Washington (CNN) -- The House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over documents tied to the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting -- a discredited operation that has become a sharp point of contention between Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
The House approved a pair of criminal and civil measures against the attorney general, marking the first time in American history that the head of the Justice Department has been held in contempt by Congress.
House members approved the criminal contempt measure in a 255-67 vote. Almost every House Republican backed the measure, along with 17 Democrats. Shortly thereafter, the civil measure passed in a sharply polarized 258-95 vote.
A large number of Democrats -- including members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- walked off the House floor in protest and refused to participate in the criminal contempt vote. A slightly smaller number of Democrats appeared to boycott the vote on the civil measure as well.
17 Democrats voted along with Republicans on the criminal contempt measure. 21 Democrats did likewise on the civil contempt measure. NBC News' Frank Thorpe thoughtfully provided a list of names:
And there you have it. Concerned Democrats who chafe at this display of Blue Dog dumbassery can organize a movement to replace these people with actual Democrats. Speaking of which, dozens of Democrats walked off the House floor in protest of the civil and criminal contempt votes.
So, what happens next?
Unlike a contempt charge at the county courthouse, AG Holder isn't gonna spend 30 or 60 days cooling his heels in the pokey. But Darrell Issa and crew can push him to resign under the assumption Holder's been tarred and feathered good over this "disgrace." The GOP can also use this to further de-legitimize the Obama administration's authority and run it out on a rail come this Election Day:
...the next step would be to send the contempt citation against Holder to the local U.S. attorney for enforcement. Traditionally the Justice Department doesn't pursue criminal contempt of Congress cases against its own administration.
If, as history suggests, the Justice Department won't prosecute a criminal case against Holder, the House could hire its own lawyer and file a civil lawsuit in federal court. Such a case could lead to an order for Holder to turn over the documents. But the federal District Court in Washington has been reluctant to rush into such cases.
The hopes of the House winning a legal resolution before the November elections are dim. And the authority behind House subpoenas or contempt citations traditionally are considered to expire when that Congress ends, according to the Congressional Research Service. That happens in January 2013.
In any event, if Obama loses his re-election bid the case becomes moot. If Obama wins and Republicans retain control of the House, they could vote to restart the fight. But Holder might no longer be in office.
A contempt of Congress vote against Holder probably would amplify calls from some Republicans for his resignation. Although the administration's shown no signs of that so far, it's widely believed, even among Holder's close associates, that he doesn't intend to return should Obama win a second term. When asked about it, Holder has been noncommittal.
However, in issuing these contempt measures, the GOP once again verified that it would go to great lengths just to see the president and attorney general bum-rushed out of office by any means necessary. It also has plenty of racial overtones. A lot of people want to see Holder, a black guy, fail in order to validate their beliefs of black American men being incapable of managing leadership positions unless they happen to be both conservative as all get out and under the total and complete tutelage of the GOP (Cain, Thomas, Steele, West, etc). If they can't get Obama to go down in flames, Holder will do just nicely. Even better if they both go down.
Holder happens to be the first black U.S. Attorney General. He also happens to be the first AG to be held in contempt by Congress. Funny how that works out. Even funnier is this excruciatingly detailed account on how the GOP's narrative of the "Fast and Furious" operation isn't what it appears to be at a close glance.