Pelosi Floor Speech in Opposition to House Republican Contempt Vote

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the House floor today in opposition to House Republicans’ contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Thank you Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding.  I commend him for his extraordinary patriotism, for his commitment to upholding our oath of office – to protect and defend the Constitution – and for recognizing full well the congressional role of oversight of all branches of government.  I think we all share that view that Congress has a legitimate role to play in oversight and thus your committee has so much jurisdiction.  And I respect that.

“I think we all also agree – I think we all very, very much agree that we are very sad and seek justice for the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.  His loss is a tragedy for all who knew him, for all of us who care about him, and we offer our condolences to his family.  So sad.

“But that’s not what we’re here to debate – what we agree upon.  What we’re here to debate is something very, very large because it as a major disagreement between the two sides of the aisle here, and I’m sorry to say that, about what our responsibilities are to the Constitution of the United States.  The Constitution requires Congress, and the Executive branch, to avoid unnecessary conflict and to seek accommodations that serve both their interests.  That’s how the Constitution guides us.  As Attorney General William French Smith, who served under President Ronald Reagan said: ‘the accommodation required is not simply an exchange of concessions, or a test of political strength, it is an obligation of each branch to make a principled effort to acknowledge, and if possible, to meet, the legitimate needs of the other branch.’

“Mr. Speaker, on the floor today, the Republicans in Congress are not taking a principled, making a principled effort to acknowledge, or meet, the legitimate needs of the other branch.  What they’re doing is exploiting a very unfortunate circumstance for reasons that I cannot even characterize, so I won’t.  But I will say this without any fear of contradiction: the basic premise that this debate is predicated on today is a false premise.  It’s factually not true.  How many more ways can I say that?  And so we have a debate predicated on a false premise, and what can that lead to that has any good outcome?

“It is a situation where we have a Contempt of Congress Resolution against a sitting Cabinet member, which is the first time in the over two hundred year history of our country that this has ever happened.  Again, what is the motivation?

“Secondly, this motion is not a principled effort to resolve the issue.  If it were, we would not be able to measure in hours and days, not even weeks, the rush, the railroading of a Resolution of Contempt of Congress, that the Republicans passed last week and are bringing this week to the House floor.  I say this because I took considerable heat myself when we brought contempt charges against two staff people at the White House, Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers, four and a half years ago.  We were asking for some papers.  We got nothing, as I said to my friends, ‘not even a wrapper off of a piece of gum.’  Nothing.  Stonewalled.  Nothing.  And yet our Chairman at the time on the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Conyers, and our House leadership, Mr. Hoyer and others, kept saying, ‘find a way, exhaust every remedy so that we do not have to take this action of bringing a contempt charge to the floor of the House.’

“For over two hundred days we tried, we tried, we tried to resolve this situation.  And when we could not, we brought it to the floor, to staff people at the White House.  In stark contrast to the rush of one week to the next, for an unsubstantiated, not even factual, charge against the Attorney General of the United States.  It may just be a coincidence, I don’t know, that the Attorney General of the United States, the chief legal officer of our country, has a responsibility to fight voter suppression, which is going on in our country; that he has refused to defend the constitutionality of DOMA, because he doesn’t believe it’s constitutional; that has major disagreements on immigration, which falls under enforcement of immigration law.  It may just be a coincidence that those are part of his responsibilities.  Or maybe it isn’t.  But the fact is that the chief legal officer of our country, and his staff, has to spend enormous energy, psychic, intellectual, and time, dealing with this unprincipled effort on the part of the Republicans.  Just when you think you have seen it all.  Just when you think they couldn’t possibly go any further over the edge, they come up with something like this.  It’s stunning.  It really is.  And I don’t mean that in meaning it’s beautiful.  It’s stunning, it stops you in your track because you say: ‘how far will they go?  Have they no limits?’  Apparently not.

“And so the temptation is to say: ‘let’s just ignore the whole thing, to not dignify what they’re doing by even being present on the floor when they do this heinous act.’  First time in history of our country to bring a contempt against a Cabinet officer.  You would think they’d be more careful about what they say, but being careful about what they say is apparently not part of their agenda.  And so I know in our Caucus there is a mixed response to this – they’re acting politically, we should act politically.  We shouldn’t vote on this.  I want to vote no.  I think Members have to make their own decision about that.

“I’m very moved by the efforts of our Congressional Black Caucus to say that they’re going to walk out on this.  And perhaps that’s the best approach for us to take.  How else can we impress upon the American people, without scaring them, about what is happening here?  What is happening here?  What is happening here is shameful.  What is happening here is something that we all have an obligation to speak out against.  Because I’m telling you, it’s Eric Holder today, it’s anybody else tomorrow, any charge they can drum up.  And the fact is, and has been said, the fact is that the papers they have seen, they know, are exculpatory.  That means there is no blame on the Attorney General and they know that.  And that’s why they don’t want to bring those responsible for this before their committee.

“And that’s why I commend Chairman Dingell for his leadership in the motion that he will bring to the floor momentarily, a motion of referral.  So that we can get to the bottom of this.  So that we can see how this happened.  So that we can offer some solace to Brian Terry’s family.  And so that we can have some sense of decency about what should happen on the floor of the House and when it goes – it seems to me the more baseless the charge, the higher up they want to go with the contempt.  The less they have to say, that is real, the higher up they want to bring the contempt charge.

“I have always tried to make it a habit of not questioning the motivation of people.  They believe what they believe, we believe what we believe, and we act upon our beliefs.  It always interested me that in this Congress somebody can bring something to the floor that is not true.  But if I were to call someone a mis-representer of that information, my words would be taken down.  So, I guess that gives them liberty to say anything because it’s in the form of a motion.  But let’s make sure that we all take responsibility for doing the right thing and not letting there be an abuse of power, an abuse of this floor of the House, an abuse of the time of the Executive branch, an abuse of the time of a member of the Cabinet who has serious responsibilities to our country.

“So, I urge my colleagues to do what they want as far as walking off.  I myself had said that I was coming to this floor to vote against this resolution.  I thought it was so wrong, that it was no question to take the opportunity to vote no.  But listening to the debate, almost unbelievable – not what they’re saying is believable – but unbelievable that they would say it.  So now, I say to those who have a doubt about how they want to proceed, that instead of doing what I said before, which was just to come and treat this as a resolution before the Congress and express my no, listening to the unconscionable presentation, I want to join my CBC colleagues in boycotting the vote when we have the walkout after we have the debate over Mr. Dingell’s [motion].

“We all take our responsibilities seriously here and one of them, first and foremost, is to support and uphold – defend the Constitution of the United States.  And that Constitution requires the Congress and the Executive branch, I’ll end as I began, to avoid unnecessary conflict and seek accommodation to serve both interests, the Executive branch and the Legislative branch.  We’re not upholding that aspect of the Constitution here.

“So, I urge my colleagues to vote no, or a no vote, but to seriously reject, and let’s hope that this will not be repeated.  But I’m telling you, it’s Eric Holder one day, you don’t know who it is the next because of the frivolousness which they treat a serious responsibility of the House of Representatives.  It’s appalling.”