By Mike Lillis - 06/21/12 05:40 PM EDT
Republicans are attacking Attorney General Eric Holder to help states purge their voting rolls ahead of November's elections, the top House Democrat charged Thursday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday's committee vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress — and next week's scheduled floor vote on the same resolution — represent a thinly veiled Republican scheme to distract the attorney general from his fight against state laws that have erected new hurdles to voting and registration, hurdles that would suppress areas that tend to vote Democratic.
Holder has been under fire from Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for his response to the panel's investigation into the "Fast and Furious" program, a botched gun-running operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and other Republicans claim Holder is withholding documents investigators need to examine the program fully.
On Wednesday, the panel Republicans voted unanimously on a contempt resolution against Holder, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has vowed to bring the measure to the floor next week unless Holder releases the requested documents first. Democrats on the panel unanimously rejected the charge.
Pelosi has defended Holder against the charges of stonewalling, arguing that the Department of Justice has bent over backward to comply with Issa's demands.
"The administration made every attempt to make every document available to them [Republicans]," Pelosi said Thursday. "I was present when the president said that to the Speaker."
But Pelosi's sharper message was her claim that the "Fast and Furious" investigation is just a smokescreen for the Republicans' true goal of preventing the attorney general from working to dismantle state-based GOP election laws, including new voter ID and registration requirements.
The contempt vote, Pelosi added, marked a "frivolous" use of a "really important vehicle to undermine the person who's assigned to stop the voter suppression in our country."
"I'm telling you, this is connected. It is no accident, it is a decision, and it is as clear as can be," she said. "It's not only to monopolize his time, it's to undermine his name."
At issue are a slew of state laws adopted over the last two years by Republican lawmakers in the name of preventing voter fraud. At least five states, for instance, have adopted new photo ID requirements that will be in place in November, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. Two states installed stringent restrictions on voter registration drives, Brennan found, and three others have shortened the period that allows voters to cast an early ballot if they can't get to the polls on Election Day.
Critics, including most Democrats, contend the new laws are politically motivated efforts to suppress voter turnout, particularly in poor and minority communities that tend to vote Democratic.
In response, the DOJ under Holder has gone after some of those laws. Earlier this month, for instance, the agency sued Florida over Gov. Rick Scott's (R) effort to drop thousands of potentially ineligible voters from the state's voting rolls.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), a longtime critic of the new state election laws, said Thursday that Democrats are "very concerned" that the higher hurdles to voting and registration will prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot in November.
In a sit-down with reporters in his office in the Capitol, Hoyer said party leaders — including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who heads the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat — are scrambling to organize education efforts to help voters navigate the new state rules.
"We're going to have, literally, tens of thousands of people working between now and Nov. 6 to make sure people understand how they can comply — and help them comply — because we won't be able to change the rules [before then]," he said.