WASHINGTON -- The Republican-run House voted today to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, after a walkout by African-American Democratic lawmakers.
"Contempt power should be used sparingly, carefully and only in the most egregious situations," said a letter from the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus to colleagues. "The Republican leadership has articulated no legislative purpose for pursuing this course of action. For these reasons, we cannot and will not participate in a vote to hold the attorney general in contempt."
House Republican leaders criticized Holder for declining to release documents related to the botched gun-trafficking investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious. They also predicted some Democrats would vote for a contempt citation.
"We'd really rather have the attorney general and the president work with us to get to the bottom of a very serious issue," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Unfortunately, they're not willing to show the American people the truth about what happened. It's an unfortunate place where we are."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. -- who also vowed to walk out with members of the black caucus -- told the Reuters Washington Summit that the contempt voter is "one of the most irresponsible" acts she has seen in Congress.
Pelosi said the Republicans are trying to intimidate Holder and the Justice Department over some of its actions, including lawsuits against states that have passed voter ID laws.
"The whole reason that they want him to resign is because he's looking into voter suppression," Pelosi said. "It's all connected. The Supreme Court (health care) decision, suffocate the system with money, suppress the vote, poison the debate."
Holder would be the first sitting attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress.
The vote also takes place on a momentous day, just hours after the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care law.
White House spokesman Jay Carney denounced the planned contempt vote as "political theater, an action taken by Congress that does not respond to the most urgent priorities of the American people."
Republicans say they want to know more about what went wrong with Fast and Furious, which was designed to trace weapons to drug cartels in Mexico; but two weapons were found at the site of a murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
Two contempt votes are planned.
A criminal contempt resolution would send the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia -- who works for Holder.
A civil contempt resolution, also to be voted on, would allow the House to go to sue Holder in court in an attempt to get the records.
Holder himself has kept a low profile in recent days, although he did show up last night at the annual White House congressional picnic -- an event that included some of the House Republicans who will be voting on him today.