Last week’s unprecedented House floor vote holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt looks first of all like escalating institutional conflict at the confluence of divided government and partisan polarization. My research on congressional investigations with David Parker, like our “Divided We Quarrel” (2009) – offers this sort of reading. But the 21 Democrats who defected, 21 voting to hold Holder civil and 17 voting to hold Holder in criminal contempt highlights a different story about the power of interest groups like the National Rifle Association in Congress. Slate’s Explainer asks, “Why is the NRA so Powerful?”
Yesterday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee voted to recommend Attorney General Eric Holder be held in contempt of Congress. The “Fast and Furious” scandal represents a sorry episode – and, to this observer at least, suggests symptoms of long-term deficiencies of leadership and oversight. But yesterday was pure oversight theater. Almost six hours of hearings filled with angry recriminations between committee Democrats and Republicans cement Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa’s legacy in the annals of congressional contempt. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe observes:
Issa may want to be remembered as a serious, nonpartisan leader of government reform efforts, but Wednesday’s contempt vote — and the possibility of a full House vote on the matter next week — likely will cement his status as a partisan antagonist in the eyes of Democrats and a hero to conservative Republicans — whether he likes it or not.