The full House of Representatives voted on Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the Justice Department's decision to withhold documents related to the failed Fast and Furious gunwalking operation.
By a vote of 255 to 67, House members decided to hold Holder in contempt, disregarding a protest walkout led by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Approximately 108 Democrats did not vote on the measure with 1 lawmaker voting present.
Earlier Thursday, the House Democratic caucus voted unanimously to endorse the walkout. Just prior to the vote, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) joined with the CBC, members of the Hispanic, Asian Pacific American and Progressive Caucuses as well as other lawmakers to exit the House floor in protest, filing out of the chamber in a slow-moving and crowded line.
"The Republican Leadership has articulated no legislative purpose for pursuing this course of action," the Caucus stated in a letter they previously circulated to colleagues encouraging them to join the walkout. "For these reasons we cannot and will not participate in a vote to hold the Attorney General in contempt. We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an Attorney General who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people."
Thursday's vote marked the culmination of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's push to hold the government accountable for the failings of Fast and Furious, a scheme which oversaw the sale of firearms to Mexican drug cartels, though the majority of the weapons went missing.
The committee opened an investigation into the operation to determine what the government knew and when, especially in light of a Feb. 4, 2011 letter, which the Justice Department later retracted. The letter incorrectly stated that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives "makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico."
The Justice Department refused to hand over many of the documents subpoenaed by the committee citing internal deliberations contained in the materials. President Barack Obama backed the decision and personally exerted executive privilege over the documents last week.
Democrats argue that the Justice Department has been compliant to the extent it is able and that Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and other Republican lawmakers are simply playing politics by targeting Holder.
"The congress should be embarrassed about the conduct of this investigation and the charade that brings us to the floor today," Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania said on the House floor prior to the vote.
"The Attorney General can't provide these documents-- the president has protected them under... executive privilege." Fattah added that Republicans have "lost their way" and because of them, Congress is held in high contempt.
Democrats argue that Issa is woefully ignoring gunwalking operations conducted during President George W. Bush's administration.
But Republicans maintain that they are fulfilling their duty to hold the government accountable and offered the Justice Department many opportunities to comply.