WASHINGTON -- Escalating a partisan fight over the Obama administration's clean-energy loan guarantee program, a House Energy subcommittee voted Thursday to subpoena internal documents from the White House on its dealings with now-bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra.
The committee approved a broad call for internal documents, including correspondence, memorandums and e-mails, through subpoenas that will be issued to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Bruce Reed, Vice President Biden's chief of staff. The resolution passed by a party line vote of 14-9.
The White House and Democratic lawmakers made a last-minute push to urge Republicans to back off the subpoena threat. White House counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, met with the committee's top Republicans on Wednesday and asked them to narrow their request. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., charged that the subpoena was an "act of irresponsible partisanship" and the GOP was ignoring the White House's good faith efforts.
But Rep. Cliff Stearns, the chairman of the House Energy's investigative subcommittee, said that Republicans had a responsibility to American taxpayers to thoroughly investigate the White House's involvement in granting Solyndra a $535-million loan guarantee.
"This is not a fishing expedition," said Stearns, a Florida Republican. "We want answers and so do the American taxpayers. It's unfortunate that it has come to this, but we do not have faith in the White House overtures" to produce relevant documents.
The White House has handed over 85,000 documents, including 20,000 that were released a day before Thursday's "business meeting" on whether to issue the subpoena, on the Department of Energy loan guarantee program. And the White House on Wednesday said it would hand over e-mails and other documents related to committees investigation if the committee narrowed its request.
"The White House has been clear with the committee that we are willing to cooperate with legitimate oversight requests that are tailored to balance the important institutional interests of both branches," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. "We are disappointed that the committee has refused to discuss their requests with us in good faith, and has instead chosen a partisan route, proceeding with subpoenas that are unprecedented and unwarranted."
Solyndra has become a problem for the White House since the Fremont, Calif.-solar manufacturer declared bankruptcy on Aug. 31. Republicans have questioned whether the company — whose investors included a foundation with ties to Obama fundraiser George Kaiser— won the loan because of its political connections.
Internal White House e-mails published as part of the investigation show there was deep concern among some administration officials about Solyndra's long-term viability even before the loan guarantee was approved. Earlier this week, a second loan guarantee winner, Beacon Power of Massachusetts, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The panel's subpoena would compel the White House to provide the subcommittee with documents related to everything from the logistics of Obama's visit to Solyndra to the president's personal blackberry messages, noted Rep. Henry Waxman.
"What the committee really wants is a confrontation with the president, not information for the investigation," Waxman said. "No wonder the public holds this Congress in such low regard." Our focus should be jobs. Our attention should be on rebuilding our economy, not manufacturing controversies with our president."
Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, countered that the White House has hardly been forthcoming. "What we have seen in the course of this investigation is downright obstruction," Upton said. "The administration has touted the tens of thousands of pages of documents--most of them highly technical…never mentioning that producing those documents was like extracting a tooth without anesthesia--unnecessarily painful and time consuming."