A possible U.S. House vote next week on citing Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress in connection with the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting evoked bitter political sniping Thursday between Republicans and Democrats.
Despite statements by all parties favoring a deal to avoid what would be an unprecedented contempt citation against a sitting attorney general, the heated rhetoric indicated congressional leaders and Holder remained committed to deeply rooted stances on the politically charged issue.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, defended the House Oversight Committee vote Wednesday to refer the contempt citation to the full House, saying the goal was to uncover the truth about Fast and Furious, including what he called certain White House involvement.
"The House will vote next week on a contempt measure unless these documents are released," Boehner said.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney called the Republican investigation a "politically motivated, taxpayer funded, election year fishing expedition."
"It is this approach, I think, that explains at least in part why this Congress has the lowest public approval ratings of any in memory, if not history," Carney said.
Holder, meanwhile, said his offer still stands to turn over some of the documents sought by House Republicans.
"The proposal that we have made is still there," Holder told reporters in Denmark, where he was meeting with European officials. "The House, I think, has to consider now what the leadership ... will do and so we'll see how it works out."
Wednesday's committee vote on the contempt measure was on strict party lines -- with 23 Republicans in favor and 17 Democrats opposing.
It ended an extraordinary daylong hearing that took place after President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over some of the documents sought by the panel investigating Fast and Furious. The White House move means the Justice Department can withhold specified materials.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, claimed Republicans are targeting Holder because he is fighting their efforts to suppress voter turnout in November.
"It is no coincidence that the attorney general of the United States is the person responsible for making sure that voter suppression does not happen in our country, that issues that relate to the civil liberties of the American people are upheld," Pelosi told reporters. "These very same people holding him in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote."
Meanwhile, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association implied on CNN that Fast and Furious was part of a government effort to justify tougher gun control laws.
"I believe what this is about and why they won't release these papers is what Fast and Furious was about was a political attack on the Second Amendment of the United States, to heck with some botched sting operation," Wayne LaPierre said. "... I believe these papers will show that they were doing everything to attack the Second Amendment and the gun and hunting states are going to decide this election, and this administration cannot afford that out before the election."
On Wednesday, the chairman of the House panel, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, refused to put off consideration of the measure, saying the White House assertion of executive privilege "falls short" of any reason to delay the hearing.
However, Issa said after the hearing that he believed a settlement to avoid an unprecedented contempt vote in the House would be "in the best interest of the Justice Department, Congress and those most directly affected by Operation Fast and Furious."
In Copenhagen on Thursday, Holder repeated earlier criticism of the House panel's vote, calling it "unwarranted, unnecessary and unprecedented."
His offer to Issa, in a meeting Tuesday evening, "would have allowed for the resolution of that matter, consistent with the way in which these have been resolved in the past through negotiation," Holder said. "I think the possibility still exists that it can happen in that way."
Holder has said his proposal included turning over some documents and briefing Issa's committee on them, while also providing an inventory of what requested materials were provided or withheld.
He also sought an assurance from Issa that the move would satisfy the subpoenas from the committee. Issa, however, complained that Holder's offer set unreasonable conditions.
Boehner said Thursday that Republicans rejected that "we should accept some documents of his choosing, and as a result of his turning over some documents of his choosing, that we would never ever pursue contempt."
However, the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said, "This is a situation where an attorney general has cooperated to the nth degree, and the only thing he asked for is that we come to some type of conclusion with regard to this contempt situation."
Wednesday's developments further heightened the drama of a high-profile showdown between Issa and Holder over the Fast and Furious program that dates back to subpoenas issued by the House committee last year.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched Operation Fast and Furious out of Arizona to track weapon purchases by Mexican drug cartels. However, it lost track of more than 1,000 firearms that the agency had allowed straw buyers to carry across the border, and two of the lost weapons turned up at the scene of the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Issa's committee is seeking documents that show why the Justice Department decided to withdraw as inaccurate a February 2011 letter sent to Congress that said top officials had only recently learned about Fast and Furious.