Tea Party groups pressure House GOP leaders to rev up Fast and Furious probe

Local Tea Party activists are pressing House Republican leaders to pursue their investigation into the Operation Fast and Furious gun-tracking effort more aggressively.

The top three House Republicans have been slow to lead the charge of the GOP’s criticism of the botched operation.

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As a result, local Tea Party groups in the home districts of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are turning up the heat on the lawmakers.

The groups say their representatives maintain the most powerful positions in the lower chamber and should be more critical of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

The president of the local Dayton Tea Party in Boehner’s home district has criticized the lawmaker repeatedly over his silence on Fast and Furious. Local Tea Party candidate David Lewis hammered Boehner on the issue during his campaign to oust the top ranking Republican, though he only managed to garner 16 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary.

“At minimum I would like to see the Speaker be very vocal about this scandal because there are people who are dead because of it and I think Mr. Boehner should be calling for possible criminal prosecution of Mr. Holder,” said Lewis in an interview with The Hill.

“It seems like there’s so much public outcry right now. I think he needs to be much more vocal and Mr. Holder needs to be held accountable for his actions or his inactions to foresee this debacle that happened.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has led Congress’s investigation of Fast and Furious for the past year, repeatedly grilling Holder before his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and blasting the Justice Department (DOJ) for what he says are continual attempts to stonewall his probe.

Issa’s frustrations and findings have led to more than 100 House Republicans, including Tea Party Caucus chairwoman Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), signing on to a resolution expressing a lack of confidence in Holder because of Fast and Furious. None of the top House GOP leaders have signed onto the measure.

Boehner has been largely silent on the issue, making his first major public comments on Fast and Furious on Feb. 16 at his weekly press conference.

“Chairman Issa and members of the committee have done a very good job of investigating this abuse of government power and I continue to support their efforts and believe that this Justice Department must be held accountable,” said Boehner at the time.

Issa’s office said Boehner and the rest of the House Republican leadership has been extremely supportive of its continuing investigation.

But by playing the supportive role and not leading the charge against the administration over Fast and Furious, it opens Republican leaders up to critics who are clamoring to can Holder.

Colleen Owens, a Tea Party activist in Cantor’s Virginia district with the Central Virginia Tea Party, said she would like to see Cantor be more vocal about getting to the truth of who authorized Fast and Furious. Owens said if the party roles were reversed, Democrats would be out for political blood over the issue.

“Nobody can get to the bottom of this except Congress, and it’s [Cantor’s] responsibility as a leader in the House of Representatives to help make that happen,” said Owens, who emphasized that she is not a spokesperson for the group.

“I’m not sure why Republican leadership is not doing more on this, but I don’t think they will unless they hear from enough people asking about it. If this was George W. Bush’s administration, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership would not be so passive about this.”

Cantor’s office said he has maintained a constant opinion that he is “deeply concerned” about Fast and Furious and supports Issa’s investigation. Though Cantor’s office could not point to any public statements made on the issue, they stressed that he has conveyed his opposition to the administration’s handling of Fast and Furious numerous times to constituents when asked about it.  

“I find it very troubling that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice have not been more forthcoming with information regarding this failed gun walking operation and at times seem to have contradicted what appears to be factual evidence,” said Cantor in a statement.

“The Attorney General should provide more clarity on this issue to alleviate the concerns that are clouding over the Justice Department. That is why I fully support the House Oversight and Government Reform and Judiciary Committees' continued investigations into this important issue.”

Similarly, McCarthy has been taking heat on the issue as well. McCarthy’s office said he has spoken out against Fast and Furious and the way the administration has handled it on several local radio programs.

But Alfred Hernandez, a spokesman and activist with the Bakersfield Tea Party in McCarthy’s home district, said the group wants the Majority Whip to be “very vocal” about Fast and Furious and who should take responsibility for the failed operation.

“When you see that he’s been quiet on the subject of Fast and Furious, it really isn’t all that surprising,” said Hernandez. “More than likely he’s on a short leash with Mr. Boehner and Mr. Boehner stands quiet on this.”

In a statement McCarthy raised his concerns again, voicing his full support of Issa’s investigation and characterizing Holder’s responses to Congress as “astounding.”

"The lack of transparency and cooperation from the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder regarding Operation Fast and Furious is astounding,” said McCarthy.

“Those behind this failed program must be held accountable for their actions and I am confident that the committee’s continued pursuit of this issue will ensure that happens.”

The issue of Fast and Furious has gotten increasingly more attention as Issa’s investigation has broadened over the months, and according to Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak it could play as a key issue for voters in November.

“The heat on this issue is only going to increase,” said Mackowiak, founder and president of the Potomac Strategy Group “Most people look at this and say that Holder is an embarrassment to the country. What he’s demonstrated on this is so far below what we should have in that particular role in terms of competency and integrity. This one does have legs.”

This story was updated on March 12.