Update at 4:40 p.m. ET. House Votes To Hold Holder In Contempt:
In a dramatic showdown between the branches of government, the Republican-led House voted along party lines to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. This is the first time in history an attorney general has been held in contempt.
As the vote proceeded, droves of Democratic lawmakers protested by walking out of the House chambers. They poured out onto the Capitol building's steps, where Rep. Jim Clyburn expressed his disgust. The Democratic leader in the House Nancy Pelosi was among them.
Now, the criminal contempt charge is refered to the U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia. In other words, Holder's own Justice Department, which will decide how to proceed.
House Republicans say they are holding Holder in contempt because the Obama administration has withheld documents related to the failed Fast and Furious gun walking operation. For its part, the White House claimed executive privilege to keep from complying with the subpoena. The White House says the documents and emails Republicans seek show internal deliberations after the operation became public.
The House also voted to approve a separate measure, which gives Rep. Darrell Issa's Oversight and Government Reform Committee authorization to sue the Department of Justice in federal court in an effort to enforce their subpoena seeking the documents.
Update at 4:57 p.m. ET. 'Politically Motivated':
Attorney General Eric Holder called the House vote "unfortunate" and "politically motivated."
"Today's vote is the regrettable culmination of what has become a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year," Holder said in a televised statement. "By advancing this over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety."
Holder said that when the flawed Fast and Furious tactics came to light, he took action, ordering the tactics stopped and ordering an investigation.
He said Issa and Republicans in Congress have rebuffed his attempts to bring this to a resolution without a contempt vote.
Our Original Post Continues:
The United States House is set to vote today on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
House Republicans say Holder and the Obama administration have withheld documents related to the failed Fast and Furious gun walking operation. For its part, the White House claimed executive privilege to keep from turning over the documents, which it says show internal deliberation after the operation became public.
The New York Times reports this sets up a constitutionally charged dispute that could make Holder the first attorney general held in contempt.
The Times adds:
"In early jostling – a debate over the rule governing the final debate later in the day – Republicans repeatedly invoked the death of Brian Terry, a border patrol agent killed in a shootout in December 2010. Two guns that had been purchased by a suspect in the gunrunning case the previous January were found the near the scene.
"'These contempt charges aren't about politics,' said Representative Rich Nugent, Republican of Florida. 'They aren't about Attorney General Holder or President Obama or anything else but this: A man died serving his country and we have a right to know what the federal government's hand was in that. It's clear this country somehow played a role in his death. We need to root it out, find the cause, and make sure this never, ever happens again.'"
Democrats argued this was an election-year ploy by Republicans. Politico reports that top House Democrats are pushing for a mass walkout. Rep. Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina, told Politico they would stay to vote on the rules governing the vote, but once the voting begins, they will walkout.
"'We asked for them to just think about what we're doing and our obligation to this institution, and the fact that we ought not to participate,' Clyburn said.
"Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he believes 'many other members' will join the walkout, which was first proposed by black Democrats."
NPR's Tamara Keith tells us the House will is scheduled to cast its first contempt vote this hour. A second one is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. ET. We'll update this post once we have more news.
CSPAN is live streaming all the action.
Update at 4:35 Democrats Walk Out:
En masse, Democratic lawmakers are walking out of the House chambers. Images from CNN, show the lawmakers pouring onto the steps of the Capitol building.
Update at 4:33 p.m. ET. Voting Now:
After rejecting a Democratic motion that would send the issue back to committee, the House is now voting on holding Holder in criminal contempt.
Update at 4:11 p.m. ET. Vote Late:
Right now it looks like the vote on contempt will be later than we expected. We're expecting the first vote — on the contempt — to come up around 4:30 p.m. ET.
Update at 3:29 p.m. ET. The Two Votes:
As we mentioned, the House will have two votes. One to hold Holder in contempt and refer him to the Justice Department and the other will give Rep. Darrell Issa's Oversight and Government Reform Committee authorization to sue the Department of Justice in federal court.
Politico reports that we can expect a party-line vote and that Republicans have enough votes to prevail.