At least 80 Democrats walked off the House floor on Thursday in protest of a Republican resolution placing Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ushered the parade of lawmakers down the Capitol’s east steps to deliver a press conference, where Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) led his colleagues in blasting Republicans with chants of “Shame on you.”
The Democrats denounced the unprecedented contempt resolution of Holder that passed the House on Thursday as a “misuse of power” and accused the GOP of focusing on politics over the economy.
Hoyer stressed that there were no racial undertones in the solidarity shown by the Congressional Black Caucus, which played a large roll in staging the walkout as a form of protest to the contempt vote of the nation’s first black attorney general.
“This is not about race,” said Hoyer. “It is, however, about confrontation over cooperation.”
“The reason we have walked down those stairs and into this courtyard is to call the attention of the American people, who are angry about confrontation, angry about gridlock, angry about the fact that we are not focused on their priorities: jobs, investment infrastructure, the environment, education, innovation, building our economy.”
Pelosi, in her speech leading up to the walkout, said she initially planned to remain on the House floor and vote on the measure, but after seeing the debate in the chamber, which lasted for several hours, she resolved to protest the vote.
“What is happening on the floor of the House is a misuse of power," Pelosi told reporters. "It is an abuse of power and it is the wrong thing to do.”
In the weeks leading up to the contempt vote, Democrats have attempted to shift the argument away from GOP objections of an Obama administration that refuses to hand over documents to one that highlights ulterior motives behind the Republican push.
Pelosi raised the possibility on the House floor and later to reporters outside that the Republican contempt vote on Holder might be motivated by the Justice Department’s recent fight against voter ID laws. Democrats argue these laws limit voting access for minorities, while Republicans say the measures safeguard against voter fraud.
Not all Democrats participated in the walkout. Seventeen Democrats in Republican-heavy districts stayed behind and voted in favor of the contempt resolution, which the National Rifle Association (NRA) promised to score in assessing lawmakers’ voting records on gun issues for voters in November.
Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C) told The Hill that he was not distressed by the Democratic defections, saying that every member must decide what’s right for them.
“A vote is a conscious thing,” he said. “I guess that’s what they felt they had to do. I don’t ever get upset with people about their votes.”
But Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told The Hill that the NRA was firmly to blame for most of the Democratic “yes” votes, saying that the gun-rights organization had concocted conspiracy theories about how the government, in Fast and Furious, let guns go into the hands of criminals in an attempt to raise the violence rate and give the administration a way argue for stronger national gun laws.
“If you’re not 100 percent in some of these swing district, you’re dead,” said Quigley.
“I don’t question the backbone of the members. I question the fact that the NRA has way too much influence. They manipulate and scare their members on issues that their members disagree with them on.”
“They’re conjuring up conspiracy theories so they can get their dues every month,” he said in an interview. “Somebody simply has to point out the fact that they’re this extreme and they have this much influence.”
—This post was updated at 6:04 p.m.