A game of chicken between Attorney General Eric Holder and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, ended Wednesday when the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted 23 to 17 to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.
Issa had asked the embattled attorney general to hand over documents concerning the so-called "Fast and Furious" program that put guns in the hands of Mexican drug lords in hopes of nabbing them on weapons charges. The failed effort has been linked by critics to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2010.
Vermont Democrat Rep. Peter Welch described the partisan contempt vote as "dissapointing."
"I don't know how many jobs this is going to create or how this is going to bring unemployment down," Welch said. "But it seems to be what the House of Representatives likes to do these days."
Speaker of the House John Boehner announced a vote on the contempt charge next week. If it passes, then the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia will make the final decision on whether to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.
Issa told reporters following the vote that "this could end abruptly if the documents are produced."
The vote comes despite President Barack Obama's last ditch effort to hold off the vote by invoking executive privilage.
"We regret that we have arrived at this point," Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote in the letter to Issa.
While Holder has turned over nearly 8,000 pages of documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious and appeared before Congress nine times to answer questions about the scandal, the attorney general has failed to turn over several documents that were subpoenaed last October, which Issa says will shed more light on the scope of Fast and Furious. [See the Latest Political Cartoons From U.S. News & World Report.]
Support for the contempt vote was split bitterly down party lines with Republicans on the committee praising Issa's persistence and patience throughout the 16-month investigation and Democrats condemning the chairman for presiding over a "kangaroo court" which Democrats say had sought out to persecute Holder from the start.
New York Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney said she was "personally offended" by Issa's attacks on the attorney general in an election year and demanded the committee spend its time on reforms rather than a "witch hunt."
"I am horrified that you are going forward with this contempt charge," Maloney says. "The Attorney General is being attacked for protecting documents he is prohibited by law from producing."
Ranking committee member Maryland Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings scolded Issa for holding the attorney general to an "impossible standard."
Republicans on the committee fought back.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, fed up with the debate, yelled "either we have the right to the documents and we should get all of them, or we have no business here."
Republicans also accused Democrats of prioritizing Holder and the Obama administration above the need to investigate Fast and Furious.
Republicans repeatedly invoked the memory of Brian Terry, a border patrol officer who became the face of Operation Fast and Furious after he was killed in a shoot out with a weapon the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sold to a known arms trafficker.
"We pledged to them that we would hold someone accountable for the death of their son, their brother their cousin and that is what we are going to do," says New York Republican Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle.