House Democratic leaders have decided to postpone a vote on a criminal contempt resolution against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers for several weeks, and possibly longer, according to top lawmakers and aides.Pushing the contempt citation now does not serve any purposes, either politically or from a PR standpoint.
The decision delays any constitutional showdown, at least for the moment, between Congress and President Bush over the extent of executive privilege and the president’s ability to fend off congressional investigations.
But the slowdown, approved by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top lieutenants, is also stirring objections among Democrats.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said he is uncomfortable with the delay and worries the House will be seen as toothless unless it moves quickly to hold top officials in contempt for failing to provide documents and testimony in congressional probes.
Trying to push for a vote on contempt of Congress at a time when most Americans have contempt for Congress is not going to win the Democrats any points. This is particularly true when considering that the issue underlying the contempt citations is the U.S. Attorney firing scandal and the Democrats have gotten their cherished hide in the resignation of Alberto Gonzalez. People have moved on from the firing "scandal" and now consider other things more important.
Additionally, the contempt citations are likely to go nowhere. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia has been told by the White House to prosecute the contempt citations and Congress can do almost nothing, short of not funding the DC U.S. Attorney's office, about it. Congress is not likely to take such a petty action for a constitutional showdown that they are not likely to win.
Finally, if Congressional Democrats decide they want to go head to head with the President on this issue, they must realize that their track record on head to head match ups is not particularly stellar. On the Iraq fudning issues, Democrats lost. On the surge, Democrats are losing (and losing face). Since the contempt citations don't rise to the level of importance of Iraq, or entitlements, or education, or a dozen other issues facing this nation, moving forward on this sends a signal to America that Democrats are so ineffective that they can only get action on minor league issues.
Democrats may be losing their nerve, I certainly think so, but what other choices do they have.