Forget “Fast and Furious.” It’s a sideshow.
The same broad executive powers President Obama exercised when he withheld documents related to the “gun walking” disaster were standard practice in the Bush administration. And Republicans in Congress never complained.
There’s more to this than a fight over executive privilege.
Behind California Republican Darrell Issa’s push for a House vote holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress this week is an issue as old as the Republic.
It’s the White Boys on the Committee vs. Attorney General Holder, and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, both of whom threaten the Republican Party’s practice of marginalizing black and Hispanic voters.
Holder is a civil rights litigator who reminds Republicans of Nicholas Katzenbach ordering a defiant George Wallace to move out of the doorway of the University of Alabama administration building so African-American students could be enrolled. Issa is Bull Connor without the firehose.
As chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which last week voted to hold the attorney general in contempt, Issa wins if he undermines Holder’s power, or encourages him to resign if there is a second Obama administration.
The Republicans are after Holder because he gets it. He understands that redistricting committees in state legislatures controlled by Republicans, and voter-suppression laws passed by those same legislatures, have replaced the firehoses, billy clubs, and Jim Crow laws once used to deny the rights of citizenship to racial and ethnic minorities.
And Holder is not hesitant to act; he is using the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act to dismantle the impediments to citizenship that Republicans are putting in place.
Holder warned the Republicans that he was coming at them. When he arrived to speak at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in December 2011, the racial division was as stark as it was last week, when Issa’s committee vote to hold him in contempt.
In Austin, the black Attorney General was confronted by a crowd of angry white Tea Party protestors, who objected to his presence on the campus. (The audience inside the auditorium was a racial and ethnic mix that looked more like this country.)
In his speech, Holder recalled the heroes who put their lives on the line to deliver on the promise of the post-Civil War constitutional amendments that extended the vote to African-Americans.
“Our efforts honor the generations of Americans who have taken extraordinary risks, and willingly confronted hatred, bias, and ignorance—as well as billy clubs and firehoses, bullets and bombs—to ensure that their children, and all American citizens, would have the chance to participate in the work of their government,” Holder said.
He quoted one of those heroes, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who warned that voting rights are “under attack ... [by] a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
“Not only was [Lewis] referring to the all-too-common deceptive practices we’ve been fighting for years,” Holder said, “he was echoing more recent concerns about some of the state-level voting law changes we’ve seen this legislative season.”
Holder was warning Republican legislators and governors who are imposing restrictions on voting and using racial gerrymandering to dilute the minority vote.
Three months ago, Assistant AG Perez doubled down on what his boss had said in Austin. At a speech at Rutgers Law School in April, the head of the Voting Rights Division said that Bush’s attorneys general (Ashcroft and Gonzales) had shut career employees out of the process and allowed only political appointees to enforce voting-rights laws.
“That was wrong,” Perez said. “We enforce the Voting Rights Act. It is not the Republican Party Empowerment Act or the Democratic Party Empowerment Act. So we have restored the integrity of the decision making process.”
That process, Holder said at Rutgers, has resulted in the Justice Department using the Voting Rights Act to challenge 10 instances in which Republican legislatures and governors have rewritten voting laws to dilute minority voting or obstruct minority voters.
This is what has Republicans on the Hill behaving like a mob.
To be fair, their racism is not the visceral, personal variety that animated Sheriff Connor, although I’ve seen and smelled that old-fashioned racism at events where the base gathers, such as the almost all-white annual CPAC gatherings in Washington, when speakers know that they can heat up a crowd by mentioning Holder’s name.
The racism that has infected the Party of Lincoln might be described as pragmatic, practical racism.
When minorities register and vote, Republicans lose and Democrats win.
Eric Holder and Thomas Perez are working to dismantle restrictive laws Republicans have put in place.
Nothing personal, but Republicans understand that they’ve got to be stopped.