WASHINGTON — Democrats rammed a resolution through the House on Tuesday that would clear the way for the Judiciary Committee to file a lawsuit and seek court-ordered compliance from Trump administration officials and aides who defy congressional subpoenas.
The resolution passed along strict party lines, 229-191, with 13 lawmakers not voting.
Democrats pushed the resolution through partly out of frustration with Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn, who have refused to comply with subpoenas as committees delve into special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
An agreement was reached this week between the Justice Department and the Judiciary Committee on the Mueller report and documents, avoiding a House vote on contempt charges against Barr and McGahn.
Still, Democrats moved ahead with the resolution, which would allow the committee to seek a court order to enforce future compliance to thwart efforts by the Trump administration or the White House to stall investigations into allegations Trump obstructed the Mueller probe.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said House committees have asked for information, only to be stonewalled by administration officials and those instructed by the White House not to testify, like McGahn.
Putting teeth into subpoenas
Titus, who is conducting an investigation into the president’s ownership of a Washington hotel and a lease agreement with the General Services Administration, said the resolution would stop delays by the administration to provide testimony and documents needed for Congress to conduct its oversight duties.
“If you put some teeth into it, and then they’ll start to comply,” Titus said of the resolution, which would let committees immediately seek a court ruling.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told a news conference last week that recent federal court rulings have favored the House in its demands for information.
Democrats, who are divided over the issue of impeachment, voted for the resolution and to hold the administration accountable. Republicans called it an election gimmick.
Nevada Democrats Titus, Rep. Susie Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford voted for the resolution. The state’s lone Republican in the congressional delegation, Mark Amodei, voted against it.
Amodei said earlier that a Republican-led vote on contempt charges against Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder over the Fast and Furious gun investigation scandal in 2014 made the GOP look partisan.
A Democrat-led House vote on contempt charges on Barr would look the same, Amodei said.
Lawmakers dig in
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are dug in as House Democrats try to build a case for an impeachment inquiry.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said the Justice Department, under the agreement reached this week, was providing the committee with the full unredacted Mueller report and documents produced during the investigation.
“If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take future steps,” Nadler said in a statement.
“If important information is held back,” Nadler added, “then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, accused Democrats of breaking precedent with a resolution that would no longer require a full House vote to file suit for compliance.
And he noted that it took the House more than 450 days to vote on a contempt resolution on Holder, while Democrats rushed a possible contempt vote on Barr in less than 50 days.
Republicans charged that Democrats are eager to keep congressional investigations into the president’s conduct and alleged obstruction, spelled out in detail in the Mueller report, as the 2020 elections approach.
Mueller found that Trump on at least 10 occasions tried to obstruct, impede or shut down his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump, according to the report, worried the investigation would doom his presidency.
The investigation found no evidence of the president colluding with the Russians, but it pointedly did not exonerate him on obstruction and left it to Congress to determine whether an impeachment inquiry should be launched, legal experts testified at a Judiciary Committee hearing this week.
Although Democrats are divided on impeachment hearings, Senate Republican leaders have said the issue is dead in the upper chamber.