GOP freshmen press for contempt vote on Holder

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House conservatives, fearing that Republican leaders may try to avoid an election-year confrontation with the Obama administration, are insisting that House Speaker John Boehner press ahead with contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General Eric Holder over the Fast and Furious gun-running operation.

Five House Republican freshmen wrote to Boehner, R-Ohio, demanding that he schedule a vote on the contempt charges, something Boehner has so far resisted.

"It's time for the House to formally recognize the obvious: That Attorney General Holder has not and will not cooperate with the legitimate investigation launched by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and is therefore in contempt of Congress," the freshmen said in the letter.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wants Holder to turn over additional information, including internal Justice Department emails related to Fast and Furious, an operation in which U.S. officials allowed American guns to flow to Mexico in hopes of following the guns to drug cartel leaders. One of those guns was used to murder U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in 2010.

Boehner has not scheduled a vote on the contempt charges against Holder and is instead trying to keep the Republican-controlled House focused on election-year issues like the struggling economy, the national debt and unemployment.

"Listen, the campaign is going to be about economics, going to be about jobs, as it should be," Boehner recently told reporters.

Boehner's qualms about starting a legal battle with the Obama administration just six months ahead of a pivotal election may be justified, political experts said. Such a fight could backfire against Republicans just as they're fighting to retake the White House and Senate, they said.

Boehner was in office during the 1999 Republican-led impeachment of then-President Clinton. After the trial and impeachment, Clinton's poll numbers shot to a record highs while only a fraction of Americans supported the Republican efforts to oust him. The public's unfavorable view of the GOP during that time jumped 10 percentage points.

"Boehner is right to push consensus and conciliation and to emphasize fiscal austerity, rather than risk polarizing the country again over an issue that is not central to the campaign and could well be incendiary," said Democratic strategist and pollster Doug Schoen, who advised Clinton's presidential campaign.

Even as pressure is intensifying from conservatives, many of them newcomers who have grown impatient with Boehner's conciliatory style, the House speaker is clearly looking for a less confrontational way to settle the dispute between Issa's committee and Holder.

Boehner last week approached President Obama during a private meeting at the White House and asked him to turn over more information related to the Fast and Furious Operation. A few days later, Boehner wrote to Holder, offering him another chance to turn over the information the House wants and warning that if he fails to do so "the House will act to fulfill our constitutional obligations in the coming weeks."

Freshman Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., who signed the letter to Boehner this week, called Boehner's missive to Holder "too little, too late."

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, a member of the House committee investigating Fast and Furious, was equally impatient.

"I think the next step is to move forward with contempt," Farenthold told The Washington Examiner. "The time for waiting is over."

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner