"The House voted Thursday to hold two of President Bush's confidants in contempt for failing to cooperate with an inquiry into whether a purge of federal prosecutors was politically motivated," AP reports.
Angry Republicans boycotted the vote and staged a walkout.
The vote was 223-32 to hold White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt. The citations charge Miers with failing to testify and accuse her and Bolten of refusing Congress' demands for documents related to the 2006-2007 firings.
Republicans said Democrats should instead be working on extending a law _ set to expire Saturday _ allowing the government to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails in the United States in cases of suspected terrorist activity.
"We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us," said Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
"Let's just get up and leave," he told his colleagues, before storming out of the House chamber with scores of Republicans in tow.
The vote, which Democrats had been threatening for months, was the latest wrinkle in a more than yearlong constitutional clash between Congress and the White House. The administration says the information being sought is off-limits under executive privilege, and argues that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution.
Democrats said they were acting to protect Congress' constitutional prerogatives.
If Congress didn't enforce the subpoenas, said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, it would "be giving its tacit consent to the dangerous idea of an imperial presidency, above the law and beyond the reach of checks and balances."
The White House said the Justice Department would not ask the U.S. attorney to pursue the House contempt charges. However, the measure would allow the House to bring its own lawsuit on the matter.
It is the first time in 25 years that a full chamber of Congress has voted on a contempt of Congress citation, and the White House quickly pointed out that it was the first time that such action had been taken against top White House officials who had been instructed by the president to remain silent to preserve executive privilege.
White House responds with scathing letter: From Politico:
Perino's statement is too long to reprint, but I have pulled out some highlights. Remember, this whole dispute started last year when President Bush, citing executive privilege, refused to make Bolten and Miers to appear before the Judiciary Committee as it investigated the 2006 firing of nine U.S. attorneys. Now the issue will head to federal court, and it could resolve some longstanding questions about the extent of admissable executive privilege claims.
Here are some Perino quotes:
"Today, the United States House of Representatives did something that had never been done in the entire 150-year history of the contempt of Congress statute: it voted to hold in contempt two top White House officials who had been directed by the President not to comply with House Judiciary Committee subpoenas on the basis of the President's assertion of Executive Privilege. The officials in question are the Chief of Staff to the President and the former Counsel to the President, two of the very closest advisers upon whom a President must rely. This action is unprecedented, and it is outrageous. It is also an incredible waste of time - time the House should spend doing the American people's legislative business."
Read much more here.
Video of contempt vote: Nancy Pelosi, who rarely casts votes in her position as Speaker, voted in favor of the contempt resolution and spoke out about it on the House floor. Watch it:
Much more video here.