I am beginning to think that Republicans in the House of Representatives need to go whole hog on this Eric Holder contempt of Congress vote and have the U. S. Capitol Police arrest him after they pass it on Thursday. The pictures of Holder being detained in the Capitol Police station would be the kind of political red meat that would have the right wing of the Republican Party dancing in the streets. It might even serve to taint the Justice Department’s challenges to the new voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina and to the voter purging by the state of Florida.
“One important element of this duel, however, is not currently well understood by the public: what, exactly, does it mean to “hold” someone “in contempt”? For example, many of Holder’s supporters doubtless hold Issa in contempt, in a manner of speaking. But if Issa is ultimately backed by Speaker John Boehner and a majority of the House, then the House is legally empowered to hold a defiant witness in contempt in a far more literal way: the House may hold a witness in its hold: in a prison cell in the Capitol itself. And the House can keep the witness there, using its own enforcer—its “sergeant at arms”—until the House session ends. And in fact, each house of Congress exercised this power early on in our nation’s history.
But if Issa and Boehner tried to hold Holder, the optics would be ugly, and Mr. Chairman and Mr. Speaker would risk alienating fair-minded voters. Also, no House has ever tried to hold the president himself—commander in chief of the U.S. Army—or a cabinet officer. And any House attempt to hold Holder would be particularly awkward, as it would effectively undo an appointment made by the president and the Senate—an appointment process in which the Constitution pointedly excludes the House itself.”
I’d be doing a little celebrating of my own, though, if Speaker Boehner and Eric Cantor were stupid enough to have U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder detained by the Capitol Police and tried in front of the House of Representatives on contempt charges. Arresting Holder would instantly make Karl Rove’s refusal to comply with a Congressional subpoena front page news for the next two weeks.
Even more importantly, from where I sit, the arrest of Eric Holder by a Republican controlled House of Representatives would make him an instant martyr for Democrats to rally around. Latino and Hispanic support for President Obama has exploded since he issued his executive order stopping the deportation of young illegal immigrants last week. As an added bonus, a Holder arrest might finally animate an African American electorate which has thus far displayed a lackluster level of commitment towards the president’s re-election.
This contempt charge isn’t even good political theater, mostly because Representative Issa and Speaker Boehner don’t seem to fully understand that they aren’t supposed to be on stage right now. Their proceedings against Mr. Holder this Thursday, which seemed to be such a victory last week, will now be overshadowed by the ticking sound of the countdown to Thursday’s headline act, the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Healthcare Act.