The two sides dug in for a potentially protracted and bitter fight that presents hazards for both parties. For Obama, his decision this week to invoke executive privilege to block House investigators from obtaining private memos has exposed him to charges of hypocrisy and invigorated an important part of the Republican base just months before the election.
For Republicans, the move to sanction Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. risked overreaching in an investigation that has dragged on for months, and allowed the White House to portray them as partisan hacks determined to bring down Obama.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney called the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s party-line vote on Holder on Wednesday nothing more than “an attempt to score political points.”
Such tactics help explain “why this Congress has the lowest public approval rating of any in memory,” Carney said. “This is about politics. This is not about an effort to divine the truth in a serious matter.”
Obama’s use of executive privilege for the first time signaled once again the White House’s willingness to use Congress as an election-year foil and link presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to far-right elements of the party.
But political analysts said the strategy remains dicey.
“The president risks his own stature, his own credibility with the public. It’s not good for the president no matter how he portrays the Republicans,” said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University.
The White House has declined to turn over documents related to Operation “Fast and Furious,” which was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The oversight committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is seeking Justice Department documents about the operation, which involved the flow of illegal guns to Mexico, including material related to officials’ internal deliberations. Administration officials said they negotiated in good faith with Issa’s committee through Tuesday.
The Justice Department is not planning to modify its final offer, which would have been a briefing and access to some internal deliberation documents that department officials think would have answered Issa’s questions. In return, Holder wanted assurances that the subpoena and contempt issues will be resolved.