Dems keep Holder at arm’s length

Democrats facing tough reelection races next year are ducking questions on whether they support beleaguered Attorney General Eric Holder. [WATCH VIDEO]

Republicans have been calling for Holder’s head amid the recent controversies, but conservative Democrats — by and large — would rather not talk about him.

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), approached outside his office in the Rayburn Building, said he instead had to finish a House Armed Services Committee markup of a bill, go to votes “and return a constituent phone call.”

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“Let me just wait on a comment for right now because I need to take care of some stuff, OK? I’ve got my mind on something else right now,” he said.

Approached again less than a week later while walking from a series of House votes back to his office, McIntyre would only say, “No comment.”

While some Democrats are reluctant to weigh in on Holder,  Republicans are turning up the heat on the attorney general over two separate leak investigations in which the Department of Justice (DOJ) spied on reporters. Those controversies come in the wake of the department’s handling of “Operation Fast and Furious,” the botched gun-tracking program.

The question of whether he should stay or go has put vulnerable Democrats in a tricky spot. 

They are unwilling to call for the resignation of a sitting attorney general in a Democratic administration. But with conservative-leaning voters in their districts, they don’t want to be seen defending him.

Asked if he has confidence in Holder, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) said, “I don’t think I want to talk about this right now,” while walking from his office with an aide to a bank of elevators. 

Pressed further, the staffer intervened, saying, “Now’s really not a very good time.”

Matheson squeaked to victory over his Republican opponent, Mia Love, in 2012 by fewer than 800 votes. Similarly, McIntyre defeated GOP rival David Rouzer by fewer than 700 votes last year. Republicans are targeting both Democrats again this election cycle.

Sen. Mark Begich’s (D-Alaska) office said the freshman isn’t ready to ask Holder to step down, but that he does have serious questions about the Department of Justice’s conduct in the leak investigations. Begich is seeking a second term in 2014.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who worked closely with the White House to craft a bipartisan proposal aimed at creating stricter gun laws, recently left the door open on whether Holder should step down. 

“Whenever you feel that you have lost your effectiveness or may be losing your effectiveness to the detriment of the job that you do, you have to evaluate that and make a decision. And I think we’re at the time now where decisions have to be made,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. 

Manchin, a centrist Democrat, was reelected last year.

Some on the left, including The Huffington Post and TV talk-show host Bill Press, have called for Holder to step down. Press is a columnist for The Hill. 

Democratic Reps. Bill Owens (N.Y.), John Barrow (Ga.) and Tim Walz (Minn.), who — along with McIntyre and Matheson — voted to place Holder in contempt of Congress last year, declined to comment or did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article over the last two weeks. 

Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) also did not respond. Pryor and Landrieu are up for reelection in 2014.

The White House has defended Holder over the last month, though President Obama has directed his attorney general to review various DOJ policies and meet with media outlets. Anonymous White House aides suggested to The New York Times that it might be time for Holder to step aside.

Holder has indicated he’s not going anywhere in the short term. But most think Holder won’t become an election-year issue, predicting that he will resign before the 2014 midterms.

Asked last week by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) about his departure plans, Holder responded, “The tipping point might be fatigue. You get to a point where you just get tired.”

The House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating whether Holder misled the panel in sworn testimony or mismanaged either of the department’s leak investigations, has called for him to testify within the next several weeks. He has not responded yet. 

A resolution from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) expressing “no confidence” in Holder and calling for him to resign has picked up steam, attracting 92 co-sponsors, 36 this month.

No Democrats have signed on, and it will ultimately be up to House GOP leaders to move on the measure, which they did not do in the last Congress.   

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who voted to place Holder in contempt, said he has “a lot of unanswered questions” about the DOJ’s leak investigation and is pressing for an outside investigation — an inspector general or special counsel probe — to look at whether the department and Holder are striking the right balance between constitutional protections of the press and national security concerns. 

“It’s waning,” said Rahall of his confidence in Holder. 

Asked whether he thinks Holder should resign, Rahall said, “That’s a question mark in my mind. It really is.”

The determining factor for Rahall, he said, would be whether Holder decides to request an outside investigation. 

“It should be somebody outside of the DOJ. It just doesn’t smell right for the DOJ to be investigating themselves.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) led the contempt vote after Holder and the president refused to comply with a subpoena for internal DOJ communications dealing with “Fast and Furious.”