House Democrats will not hold floor votes on contempt resolutions against Attorney General William Barr or any other Trump administration officials until at least June, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Wednesday.
Hoyer’s comments made official what has already been clear inside the House Democratic Caucus — Hoyer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders are still wrestling with how to respond to President Donald Trump’s broad refusal to cooperate with subpoenas for documents and testimony related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, as well as his own personal finances.
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Pelosi and her top lieutenants have shown no interest in impeaching Trump despite repeated calls to do so from some rank-and-file lawmakers, as there is no GOP support for such a move and it could backfire politically against Democrats. The Justice Department won’t act on any criminal contempt resolution approved by House Democrats, leaving them with the choice of suing Trump in court as part of a civil contempt finding, a time-consuming process. And senior Democrats privately scoff at the idea of using “inherent contempt” authority — having Congress detain or fine witnesses who won’t cooperate with subpoenas — although a number of junior Democrats want to try it, despite the fact it hasn’t been attempted by the House in more than 80 years.
“I don’t anticipate it will be done this month. We only have one week [left],” Hoyer told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the contempt resolution against Barr, which was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week over Barr’s failure to turn over an unredacted copy of the Mueller report after he was subpoenaed. “But again, I want to emphasize this is a very serious matter. We are taking it very seriously.”
Hoyer added that Democratic leaders are assembling a package of contempt resolutions that would be approved at one time, although there is no timetable on what that will reach the floor.
“We don’t want to do it just individually … We want to confront this refusal by the administration to cooperate with the constitution and the mandate that Congress has of oversight,” Hoyer said. “The president has, in effect, made a blanket statement that he’s not cooperating with any subpoenas. That is totally unacceptable. That is against the Constitution.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, played down the debate over inherent contempt going on among his colleagues.
“I don’t think there’s a divide,” Jeffries said at his own Wednesday press conference. “I think there is a discussion that is ongoing that is being led by Chairman Jerry Nadler, our leadership, as well as chairman Jim McGovern of the Rules Committee to decide and discuss how we best proceed from this part.”
“As you know, the contempt citation that we voted out of the Judiciary Committee did not specify whether it was a criminal contempt citation or civil contempt, intentionally allowing for discussion to take place, so we can decide how best to proceed,” Jeffries added.
Hoyer, though, showed little enthusiasm for the idea, despite its popularity among some members.
“I don’t want to deny that we have inherent contempt authority. But we are somewhat limited in our ability to carry that out,” Hoyer said.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.