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House rejects ‘inherent contempt’ resolution for Garland over tape of Biden interview

Four Republicans vote against the resolution

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., speaks during a June 26 news conference on efforts to hold Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in inherent contempt of Congress.
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., speaks during a June 26 news conference on efforts to hold Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in inherent contempt of Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House rejected an “inherent contempt” resolution against Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Thursday, foiling a Republican attempt to ramp up pressure to release audio of a special counsel interview with President Joe Biden.

The measure from Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., rejected 204-210, would fine the attorney general $10,000 a day until he complies with congressional subpoenas for the recording. Several Republicans joined with Democrats in voting against the resolution.

The measure was the latest in a months-long push from House Republicans to get the audio recording of former special counsel Robert K. Hur’s interview with the president, which took place as part of a probe into Biden’s handling of classified materials.

Hur’s report characterized Biden’s memory as “significantly limited” in his interview with the special counsel’s office. That report was released in February, months before Biden’s debate performance last month that raised concerns among Democrats over his mental sharpness and stamina.

A transcript of Hur’s interview with Biden is available to the public, but the president has invoked executive privilege over the audio. Garland has said releasing the audio “would chill cooperation with the department in future investigations.”

On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump signaled support for the resolution and Luna, in remarks on the House floor, said lawmakers have no choice but to rely on an authority known as “inherent contempt.”

“If we fail to hold Garland accountable, we will signal to whoever controls the White House it is impervious to congressional oversight, and that the constitutionality recognized power of the House of Representatives is merely a suggestion and not to be taken seriously,” Luna said.

The inherent contempt power allows for the arrest or detention of a person found to be obstructing the legislature’s performance duties, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

Luna’s resolution does not go that far, as it would only impose a fine. This Congress is not subordinate to the executive branch, she said.

Congress held Garland in contempt last month because he refused to provide the audio of the Biden interview. The Justice Department last said it would not prosecute Garland.

“This resolution will protect the integrity and independence of the legislative branch, and to each one of my colleagues, your constituents and this institution are relying on you to be on the right side of law and order,” she said.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., ridiculed the resolution as a “B.S. political stunt,” accusing Republicans of only wanting the recording because they think the Republican National Committee will be able to use it in attack ads.

“Mr. Speaker, this is a stupid resolution. Republican leadership knows this is a stupid resolution. Their own members know this is a stupid resolution, but they’re beholden to the craziest MAGA members in their conference,” McGovern said. “And so this is what we get, stupid resolutions on the floor because they’re too chicken to stand up to the extremism in their own party.”

McGovern listed other Republican officials, including House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who have defied a congressional subpoena.

“It’s like a national pastime for Republicans — golf, fishing and ignoring subpoenas. And now they have the nerve to come down here and lecture anyone about the rule of law. Get lost. Get lost. Get out of here with this nonsense,” he said.

A Republican lawmaker objected to the comments, and McGovern later asked unanimous consent to withdraw the “offending words.”