By Chad Pergram
The House of Representatives formally launches its effort to hold Attorney General Eric Holder
in contempt of Congress Wednesday. While the vote won't come until
Thursday, the mechanics begin Wednesday at 2 pm ET in the House Rules
Garden variety contempt of Congress resolutions are usually
"privileged." That means they come to the House floor automatically and
get an hour of debate. They can't be amended and then the House votes,
yea or nay, to hold whomever in contempt.
However, on this occasion, the floor process will start in the Rules Committee.
Here's why: The House will actually consider two contempt resolutions against Holder.
First of all, the House has the actual "criminal" contempt resolution
that was voted on last week by the House Oversight Committee. If the
House votes for that contempt resolution, the citation is then sent to
the Justice Department
and subsequently to a U.S. Attorney who is asked to look at the case
and try to get an indictment of Holder for not responding to Congress.
But, there's also a "civil" contempt resolution.
This citation was not approved by the Oversight Committee. This second
resolution is interesting because, if adopted, it grants the House to go
to court and ask for an order that the Department of Justice be
compelled to fork over the Fast and Furious documents in question.
The House will then have to vote on both resolutions. It is
conceivable, but not likely, that the House could approve one contempt
resolution and not the other.
Here's what this all means: There will be separate sets of debate on both resolutions, followed by separate votes.
Also, by going to the Rules Committee, the House is able to build
into the "rule" (which manages how the body handles the resolutions on
the floor) a provision which prevents the reading of the Oversight and
Government Reform Committee report on Fast and Furious. This is a
time-saver because doing so, according to one senior aide, "would take
Also, by going to the Rules Committee, the House crafts the
guidelines for debate and if any amendments will be in order. They are
unlikely and could be blocked in the Rules Committee tomorrow.
So what does Thursday look like?
It's doubtful that the House will start any of this until 12:30 pm ET at the earliest (at least two hours after the Supreme Court health care ruling...so there's a bit of a reprieve...but not necessarily by design).
The House will have to first debate the "rule." That takes an hour...and then the House votes on the rule.
If they don't adopt the rule, the entire process comes to a screeching halt and Eric Holder is the happiest person in Washington.
If they adopt the rule, debate then starts on the two resolutions.
Again, these will be separate debates. Each debate could take up to two
hours. But we won't know for sure until the Rules Committee crafts its
Then, the House will vote on the two resolutions.
If the House votes yea on either resolution, it is fair to say that Holder has been held in contempt.
Keep in mind that this is a similar process that House Democrats used when the House voted to hold Bush White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and White House
Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt in 2008. There are slight
differences. The Democrats velcroed the two resolutions together and
there was only one debate and one vote. Here the Republicans have
separated the two issues, which means there will probably be more debate