By Pete Kasperowicz and Mike Lillis - 06/28/12 06:47 PM EDT
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would join members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) when they walk out of the vote on the resolution finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Pelosi initially said she preferred to vote against the resolution, but said she has been moved by the CBC plan to walk out later today.
"Perhaps that's the best approach for us to take," she said on the House floor. "How else can we impress upon the American people without scaring them about what is happening here?"
Later in her remarks, she told her Democratic colleagues to do as they see fit, a sign that many more Democrats could walk out when the House votes.
"So now I say to those who have a doubt about how they want to proceed, that instead of doing what I said before — which was just to come and to treat this as a bill before the Congress and express my no — listening to the unconscionable presentation, I want to join my CBC colleagues in boycotting the vote when we have the walkout after we have the debate," she said.
Pelosi earlier said the Republicans' attack on Holder for his role in the Fast and Furious gun-walking program is a politically motivated move “based on a false premise,” and she vowed to leave the chamber floor if the rest of her caucus did the same.
As many as 120 Democrats may walk out in opposition to Thursday’s contempt vote on Holder, according to one lawmaker.
Rep. Raul Grivalva (D-Ariz.) told The Hill that he expects “over 120 Democrats” to protest the unprecedented Republican-led vote by staging a walkout and holding a press conference on the East front of the Capitol.
Democrats have been trying to drum up support for the walkout, holding a caucus meeting Thursday morning where members handed out copies of a recent investigative story in Fortune that refuted allegations of “gun-walking” in the botched Fast and Furious operation that is at the center of the contempt measure.
Several Democrats have said they will buck party lines and support the contempt resolutions, in the wake of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) decision to score the vote.
At least four Democrats in GOP-leaning districts — Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) — have pledged their support for the contempt measure.
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Penn.) told The Hill in an interview before Thursday’s vote that he was still undecided about how he was planning to vote.
Altmire pointed to his support of a Democratic-led contempt measure in 2008 of two senior White House officials in President George W. Bush’s administration, and said that he was trying to find out why he wouldn’t hold the Obama administration in contempt for similarly refusing to respond to a congressional subpoena.
More than a dozen Democrats voted in favor of a rule governing floor debate for the civil and criminal contempt resolutions. The rule was approved by every Republican as well in a vote of 254-173 in its favor.
The Democratic support is key for Republicans as they try to defend the legitimacy of the contempt measure to voters and parry counterattacks from Democrats stating that they are leading a “witch hunt.”
The proposed Democratic walkout is reminiscent of a similar move made by Republicans in 2008 during a Democratic-led vote on whether to hold two senior staffers in President George W. Bush’s administration in contempt of Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — then the minority leader — led the walkout with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) following closely behind him. Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is the sponsor of the contempt resolution against Holder.
“The House floor is the scene of a partisan, political stunt,” said Boehner at the time. House Democrats have been expressing similar comments about the Holder contempt measure.
Republicans have brought the contempt resolution against Holder for his response to a long-running investigation into the Fast and Furious operation, a program that sanctioned the sale of firearms to known straw purchasers in order to track those guns to Mexican drug cartels. Law enforcers have lost track of hundreds of the weapons, and a pair of assault weapons linked to the botched sting were recovered at the scene of the murder of a U.S. border patrol agent in late 2010.
Behind Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republicans have accused Holder of withholding documents they say are vital to their investigation – a charge Holder has denied.
The contempt resolution passed through the Oversight panel on a strictly party-line vote last week, and the full House will vote on the measure Thursday evening.
If it passes, as it’s expected to do, it will mark the first time in the history of the country that a sitting cabinet member has been held in contempt of Congress.
Democrats have hammered GOP leaders for attacking Holder simply to embarrass President Obama amid his tough reelection fight – a charge Pelosi leveled again Thursday.
“What the Republicans are doing with this motion on the floor today is contemptible – even for them,” she said. “This is something that makes a witch hunt look like a day at the beach.”
The House is scheduled to vote on the GOP's contempt resolution at around 5 p.m. Thursday.
— Jordy Yager contributed
— This story was updated at 3:25 p.m.