Holder said he was angry about the vote but not surprised. He lamented what he described as an increasingly toxic atmosphere on Capitol Hill, where he has become the target of personal attacks.
“It’s a sad indication of where Washington has come, where policy differences almost necessarily become questions of integrity,” said Holder, a former judge. “I came to Washington in the late ’70s, and people had the ability in the past to have intense policy differences but didn’t feel the need to question the other person’s character. And that’s where we are now in Washington with at least one part of the Republican Party. That’s what they do, almost as a matter of course.”
Even before the latest flare-up on Capitol Hill, there was growing speculation about whether Holder would stay on as attorney general if Obama won reelection this fall. He has come under constant attack from Republicans on domestic policy and national security issues, including his controversial decision, since reversed, to prosecute the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in federal court in New York.
Holder said the contempt vote has not led him to consider stepping down. “If anything, it made me more determined to stay and to continue to fight for the things that I think are important,” he said.
He cited as an example a new law enforcement initiative in cities such as Oakland and Philadelphia to target crime “hot spots” with a surge of police and federal agents.
Shows of support
Holder said that when the House voted to hold him in contempt, he was in New Orleans, where he had traveled with his wife to take their daughter to her college orientation. Since then, he has kept to his schedule, going to three cities and giving speeches on public safety, civil rights and voting rights.
On a personal level, the attorney general said he has been buoyed by a “huge outpouring of support,” including letters and flowers from people around the country, many of whom he doesn’t know. Obama called him from Air Force One after the vote to express his support. Over the weekend, he received a standing ovation at a Stylistics concert in Washington.
As the first African American attorney general, Holder said he does not believe that history will judge him by the contempt vote.
“This seems large in the moment, but the question is, how will this be viewed one year from now, five years from now?” he said. “My bet will be that people are going to remember the stands I took to prevent the disenfranchisement of millions of people, the position I stood for in not defending the Defense of Marriage Act, what we did in protecting the American people, the numbers of people we put in jail and the [terrorist] plots we disrupted.”