WASHINGTON – The United States House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to hold ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide information about her role in the improper IRS targeting of conservative groups between 2010 and 2012.
The House voted to hold Lerner in contempt 231-187. The vote went mostly along party lines, with six Democrats voting in favor of contempt. The House also voted 250-168 in favor of a resolution calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS scandal.
Before the vote, Democratic House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings tried to block the contempt vote with a motion to refer the matter back to committee, accusing Republican Oversight chairman Rep. Darrell Issa of having “botched” the investigation in part by cutting off Cummings’ microphone at a March 5 hearing.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan countered Cummings’ motion by claiming that “the fix is in” with respect to the Department of Justice’s widely-mocked investigation of the IRS scandal and that “the only way” to get information from Lerner was to hold her in contempt. Cummings’ motion was voted down 220-191.
The vote came just three days before the one-year anniversary of the IRS scandal. It followed a highly divisive and emotional House floor session in which Republican lawmakers read stories of constituents who had been harassed, intimidated, and audited by the IRS and Democrats cited the McCarthy hearings to rail against their opponents in the House majority.
“If I turned my head and squinted real hard, maybe she would have talked then,” said Republican Georgia Rep. Doug Collins in a passionate floor speech, mocking Democratic arguments that investigators could get at Lerner’s information without holding her in contempt. “Right now the American people do not trust us…I’m just comfortably numb at this point because the arguments don’t matter.”
Cummings stood to condemn Collins’ remarks, stating, “I would say to the gentleman that just left, the arguments do matter. This is still the United States of America…” Cummings made some of the night’s most dramatic statements, proclaiming in his remarks, “Not since McCarthy has this been tried.”
Another back-and-forth ensued when Democratic Washington, D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton took to the floor to rail against Issa’s March 5 cutting of Cummings’ microphone, calling it “one of the worst examples of partisanship the committee has ever seen,” and to make confused comments about how the Oversight Committee handled the investigation. Issa took the floor after Norton and said, “She’s a good person but her facts are completely 100 percent wrong.”
Republican Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, meanwhile, took a shot at Democratic House Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer for asking all the lawmakers present to consider the Constitution before voting. Gohmert noted that Hoyer stood and applauded when Obama said in the State of the Union that if Congress didn’t act he would have to act unilaterally to pass laws by executive action. “Somebody who would do that doesn’t need to be giving lectures about the Constitution,” Gohmert said.
Republican Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold predicted that nothing would happen to Lerner after she gets held in contempt, referring to the contempt of Congress charge leveled against Attorney General Eric Holder during the Fast and Furious scandal, which did not even cost Holder his job. “The other side makes a big deal out of this being political…this might very well make it to the United States Supreme Court. Her rights will be protected,” he said.
Lerner’s contempt citation now goes to the office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for federal prosecution. Lerner could face one year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.