WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, escalating the war between the Trump administration and House Democrats.
The committee voted 24-16 along party lines to approve a resolution recommending that the full U.S. House find Barr in contempt for his refusal to comply with a committee subpoena seeking an unredacted copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“This is all about impeaching the president,” charged Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who joined Trump at a political rally in Panama City Wednesday night. “Why don’t [Democrats] just say it? Why don’t they just jump to the impeachment proceedings like their liberal media overlords are telling them to do? Well, the reason is that the American people don’t support impeachment.”
Gaetz was the lone member of the committee to miss the final vote on the contempt resolution late on Wednesday. He missed the vote because he was traveling on Air Force One with Trump en route to Florida, according to his spokesman Luke Ball.
The vote came after a full day of partisan sniping on Capitol Hill and after President Trump asserted executive privilege over the report, further infuriating the House Democratic majority.
“This is not a step we take lightly,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said at the kickoff of the hearing Wednesday morning. He called the attempt to invoke privilege a “clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance” of Congress and the latest example of “unprecedented obstruction” by the president and his allies.
In the hours leading up to the vote, House Republicans defended Trump and Barr, depicting the Democrats’ push for more details about Mueller’s findings as the latest chapter in an attempt to score political points by bashing the president.
Because Democrats have the majority on the committee, the party-line approval of the contempt resolution was all but certain. Still, lawmakers seized the opportunity to trade barbs over the findings of the Mueller report.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents a southeast Florida district that includes Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, said, “We’re here today because we’re witnessing the breakdown of the foundations of our nation’s constitutional order.” He said of Barr, “The attorney general of the United States is stonewalling the people.”
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), who was born in Ecuador, recalled how she had to take an oath when she became a citizen and when she became a U.S. congresswoman to support and defend the constitution. She said the only oath Barr is following “is to protect and defend this president, who right now is threatening the strength of our democracy.”
Republicans, meanwhile, accused their Democratic colleagues of rushing to hold Barr in contempt to rebuke a president whose policies they dislike.
Republican U.S. Rep. Ben Cline of Virginia said Democrats are “in search of a smoking gun of collusion, conspiracy with Russia that does not exist.” He added, “This is a charade, and I have never seen anything like it.”
The contempt resolution will now head to the House floor. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Barr should be held in contempt of Congress and “nothing is off table” regarding whether to impeach him, CNBC reported.