall of 2009 and ended shortly after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010, south of Tucson.
“The Terry family takes no pleasure in the contempt vote,” according to a statement from the Brian Terry Foundation. “Such a vote should not have been necessary. The Department of Justice should have released the documents related to Fast and Furious months ago.”
Eric Holder, standing before a photograph of President Obama, defiantly announced that he would not be deterred from his job. According to Los Angeles Times, he showed no inclination to provide the documents.
“Today’s vote may make for good political theater in the minds of some, but it is, at base, both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people,” the attorney general said in a statement. “As a result of the action taken today by the House, an unnecessary court conflict will ensue.”
“My efforts to resolve this matter short of such a battle were rebuffed by Congressman Issa and his supporters. It’s clear that they were not interested in bringing an end to this dispute or obtaining the information they claimed to seek. Ultimately, their goal was the vote that, with the help of special interests, they now have engineered,” said Holder.
The point man for citing Holder with contempt was Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the oversight committee.
“Today, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his continued refusal to produce relevant documents in the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa said after the vote.
“This was not the outcome I had sought and it could have been avoided had Attorney General Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide,” he said.
At the same time. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he didn’t want to hold a contempt vote, but that Holder left him with no choice. “I frankly hoped it would never come to this,” he said on the floor. “The House’s focus is on jobs and on the economy.”
The White House also responded to the decision with charges of political gamesmanship.
“At the beginning of this year, Republicans announced one of their top priorities was to investigate the administration and to ensure that President Obama was a one-term president,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement.
“Despite the major economic challenges facing the country, they talked openly about devoting taxpayer-funded, congressional oversight resources to political purposes.”
While contempt of Congress charges are usually aimed at forcing officials to produce information to Congress, legal experts admitted that they are very hard to enforce and this action could bring months or years of litigation and stalemate.