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Editor’s Note: Mixing baseball and contempt

Congressional Baseball Game brushes up against politics

Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, slides in safe to home plate as catcher Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., appeals to the umpire during the Congressional Baseball Game on Wednesday.
Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, slides in safe to home plate as catcher Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., appeals to the umpire during the Congressional Baseball Game on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Congressional Baseball Game, long held up as a refuge of rare legislative branch camaraderie, keeps finding itself in the middle of partisan strife.

Among the last actions of the House on Wednesday before gaveling out and heading to Nationals Park for the annual contest was a 216-207 vote to hold Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in contempt of Congress.

The House GOP-led effort was spurred by Garland’s refusal to provide audio recordings of former Special Counsel Robert Hur’s interview of President Joe Biden over the president’s handling of classified documents. (The Justice Department had provided a written transcript.)

The Republican baseball team beat the Democrats 31-11, their fourth victory in a row.

It was the second time in 12 years an attorney general had been held in contempt of Congress on the day of the big game. On June 28, 2012, the House held Eric Holder in contempt over a dispute investigating the gun-running Fast and Furious sting operation, the first time a sitting Cabinet member was held in contempt of Congress.

The Democrats went on to beat the Republicans on the diamond that year, 18-5.

The contempt vote might not have even been the most polarizing event that day. The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the 2010 “Obamacare” health care law was constitutional.

Politics is nothing new in Washington, and sports, like many high-profile cultural institutions, has become increasingly intertwined in political fights. Just ask Taylor Swift.

The upshot of this year’s contempt vote is unlikely to result in a tangible effect. When a chamber of Congress finds someone in contempt, which it has been doing since the early days of the republic, it has little recourse itself to enforce the contempt resolution. So it relies on the Justice Department.

While the Justice Department has secured convictions of two advisers of former President Donald Trump, Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon, in recent years, the department has declined to prosecute others. Among the nonprosecuted include Holder, another former attorney general, William P. Barr (that’s three for those keeping score at home) and former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It is unlikely the current department will be hauling the boss into court.

Back to baseball. One could hold the view that the annual congressional game helps cool things down after such heated happenings under the Capitol Dome.

It is hard to say. The vibe at a sporting event is hard to quantify. In that way, it’s unlike a vote, which is ultimately the most quantifiable thing members of Congress do. And there is always another vote, while the game happens only once a year.

Jason Dick is editor-in-chief of CQ Roll Call.

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