By Mike Lillis - 06/26/12 06:39 PM EDT
The coming vote to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt is a "rush to judgment" and preventing Congress from addressing the economy, several top Democrats charged Tuesday.
House GOP leaders have scheduled a Thursday vote on a contempt resolution against Holder for his response to a Republican investigation into the Fast and Furious program, a bungled gun-walking operation overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) accused Republicans of a "rush to judgment, [to] create confrontation and distract the Congress of the United States from dealing with the most important challenge confronting us, and that's creating jobs for our people."
"Even the [Mitt] Romney campaign believes this is a distraction," Hoyer said during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, echoed that message.
"The 16-month investigation has found no link whatsoever between the attorney general and gun walking," Cummings said. "It is clear, from us looking at all the testimony that has been produced, that the attorney general did not know about these tactics in Fast and Furious, he did not condone them [and] he did not authorize them.
"This has gone too far," he added.
Launched in 2009, the controversial "Fast and Furious" operation was designed to battle drug cartels by allowing known gun traffickers to buy firearms in border states and tracking those weapons into Mexico. But the ATF lost track of hundreds of guns, and several were found at the scene of the murder of an Arizona border patrol agent in late 2010.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) quickly launched an investigation and has spent months hounding Holder to release more documents detailing the operation.
Accusing Holder of stonewalling, Issa pushed a contempt resolution through his Oversight panel last week, and GOP leaders are threatening to bring the measure to the floor Thursday if Holder doesn't release more documents.
Hoyer said Tuesday that window is too short.
He noted that 14 administrative officials have been held in contempt at the committee level over the past four decades, with only six of those measures reaching the House floor. The average wait between those committee votes and floor votes, he added, was 95 days — a far cry from the nine days that will have passed if Republicans go through with Thursday's House vote, he said.
"This is the best they could get, presumably," Hoyer said.
Republicans have been quick to point out that Democrats in 2008 held a pair of Bush administration officials – former chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers — in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify and release internal documents surrounding the firings of federal prosecutors — a move the Democrats said was politically motivated.
Hoyer on Tuesday said there are stark differences between those two cases — notably the time span between the committee and floor votes.
"The House waited more than 200 days to bring that matter to the floor," he said, "realizing the gravity of the action proposed and seeking the opportunity to resolve the differences between the legislative and executive branches of government."
Cummings called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to talk directly to Holder rather than leaving all the negotiations to Issa.
"We have a duty to do what we can to accommodate the executive branch, and of course they have a duty to accommodate us," Cummings said. "It's time for Mr. Boehner to step in.
"This can be worked out," he said.