Republican members of a special House committee investigating fetal-tissue transactions voted Wednesday to hold a biotechnology firm in contempt of Congress, moments after Democrats walked out of the Capitol Hill meeting in protest.
The Select Investigative Panel, created by the House GOP to examine links between abortion providers and medical researchers, subpoenaed California-based StemExpress earlier this year seeking a variety of records. While the firm provided much of the information the panel sought, Republicans say it did not cooperate completely, withholding employee names as well as banking and accounting statements.
The panel’s chairman said Wednesday that the records are crucial to determining whether StemExpress is illegally profiting from the fetal tissue trade. The company has said it loses money on those transactions.
“The panel is entitled to this information so we can answer the question. … Did companies improperly profit?” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “A subpoena is not a suggestion. It is a lawful order, and a subpoena is to be complied with.”
Democrats, who opposed the panel’s creation and have called for its shuttering, renewed their objections to the Republican inquiry at the Wednesday meeting. They raised several procedural and substantive objections to the contempt-of-Congress resolution and ultimately walked out of the meeting before the final vote after an unsuccessful attempt to adjourn the meeting.
“This whole process is illegitimate, and we are not willing to participate in it,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the panel’s top Democrat, told reporters afterward.
Another panel member, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), called the proceeding a “kangaroo court.”
The next steps for the contempt resolution are unclear. The full House would have to approve the measure before it is referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. After the vote Wednesday, Blackburn said that “we will leave that for leadership to decide.”
Democrats said that because the panel is officially an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, the full committee would need to approve the contempt measure before it moves to the House floor.
The House last passed a contempt-of-Congress resolution in 2014, after former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner declined to testify before a House committee.
Republicans said that StemExpress’s unwillingness to share the records they sought suggested possible wrongdoing: “There is obviously something that is being hidden here,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.).
“What payment have they received that they don’t want us to see?” added Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.).
But StemExpress said that they have cooperated with the probe and have been willing to cooperate further.
“This is a disappointing outcome after spending over a year providing accounting documents and offering to testify — an offer they never took us up on,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “The claim that we did not provide bank records is simply not true. StemExpress continues to be devoted to the acceleration of cures and prevention of serious medical conditions.”