So the other, or at least next, shoe has dropped in the Antonio Gonzales hearings, with the House Judiciary Committee voting “to seek contempt of Congress citations against … Joshua B. Bolten, the president’s chief of staff, and Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel.” A former committee chairman, James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, threw cold water on the announcement, according the Associated Press, “saying that a civil lawsuit in federal court would be less perilous for the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches than a constitutional battle over contempt” — “I think that the White House is going to win an argument in court over the contempt matter,” Sensenbrenner told the panel.
That AP story notes that “the last time a full chamber of Congress voted on a contempt citation was 1983. The House voted 413-0 to cite former Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle for contempt of Congress for refusing to appear before a House committee. Lavelle was later acquitted in court of the contempt charge, but she was convicted of perjury in a separate trial.”
This leads Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report to make a historical comparison. “Lavelle was the chief of the EPA’s hazardous waste program in the Reagan administration,” writes Benen. “The White House withheld documents in the ‘Sewergate’ scandal about hazardous waste enforcement Reagan’s EPA didn’t believe in it and Lavelle resisted subpoenas. An outraged House approved a contempt citation unanimously. Today, not a single Republican on the House Judiciary Committee was willing to endorse a similar measure. Not one. In other words, every member of the House GOP in 1983 was willing to take a stand against an official in the administration of Ronald Reagan, the Patron Saint of the Party, but in 2007, the Republican caucus is inclined to stand with Bush.”