President Obama’s decision to invoke executive privilege over documents sought by congressional Republicans in connection with the so-called “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking program will surely up the political ante over an issue that has long been a touchstone for conservatives.
“We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests regarding Operation Fast and Furious,” wrote deputy Attorney General James Cole in a letter to California Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Here’s the full letter:
At issue is a program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that allowed drug smugglers to purchase several thousand guns that were subsequently used in a series of crimes including the death of a border agent in 2010. (The aim of the program was to better track guns and trace them back to major drug smugglers.)
Republicans have long insisted that Attorney General Eric Holder should be held responsible for the failures of the program and several elected officials — including Texas Sen. John Cornyn — have called for Holder’s resignation.
The White House has insisted they have been more than accommodating to congressional requests — releasing over 7,600 pages of documents related to the “Fast and Furious” program and testifying at 11 congressional hearings on the matter. White House officials also note that George W. Bush asserted executive privilege 6 times while Bill Clinton did it 14 times. This is the first time Obama has done so.
“Given the economic challenges facing the country,we believe that House Republicans should work with the rest of Congress and the President to create more jobs, not more political theater,” said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
Regardless of the rightness (or wrongness — is that a word?) of the Obama decision, what it amounts to politically is a pressing down of the gas pedal in this ongoing game of political chicken.
Issa, meanwhile is showing no signs of turning the wheel either; his committee is set to hold a contempt vote regarding Holder’s refusal to hand over documents today.
What this ante-upping on both sides will do is fuel Republicans’ suspicions about not only the program but how the Administration has handled the program. “The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation or the cover-up that followed,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio).
In short: If you didn’t like Obama before, you hate him now.
For the rest of the country, the impact is likely negligible. While the debate over “Fast and Furious” — and the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches — is an important one, it is also decidedly complex, meaning that most undecided voters simply won’t engage on it.
(There has been almost no polling done on “Fast and Furious” but if 10 percent of the population knows what it is, that would be surprisingly high.)
No matter how “Fast and Furious” ultimately turns out, this will be (yet another) motivator for an already very enthusiastic Republican base to turn out in hopes of ousting President Obama from office. For everyone else, it’s not likely to move many votes — either way.