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It is also likely some Democrats felt pressured by the National Rifle Association (NRA), who warned House lawmakers they would score today’s vote. Last week they sent a letter to every House member condemning Holder’s “open defiance” of the GOP probe. Democrats were taken aback, with Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) contending the organization is “playing politics,” and arguing that the contempt vote “has nothing to do with the specific use or ownership of guns.” Becerra also claimed the NRA’s involvement “shows how far Republicans allowed the issue of government oversight to descend into an issue of Republican overreach.”
How the NRA’s involvement translates to Republican overreach is anyone’s guess, when one considers the gun rights organization endorsed conservative Democratic candidates in 53 House races during the 2010 election. But it is also irrelevant. Barring the incredibly unlikely defection of Republicans to Mr. Holder’s side in today’s vote, their numerical control of the House, coupled with even the most modest Democrat support, makes the contempt of Congress citation a virtual done deal.
What comes next? A number of options are available. An 1857 statute allows the House to refer the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution in federal court. Yet the DOJ would almost certainly exercise “prosecutorial discretion,” and refuse to charge Mr. Holder. The House could file suit in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that Holder is in contempt of Congress, and an injunction ordering him to comply with the congressional subpoenas. That too is unlikely. Even if the House could get a court to grant such a judgment, a legal battle could take years. The House could send its sergeant-at-arms to arrest Mr. Holder and hold him until his contempt is purged. Yet this could result in a standoff between the House sergeant-at-arms and the executive-branch police tasked with protecting Holder, or one between judicial marshals and executive-branch police. The courts could also be involved here as well, inquiring into the House’s jurisdiction to arrest.
The House could impeach Mr. Holder, but the likelihood of a Democrat-controlled Senate convicting him is next to nil. They might even use their constitutionally-mandated power of the purse to severely cut the budgets of the ATF, and/or the DOJ, or refuse to pay Holder’s salary until he purges his contempt citation. They could also censure him, or continue to hold hearings in an effort to embarrass the Attorney General. A second House vote could also be held to sue Mr. Holder in the civil courts, aimed at obtaining a subpoena that would force the administration to release the documents in question.
With so many options, it is likely the court of public opinion will play a decisive roll in where all of this eventually leads. A Rasmussen Reports poll released last Friday showed that 40 percent of likely voters want Holder to resign, 27 percent think he should stay, and 33 percent are undecided. Yet that poll must be measured against the reality that only 50 percent of likely voters have either “very closely” or “somewhat closely” followed the Fast and Furious scandal as it has unfolded.
Much of that is undoubtedly due to a media blackout that has been as calculatingly indifferent as possible regarding the scandal. It is virtually inconceivable that the same indifference would apply to a Republican administration scandal involving high-level government officials, the murder of one (possibly two) government agents as well as hundreds of Mexican civilians, and a presidential executive order attempting to keep information about it all under wraps.
Whether the media can continue to maintain such indifference remains to be seen. Today is the same day the Supreme Court reveals its ruling on the healthcare bill. Mr. Holder should be eternally grateful for such a monumental diversion. Yet a contempt of Congress citation can hardly be ignored indefinitely. As of now, no elected Democrats have joined 129 House and five Senate Republicans in demanding Holder’s resignation. Yet until yesterday, no House Democrats had expressed support for finding Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress either. Things change for both politicians and the media–especially in an election year.
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