Dems seek to recast Holder furor as GOP effort to suppress votes

Democrats are seeking to portray the Republican contempt motion against Attorney General Eric Holder as an assault on minority rights.

Republicans have repeatedly accused Holder and the Obama administration of stonewalling Congress, but Democrats are now trying to steer the “Fast and Furious” debate away from transparency and toward voter suppression. 

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At the front of the push is a group of seven national civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, that is scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday about the effect that placing Holder in contempt of Congress would have on his ability to protect the rights of black and Hispanic voters, homeowners and immigrants. 

“I’m not saying that this is because Holder is black, and I’m not calling [Republicans] racists. I’m saying what they’re doing has a racial effect, and that’s what we’re going to talk about [on Tuesday],” said Sharpton in a phone interview. 

“The question one would have to raise is: If he is held in contempt, under that cloud, how does he fight for voter rights? This compromises the Justice Department from being able to do a lot of fighting.”

The civil rights leaders are expected to echo concerns raised by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) last week. 

Republicans have scheduled a floor vote for Thursday if the Department of Justice doesn’t fork over documents they subpoenaed on the botched gun-tracking operation.

Pelosi said it is “no accident” that Republicans are pressing for a contempt vote at the same time the DOJ has ramped up efforts to stymie voter ID laws. Democrats argue the laws prevent black and Hispanic voters from casting their ballots, while the GOP says they help prevent voter fraud. 

“They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter-suppression initiatives in the states,” said Pelosi. 

House Republicans soundly reject those allegations. They have stuck firmly behind House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has said the DOJ has failed to comply with his subpoena.

“Eric Holder ends up being the custodian of the documents,” said Issa on “Fox News Sunday.” “We would go to the deputy attorney general just as easily if he would give us the documents. That’s all we are looking for, is documents, which are internal to the false statement and not part of the deliberative process.”

The contempt motion passed Issa’s committee along strict party lines. It is expected to pass the House, but securing Democratic support appears unlikely. 

Issa’s investigation has proven to be divisive, with Democratic leaders calling it politically motivated.

In a move that surprised many on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration last week claimed executive privilege on the documents Issa is seeking. 

Issa has noted that 31 Democrats sent a letter to President Obama expressing serious concerns about the administration’s handling of Fast and Furious and the tragic fallout of having used the “gun-walking” tactics. 

“I believe it will be bipartisan,” said Issa of the measure’s support. “You’ll never know how many. But there are a number of Democrats, 31, who wrote to the administration, asking them to be forthcoming. Many of them will stay with us now that the administration has not been.”

The Hill contacted all 31 Democrats for this article. Four lawmakers — Reps. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Tim Ryan (Ohio), Martin Heinrich (N.M.) and Gene Green (Texas) — said they were definitely not going to support the measure. A spokesman for Rep. Mike Michaud said the Maine Democrat is undecided. The remaining 26 House Democrats did not respond to requests for comment. 

Holder is the first black attorney general, and in an op-ed published last week, Sharpton used charged language to emphasize the racial overtones that might arise as the contempt measure comes to a head.

Sharpton wrote that Holder has been “stopped and frisked” by Republicans over the course of their investigation and has been “profiled” in his role as a prominent black federal official. 

“AG Holder was in essence ‘stopped & frisked’ without probable cause, and after he cooperated, he was made an example of,” wrote Sharpton in the Huffington Post. “What Issa just showed us is that no matter what our stature in this world, someone can easily try to ‘put us in our place.’ ”

Rep. Allen West (Fla.), one of two black Republicans serving in the House, will support the contempt measure.

Should the House find Holder in contempt, it can refer the charge to the DOJ. Legal experts don’t expect the DOJ to act on such charges, and the GOP-led House would then have to decide if it will file a legal challenge in federal court. 

Many Republicans have called for Holder to resign, expressing frustration with Fast and Furious as well as the administration’s challenge of state election laws. 

During a recent Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Holder, “Your department blocks states from implementing attempts to combat voter fraud. In short, you violated the public trust, in my view, by failing and refusing to perform the duties of your office.”

Cornyn is the highest-ranking Republican to call for Holder to step aside. 

— David Kaner and Jennifer Smola contributed to this article.