Right-wing Republican attempts to force vote on inherent contempt of Merrick Garland

An attempt to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in inherent contempt of Congress failed on Wednesday  (AP)
An attempt to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in inherent contempt of Congress failed on Wednesday (AP)

A right-wing Republican from Florida filed a resolution that will force the House to vote on holding Attorney Merrick Garland in a rarely used form of contempt of Congress.

A motion to refer a resolution was brought by Republican Representative Anna Paulina Luna of Florida to the House Rules Committee to hold Garland in “inherent contempt of Congress.”

The House voted in an attempt to refer the resolution to the Rules Committee, which would have effectively killed it.

Four Republicans – Mike Turner and David Joyce of Ohio and John Duarte and Tom McClintock of California – voted with Democrats to refer it to Rules, which would have tabled the resolution.

But the effort to kill the resolution failed, meaning that a vote on the matter will still take place.

Congress has three different types of contempt powers: criminal, civil and inherent contempt, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. But once Congress votes for criminal contempt, the executive branch has sole discretion to prosecute. Shortly after the House had voted to hold Garland in contempt earlier this year, the Justice Department announced it would not prosecute Garland.

Civil contempt allows for Congress to enforce a subpoena through a lawsuit, but that relies soley on the courts.

The third type, inherent contempt, has not been used in decades and gives Congress the authority to impose sanctions on people violating a contempt of Congress resolution rather than rely on the executive or judicial branch. It allows for the person held in contempt to be taken into custody to be brought before the House or Senate and allow for a “trial” to determine guilt or innocence.

Luna’s resolution would have held Garland in “inherent contempt” - meaning it would have required him to pay $10,000 per day that he did not comply with the congressional subpoena. The process is often considered onerous and it has seldom been used since the creation of civil and criminal contempt powers.

Representative Anna Paulina of Florida had attempted to hold Garland in “inherent contempt” of Congress after the House had voted to hold him in contempt of Congress in June.

The House accused Garland of contempt after he defied a subpoena to turn over audio tapes of President Joe Biden’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur.

But the Justice Department said it would not prosecure Garland after the vote.

In turn, Luna said she would file a motion to hold Garland in “inherent contempt,” arguing that the he could be punished for defying a subpoena despite the Justice Department’s decision.

“If an American is presented with a lawful subpoena, he or she is expected that they comply or face the consequences of their defiance,” she said. “Why should the attorney general of the United States be held to a different standard. No one is above the law.”

Luna’s resolution argued that opted to make her resolution privileged, which triggered an immediate vote.

But Democrats roundly mocked the resolution.

“This is a stupid resolution,” Representative Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, said on the floor. “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 it to the fact that multiple Republicans, including Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and many former members of the Trump administration all defied congressional subpoenas.

“All ordered to testify and what did they do? They ran and hid,” he said. “It's like a national pastime for Republicans. Golf, fishing and ignoring subpoenas. Golf, fishing and ignoring subpoenas.”

That triggered the House attempting to strike McGovern’s words from the record.

House Minority Whip Katherine Clark said the resolution was a waste of time.

“We've already taken up way too much of the House's time, of the American people's time,” she said. “Let's get back to doing the work they sent us here to do.”

The move comes as the House continues to try and obtain the audio recordings between Biden and Hur as part of the special counsel investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents from his time as senator and vice president at his private residence and a think tank affiliated with him.

The special counsel declined to prosecute Biden, but the report said that he had failed to recall when his son Beau Biden had died and that he would be perceived by a jury as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said that he would sue to obtain the recordings afterward.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that the resolution to hold Garland in “inherent contempt” failed. It was an effort to kill the resolution that failed and a vote on the matter will still take place. This story has been corrected to reflect that.