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Holder contempt vote sign of 'broken' Washington?

By Allison Brennan, CNN
updated 11:04 PM EDT, Thu June 21, 2012
Attorney General Eric Holder is facing a possible contempt of Congress vote if no compromise can be worked out.
Attorney General Eric Holder is facing a possible contempt of Congress vote if no compromise can be worked out.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Contempt vote and executive privilege escalated Fast and Furious skirmish
  • Gergen: Back-and-forth shows Washington is "broken"
  • Floor vote would make Holder first attorney general held in contempt
  • It's not about Fast and Furious, but whether Democracy still works, Gergen said

Washington (CNN) -- What had been brewing as a low-level skirmish for more than a year became a full-on political brawl, further feeding the perception that politics trump policy, when a House committee voted along party lines to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress.

"I think for a lot of Americans who don't understand the complexities and really don't care about ... this, I think it is one more illustration, as if we needed any more, that Washington is broken," CNN Contributor David Gergen said on "John King, USA" on Wednesday. Americans instead, Gergen said, are more interested in job creation.

The vote comes after an effort, which began in February 2011, to obtain Justice Department documents concerning Operation Fast and Furious, a "gun-walking" operation that allowed more than 1,000 guns to get into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Two guns found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's shooting were linked to the operation. Guns from the operation have also been linked to an unknown number of Mexican civilians' deaths.

Holder contempt vote inflames Fast and Furious debate

Republicans say the documents they seek are needed to get to the circumstances around the agent's death.

"This is about getting to the truth for the American people and the Terry family. It's not -- it's not about personalities here," Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a morning news conference.

Democrats say Republicans are trying to score political points in an election year. White House spokesman Jay Carney called the investigation a "politically motivated, taxpayer-funded, election-year fishing expedition."

Investigation began with agent's death

A brief history of 'Fast and Furious'
Grassley:Fast & Furious 'stupid' program
Cummings: Holder contempt about politics

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democratic member on the House Oversight Committee, which voted to cite Holder, joined the chorus against the contempt vote on CNN's "Starting Point" on Thursday, saying that this was "the far right at its very best."

"I think you have, once again, the far right of this party pushing and pushing, and I just find it extremely alarming that we have gotten to this point, and it is very unfortunate," Cummings said.

What do you think of the controversy?

Frederick Hill, spokesman for House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, defended the investigation, saying it began well over a year and a half ago, "which is as far away from an election year as you could be."

He added that what is suspect is the timing of the executive privilege President Barack Obama extended to Holder for documents the Justice Department previously offered to release.

But the fight didn't have to get this far, Gergen said.

"Reasonable people should have figured a way to have the information presented to the committee," Gergen said. "We have seen such negotiations numerous times in the past. It can be worked out."

It still could be.

Holder and Issa indicated they are open to a compromise before the vote next week. However, if the recommendation of the Oversight Committee is passed by the Republican-controlled House, Holder would be the first attorney general held in contempt of Congress. In the nearest case, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and then-Attorney General Janet Reno worked out a deal over documents related to campaign finance in 1998 before a contempt action was taken to the floor of the House.

Why contempt case against Holder may be doomed

The potential unprecedented action comes against a backdrop of foundering congressional approval ratings. The most recent CNN/ORC International Poll indicates that 11% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.

Gergen said this issue extends beyond the potential floor vote on contempt scheduled for next week.

"This is again ultimately about, 'Does democracy work in Washington today?' And if people conclude yet once again those guys really cannot run the country, it is very discouraging and it has ripple effects well beyond the Fast and Furious case."

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