One Victory, No Cheers
House Republicans hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress—but they can’t celebrate.
“That’s a motive that was certainly not spelled out,” said Walz today, before the vote. (He’d voted for contempt against Bush’s White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in 2008, so he was being consistent.) “The problem is that leaving these things as speculation opens it up to what could be. I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate, to be honest, but that’s [the NRA’s] prerogative. They’re an interest group […] and that’s what they believe. The teachers’ unions speculate about vouchers trying to destroy public education. I’ve been a teachers’ unions member.”
When the floor debate started, the letters N, R, and A were safely tucked away from view. Republicans, to a man, began or concluded their remarks with the name of Brian Terry, the border patrol agent gunned down in December 2010 by weapons walked in “fast and furious.” Schweikert had previewed this for me, sort of. “As I take my vote, I’m hitting my credit card button to donate to HonorBrianTerry.com,” he said. “We thought there’d be an interesting symbolism to that.”
There was. “There are questions about our motivations,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “Let me be clear about my motivations. We have a dead U.S. agent. We have more than 200 dead people in Mexico.” Democrats who enabled the administration were denying justice to a grieving family, he said. “I can tell you this—the family of Brian Terry doesn't have answers. You don't have answers.”
Issa managed the debate with iPhone in hand. The Brian Terry story would not be lost on anyone. To make sure, he gave his own remarks in front of a blown-up portrait of the agent in uniform, right above the dates of his birth and death. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a House senior statesman, offered a (doomed) motion to stop the contempt vote. Issa warned him that the Terry family had already condemned any such efforts in a letter.
“When you say you represent the Terry family, you do not,” said Issa. He produced the letter. “Among the statements in there are—his statements do not represent the Terry family. … he has never spoken to the Terry family.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a former D.A. with a gift for drama, cast an even darker pall on the mood. Democrats, he said, acted as though they’d settle for “50 percent of the truth, a third of the truth.” How could they? “Have you ever sat down with these parents who have lost a child? It is a humbling, emotional, life-altering experience. All they want is the truth!”
Gowdy’s voice broke as he finished; the Republican side of the chamber burst into applause. Chaffetz patted his colleague on the back. Issa sent a tweet: “That was amazing.”
The vote on the criminal contempt resolution was a fait accompli—255-57 for contempt, with 17 Dems on the “yes” side and two Republicans voting no. Most Democrats walked out of the chamber, just as Republicans had in 2008, when Miers and Bolten were held in contempt. The motives of their 17 defectors weren’t hard to figure out. But what about the two Republican dissenters, Ohio’s Rep. Steve LaTourette and Virginia’s Rep. Scott Rigell?
“These things,” LaTourette told PRI reporter Todd Zwillich, “have a funny way of coming back around at you.”
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.