Top Democrats Balk on Contempt Resolutions
House Democrats have postponed a vote until December on contempt resolutions against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, delaying for now any constitutional showdown with the White House over the president's power to resist congressional subpoenas.
Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has been pushing for the contempt vote, arguing that the White House must be held accountable for ignoring subpoenas issued by his panel as part of the U.S. attorney firing scandal. Other top Democrats, including Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), have argued that the House should put off that fight while debates over Iraq funding and electronic eavesdropping dominate the floor. The contempt vote had been tentatively scheduled for Friday before Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) informed his colleagues that it was being delayed.
"[Emanuel] has been saying that this week is not the time to do this, that it will step on our message on Iraq and FISA," said a top House Democratic leadership aide.
Emanuel could not be reached for comment by press time on Tuesday. The Illinois Democrat was overseeing an "issues conference" for House Democrats, urging rank-and-file lawmakers to hold more town-hall-style meetings with constituents in order to explain to them what Democrats have achieved since taking control of Congress.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is backing Conyers and wants a floor vote on the contempt resolution, but she has agreed to wait another few weeks before forcing a showdown with President Bush on the matter.
"I think it's going to happen before we leave for the year, but not necessarily this week," Hoyer said Tuesday.
Hoyer, who has been seen by some Democratic insiders as noncommittal on the issue, said he fully backs Pelosi and Conyers on the contempt resolutions.
"I think that the contempt that has been shown the Congress of the United States by the refusal to testify is unprecedented and will not be upheld by the courts," Hoyer said. "I think the Congress, as a co-equal branch of government, has a right to expect that witnesses it summons to come before it and testify will give it the information it needs."
Democratic leaders had been quietly whipping the vote on the criminal contempt resolutions against Bolten and Miers, and Conyers filed paperwork with the clerk of the House last week that would allow the vote to go forward.
Conyers also sent a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, suggesting it was the last warning on the matter that will be given to the Bush administration before the House moves ahead with a vote.
The House Judiciary Committee voted in late July to hold Bolten and Miers in criminal contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas seeking documents and testimony related to the prosecutor purge.
President Bush, citing executive privilege, refused to allow the two to testify before the committee.
Former White House aide Karl Rove was also directed to refuse a similar subpoena issued by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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