Dana Milbank
Opinion writer June 27, 2012

“Here in the House,” Speaker John Boehner announced after meeting with his caucus Wednesday morning, “Republicans are going to continue to stay focused on jobs.”

It’s true. Technically, House Republicans are focused on jobs: Eric Holder’s and President Obama’s. They want to put both men out of work.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

Tying up this administration is Job One for the opposition party, and never more so than this week. Republicans have been awaiting with giddy anticipation a Supreme Court decision Thursday that they expect will overturn Obamacare, the signal achievement of Obama’s presidency. “If the court does not strike down the entire law, the House will move to repeal what’s left of it,” Boehner vowed.

At the same time, Republicans decided to dedicate Thursday to a spectacle on the House floor: voting to hold Holder, the attorney general, in contempt of Congress for declining to hand over certain documents related to the Operation “Fast and Furious” guns program on the Mexican border.

Fox News Channel’s Chad Pergram asked Boehner (R-Ohio) whether he thinks “the American public is buying the narrative that you’re here to talk about jobs, when in the next 24 hours . . . everything emanating from the House floor is about contempt of Eric Holder?”

“We’re going to continue to focus on jobs,” Boehner repeated.

After that, the next jobs-related activity for House Republicans was to hold a meeting of the Rules Committee to determine procedures for Thursday’s vote on Holder.

Republicans rushed the contempt citation to the floor — the first time in history that the body has taken such action against a sitting attorney general — under “emergency” procedures. They did so even though Boehner had not yet met with Holder and even though the committee handling the investigation had not allowed a single witness whom Democrats wanted to testify publicly. Had they worked with such alacrity to create jobs, the economy would probably be booming.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the panel investigating Holder, told the Rules Committee that the attorney general has been “uncooperative at every step of the way” and that the Justice Department “lied” to Congress, and he suggested that Justice officials are “covering up a crime.”

Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on Issa’s committee, said the inquiry is “one of the most highly politicized congressional investigations in decades.” The reason for the contempt vote, he said, “is plain and simple: politics.”

It was but an appetizer for Thursday’s food fight, but even this session, in a small, ornate hearing room at the Capitol, got nasty and personal, as lawmakers addressed one another by their first names. A trio of Republicans maintained that, as Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) put it, “this is not something that is desirable for any of us.” But Issa seemed to be enjoying himself as he mixed it up with the Democrats on the panel.

“It has all the trappings of a witch hunt,” charged Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the rules panel’s ranking Democrat.

“Looks and smells like a witch hunt,” agreed Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Issa retorted: “That’s been the Democratic talking point all along.”

At another moment, McGovern said Republicans “keep on moving the goal posts” in their requests of Holder.

“Not just moving the goal posts, moving the stadium,” Cummings added.

Responded Issa: “We keep moving the goal posts closer, but he can’t kick a two-yard field goal.”

Democratic complaints continued at great length: “You absolutely did not answer the question!” “Hold on, just a minute!” “A cynical maneuver.” “A disservice to the American people.” “A scripted sideshow.” “A dark, dark day.”

In response, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) shared with the panel lessons she had learned during her morning Bible study, and Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) shouted about serving as “stewards of the United States Constitution.” Issa taunted the Obama administration: “You own that mistake.”

Democrats did get Issa to admit that “I’ve never said Eric Holder knew anything specific” about the Fast and Furious program and that his contempt action “isn’t even about the program. It’s about the failure to tell us the details of post-lying events.” He further acknowledged that he didn’t call a George W. Bush administration attorney general to testify because he was “narrowly focused” on Holder and that he didn’t call other Democratic witnesses to testify because he was concerned about grandstanding.

“That’s the new definition of irony,” McGovern said, pleading for “the speaker to approach this in a more rational way.”

Unlikely. “I have no role in it,” Boehner said when reporters asked about the Holder vote.

Remember? He’s focused on jobs.

danamilbank@washpost.com

For previous Washington Sketch columns, go to washingtonpost.
com/milbank.