Attorney General Eric Holder infuriated Republicans earlier this month, when he claimed that he has faced “unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly, and divisive adversity” throughout his tenure.
“You look at how the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House Committee,” Holder said during a speech at the National Action Network convention, in reference to his heated exchange with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). “What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”
Although Holder later elaborated that he was referring to a general “breakdown of civility in Washington,” his critics on the right immediately accused the attorney general of playing the race card.
“Liberalism has a kind of Tourette’s Syndrome these days. It’s just constantly saying the word ‘racism’ and ‘racist,’” conservative pundit George Will said on a recent edition of Fox News Sunday. “It’s an old saying in the law: If you have the law on your side, argue the law, if you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have neither, pound the table. This is pounding the table.”
Will’s complaint neatly summarizes the right’s charge against Holder: He is not being targeted or singled out, but is merely playing the victim for political gain.
As usual, however, the Republican majority in the House is here to screw up the messaging.
On Thursday, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) introduced the Contempt Act — a bill that would withhold the pay of any federal officials who have been held in contempt by Congress.
That would prevent exactly one member of the Obama administration from getting a paycheck: Eric Holder.
Conveniently, Farenthold’s bill would not require a federal court to convict the employee in order for his/her pay to be cut off — so the fact that the contempt vote against Holder was a thinly veiled partisan attack with little legal consequence would not stop House Republicans from penalizing the attorney general.
Upon announcing the bill, Farenthold did not bother to disguise the fact that his proposal was a targeted strike against the attorney general.
“In 2012, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting operation – despite this fact, he is still receiving his paycheck courtesy of American taxpayers,” the congressman said in a press release. “[M]y bill will at least prevent current and future federal employees, like Attorney General Holder, from continuing to collect their taxpayer-paid salaries while held in contempt of Congress.”
“The American people should not be footing the bill for federal employees who stonewall Congress or rewarding government officials’ bad behavior,” he added. “If the average American failed to do his or her job, he or she would hardly be rewarded. High-ranking government officials should be treated no differently than everyone else.”
Putting aside the fact that Farenthold — a particularly unproductive member of the least productive Congress in memory — still gets rewarded quite handsomely for his work, his bill should create a messaging problem for his party.
Republicans can either accuse Eric Holder of lying when he claims that he’s being singled out for unfair treatment, or they can vote on a bill specifically designed to single him out by withholding his — and only his — pay. They can’t do both.
Photo: Ryan J Reilly via Flickr