U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues left the House floor during today's votes to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for his refusal to surrender document concerning "Fast and Furious," a controversial gun-tracking operation.
When the U.S. House voted this afternoon, Ellison, other black caucus members and much of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which Ellison co-chairs, hosted a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building during the vote.
"I agree that the 'Fast and Furious' operation deserved a methodical Congressional investigation -- this is our oversight responsibility," Ellison said in a statement.
"However, the investigation has ignored the fact that the Bush Administration started this program, which let weapons traffickers by thousands of guns. The Obama Administration acted decisively to stop the program and Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the approach.
"Yet, once again the Republicans won't take 'yes' for an answer and have turned this tragedy into a political football."
Holder is the first black to serve as attorney general and was the first to face a contempt vote by the full House or Senate. The measure passed the House of Representatives, 255 to 67.
The Fast and Furious investigation is trying to determine whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms deliberately allowed guns to fall into the hands of drug cartels in Mexico while agents sought to track how the weapons are smuggled to criminal groups. A Customs and Border Protection Agent was shot and killed with one of the trafficked guns.
Democrats pushed for a mass walkout, but two of Minnesota's Democratic representatives -- Collin Peterson and Tim Walz -- supported the contempt resolutions against Holder. The Washington Post reported that the National Rifle Association, which supports the contempt vote, may have influenced Peterson's decision.
"To do its job, Congress must have access to all the information it needs to make independent, sound judgments on behalf of the American people," Walz said in a statement.
"Five years ago, when I voted to hold President Bush's Administration officials in contempt, I said we have to stay consistent in our oversight of executive branch officials. After reviewing the facts carefully, I have come to the same conclusions as I did in 2007. There are just too many unanswered questions surrounding "Fast and Furious," and the American people deserve to know more."
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the only other Minnesota Democrat in the House, joined Ellison in denouncing and skipping the contempt votes.
"This Tea Party Republican resolution is a shameful and shameless political witch hunt intended to destroy an honorable man's character," her statement read, in part.
Minnesota's U.S. Republican representatives -- Michele Bachmann, Chip Cravaack John Kline and Erik Paulsen -- all voted to hold Holder in contempt.
"While I had hoped the Attorney General would have produced the subpoenaed documents, I remain hopeful that these votes are a step forward as Congress continues its investigations into 'Fast and Furious,'" Bachmann said in a statement.