Holder vote is likely a party-line split for Texas congressional delegation

McClatchy NewspapersJune 28, 2012 

— Texas Democrats and Republicans are split almost entirely along party lines for today's Republican-led House vote on whether Attorney General Eric Holder is in contempt of Congress, but one Texas Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, is undecided.

Efforts to delay or call off the vote continued, but House Speaker John Boehner insisted that it will go on. Holder would be the first attorney general in the nation's history to be found in contempt of Congress.

The four GOP members who represent Tarrant County will vote in favor of the contempt citation: Joe Barton of Ennis, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Michael Burgess of Lewisville and Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

For Texans the issue at the heart of the Holder contempt case, the Fast and Furious gun operation during which more than 2,000 firearms "walked" into Mexico with federal acquiescence, has a special resonance. Not only does Texas share the longest state border with Mexico -- more than 1,200 miles of the 1,900-mile U.S.- Mexico border -- but the state has a special concern with border violence.

The death of federal agent Brian Terry in Arizona in 2010, attributed to a weapon that the U.S. officials allowed to "walk" into the hands of drug cartels, has outraged lawmakers in both parties.

"We literally began working on Fast and Furious from the day I started in Congress," said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, a freshman who is the only Texan on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The panel, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is leading the investigation and voted last week to hold Holder in contempt for withholding documents. The White House, meanwhile, raised the political stakes by claiming executive privilege, a rarely used presidential prerogative.

The Justice Department's initial denial of the operation in Feb. 2011, followed by a retraction nine months later, is central to what Congress wants to know.

"The information they gave us on Fast and Furious was wrong well before they acknowledged it," Farenthold said in an interview. "We want to know who knew what when, not so much so we can get a scalp but to make sure procedures are in place so that this doesn't happen again."

Cuellar, the only Blue Dog Democrat -- as fiscally conservative Democrats are known -- among the nine Texas Democrats, said, "We all agree, Democrat and Republican, that Fast and Furious was a tragic failure."

But he also sees the GOP rhetoric as starkly political -- although the injection of the National Rifle Association into the mix has gotten his attention. The NRA is scoring the vote, meaning it will consider the vote in determining whether it supports a candidate. "That's part of my consideration," Cuellar said.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, said, "I think it's pretty regrettable for all concerned that we're here."

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