The House Judiciary Committee has approved contempt citations against two Bush administration officials who refused to comply with congressional subpoenas after the White House asserted executive privilege.
Congress wants information from White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in connection with the ongoing investigation into the dismissal of a group of U.S. attorneys.
Committee Republicans had argued against the citations, calling them a partisan waste of time. Democrats called it a necessary defense of Congressional power.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said that if Congress challenges the president in court, the president will likely win. "That is going to be viewed as a blank check by the president and the future president to do whatever they want to," said Sensenbrenner. He said the president could then "effectively stiff Congress in discharging their oversight responsibilities."
But Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) argued that this is the moment for Congress to rein in the administration.
She told the committee, "If we allow the White House's mere utterance of executive privilege to thwart our efforts to conduct legitimate oversight and gather critical information needed to consider changes in federal law, then we will have set a shameful precedent for many Congresses to come."
After hours of debate, the House Judiciary Committee approved the contempt citations on a party line vote, 22 to 17.
White House spokesman Tony Snow called the move "pathetic."
"There is an attempt to do something that has never been done in American history, which is to assail the concept of executive privilege, which hails back to the administration of George Washington," Snow said.
Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) said the White House is the one attempting to do something unprecedented.
"Unlike other disputes involving executive privilege," Conyers said, "the president has never personally asserted privilege. The committee has never been given a privilege log, and there is no indication the president was ever personally involved in the termination decisions" about U.S. attorneys.
Now the full House will vote on the measure. It's likely to pass, since Democrats are in the majority. But that doesn't mean it will definitely end up in court. The administration has said it will direct federal prosecutors not to prosecute contempt charges.