The House Judiciary Committee voted today to seek contempt of Congress citations against a top aide to President Bush and a former presidential aide over their refusal to cooperate in an inquiry about the firing of federal prosecutors.
The 22-to-17 vote along party lines escalates the battle between the administration and Congressional Democrats over the dismissals of nine United States attorneys last year, an episode that Democrats say needs airing but that many Republicans say is much ado about nothing.
“It’s not a step that, as chairman, I take easily or lightly,” the head of the panel, Representative John D. Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, said before the committee voted to cite Joshua B. Bolten, the president’s chief of staff, and Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel.
To take effect, the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation must be voted upon by the full House, where Democrats have a 231-to-201 edge, with 3 vacancies. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not said whether she would seek House action before the lawmakers recess in early August, or allow the issue to simmer until the House reconvenes after Labor Day.
Or a compromise could be worked out between the White House and the legislators, despite the hard-edged words on both sides in the months since the controversy over the firings erupted. Recent history offers several examples of disputes between the executive and legislative branches being settled.