WASHINGTON–House Democrats are pushing through a resolution Tuesday that will enable House Committee Chairmen to file lawsuits against the administration for documents they have subpoenaed.
In an attempt to move along the Democrats’ investigation of the administration, the proposal will give power to the chairmen to begin the legal process every time a witness refuses to comply with a committee subpoena.
Additionally, the rule change would also apply to forthcoming subpoenas, so Committee Chairs can enforce each subpoena without a floor vote for each one.
“We are re-affirming the power of the committees to get subpoenas in response to what’s really an unprecedented intent to prevent a co-equal branch of government from doing its constitutional duties,” a Democratic aide told Politico last week of the resolution.
That process can only begin with the approval of a bipartisan panel of top House leadership members where Democrats would control the majority.
The resolution was debated in the Rules Committee Monday night. It is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote on Tuesday. Rules Committee Ranking member Tom Cole argued against the resolution saying it would cause reputational risk for the House in the courts.
“As I previously expressed I’m concerned that allowing the House to sue to enforce subpoenas prior to exercising all tools in their toolbox puts the house on an extremely weak legal footing,” Cole said.
He continued, “I fear this will be the case of the first impression for the courts and, depending on the judge, could drag out for years. When the House has previously sued for documents, the government officials were first held in contempt. That’s not the case here. The untested tactics provided by H.Res 430 risk losing in court and damaging this institution.”
Cole also noted that House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler made “numerous statements” that the committee was not seeking documents that are properly subject to Rule 6e– also known as federal laws pertaining to the disclosure of grand jury material.
However, the subpoena Nadler authorized, Cole argued, “applies to 6e materials making it impossible for Attorney General Barr to fully comply with a subpoena without breaking the law.”
“This has never been done in the history of the United States House of Representatives except in two cases, but in those cases, there was a full vote from the House of Representatives on contempt of Congress charges,” Arizona Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko, a member of the Rules Committee said Monday.
She added, “Here, the Congress decided at the last minute. The Democrats decided at the last minute to not have a vote on contempt of Congress and, instead, to do this other bill that has never been done in the history of the United States.”
Democrats originally planned to charge Attorney General Bill Barr with contempt Tuesday, but the Justice Department reached a deal with the House Judiciary Committee that entailed releasing key documents related to the Mueller report, so the contempt vote was canceled.
“To me, it’s just about headlines. This is all about a political show…to undermine the president of the United States and influence the 2020 election,” Lesko said. “I mean if they could do this without spending millions of dollars on TV ads, That’s their goal.”