I think the conventional wisdom about the political fallout from Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation has it wrong. This isn’t necessarily going to be a problem for Democrats. It’s a roll of the dice, a Hail Mary pass, but with a little luck, it could be a significant asset to them in the midterm elections. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see that as a safe bet.
The argument that Holder’s resignation is a headache for endangered Democrats presumes that (1) the voters will take his departure as a sign of chaos in the already unpopular Obama Administration, and (2) congressional Democrats will now be flung into a tough confirmation battle. It would happen after the midterm election, but Republicans can happily add “vote for me unless you want to get stuck with another Eric Holder” to their campaign platforms.
The first point may be true – certainly Holder and the Administration will strive to make this look like an amicable parting of the ways, just one of those things, everything’s under control… but when one of the longest-serving members of an Administration departs right before a major election, eyebrows are certain to be raised. It’s tough to make that look good. Having said that, it’s a minor bruise for an Administration that already looks like Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV” worked it over and left it hanging on the ropes. When you’re a President with approval ratings plummeting under 40 percent, and you just launched a shooting war, there’s only so much damage the Attorney General can do by taking a powder. In and of itself, it’s not going to rank high on anyone’s list of reasons for voting against the Democrats in November.
The second point is highly debatable. Much depends on who gets picked to replace Holder, assuming the choice is announced before the election. There are people Obama could pick that wouldn’t draw a lot of overt criticism from Republicans, even if they ground their teeth in private. For that matter, Eric Holder himself was nominated with bipartisan acclaim, back in the day.
But let’s look at the immediate political response to Holder’s resignation. If some of his stonewalls are starting to crumble – and it looks like they might be – Holder’s departure takes a problematic situation off the table for Democrats. From this point forward, all investigations of Holder’s scandals will be portrayed as bitter persecution waged by zealots who won’t let the poor man get on with his life.
More importantly, look at the reaction from both sides of the aisle. Republicans are waving goodbye without using all of their fingers. They have very good reasons for being unhappy with Holder’s conduct, but they still sound harsh. For example, here’s Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the House Oversight Committee, who has more reason to be exasperated with Holder than just about anyone else in Washington:
Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history and, in a vote supported by 17 Democratic House Members, has the dubious historic distinction of being the first Attorney General held in criminal contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives. Time and again, Eric Holder administered justice as the political activist he describes himself as instead of an unbiased law enforcement official.
By needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement, Attorney General Holder’s legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any Attorney General before him. Through strong arming reporters, practically ignoring high level wrongdoing, blocking his own agency Inspector General’s access to information, and overseeing a Department that attempted to stonewall Congressional oversight with denials of what is now established fact, Attorney General Holder abused his office and failed to uphold the values of our Constitution. While President Obama and the Senate should work expeditiously to find a replacement, time and care must be taken to ensure that our next Attorney General recognizes and does not repeat Mr. Holder’s mistakes
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who also sits on House Oversight:
It’s a sad day when America rejoices about the news that the Attorney General of the United States is set to resign. His place in history will be marked by shameful violations of the rule of law and despicable circumvention of the Constitution. The integrity of our government, our Republic, fundamentally relies on the principle that no person, not even the president or the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, is above our laws.
Over the past 6 years this Department of Justice has been defined by its failures and complete disregard for accountability. From the death of Brian Terry in the Fast and Furious gun running operation, to spying on journalist James Rosen, to tapping the phone records of the Associated Press, and most recently the unconstitutional Bergdahl prisoner exchange as well as the IRS scandal, there is no question that Eric Holder leaves behind a legacy of lawlessness, incompetence and hyper partisanship.
I have been relentless in my pursuit to hold Eric Holder accountable for his actions and will not rest until the door officially hits him on his way out. The American people and U.S. Senate must ensure his replacement is a strict constitutionalist and not a partisan hack. Moving forward, our challenge begins now with rebuilding the trust of the American people and a return to fully upholding the laws of our country.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) of House Oversight:
Today’s announcement is a welcome yet long overdue relief for every American who believes in the integrity of our nation’s laws. From obstructing the truth behind the Fast and Furious operation to supporting President Obama’s circumvention of Congress to change laws, and so much more in between, Mr. Holder has repeatedly demonstrated his failure to properly do his job. Time and again, his crass neglect for transparency and enforcement of law amounted to a dereliction of duty. Looking ahead, I sincerely hope that Mr. Holder’s successor will bring fresh air and renewed discipline to the Justice Department and a firm respect for the Constitution as expected of the highest lawyer in our land. The American people deserve nothing less.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) of the House Judiciary Committee:
For many years now, I have been calling for Attorney General Holder’s resignation. Not only has he lied before Members of Congress and, ultimately, been held in contempt, he has obfuscated the truth and been the most partisan, partial, prejudiced and self-pitying Attorney General in my lifetime, including John Mitchell who went to jail for his crime.
As a former judge who has questioned Holder numerous times before the House Judiciary Committee, it is frustrating to seek the truth and receive dishonesty and arrogance from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government.
He has prosecuted more people for leaking, which sometimes is an effort at whistle blowing, than all other Attorneys General added together. He has not only failed to investigate crimes and potential crimes occurring in this administration, he has been the Cover-Upper-in-Chief and will be sorely missed by those in the administration like Lois Lerner who want to disobey the law and flaunt it.
It is my sincere hope that the Obama Administration will appoint an Attorney General who is reputable and truly desiring to uphold law and order for all Americans– not just cater to this administration’s whims and ideology.
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) had a different exit for the Attorney General in mind: “It’s past time for Attorney General Eric Holder to leave the Justice Department. While I had hoped it would be through the articles of impeachment that I introduced, I’m pleased that he will no longer be the top law enforcement official. I hope his replacement will be someone who holds the laws of this land to a higher standard. Holder’s blatant refusal to cooperate with or investigate Operation ‘Fast and Furious,’ his failure to enforce current laws or investigate the IRS scandal, possibly committing perjury in denying a role in a DOJ operation to confiscate emails from a reporter and his family, and the crisis on our southern border are all actions that clearly fall under ‘high crimes and misdemeanors..'”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) also supported impeachment for Holder, specifically over his failure to investigate the IRS scandal properly: “It is good news that Eric Holder has announced his resignation. Sadly, he has proven to be the most partisan attorney general in our history, repeatedly defying and refusing to enforce the law. It did not have to be this way, but Holder’s leadership has grievously undermined the Department of Justice’s long bipartisan tradition of independence and fidelity to law.”
Senator David Vitter (R-LA) hit Holder for his assault on Louisiana school choice programs: “I can’t think of any AG in history who has attacked Louisiana more than Holder. He’s tried to defund a Louisiana youth program because students prayed, sued to block voucher scholarships going to poor kids in failing schools, and threatened the release of Louisiana voters’ personal information. I’m proud to have voted against his Senate confirmation.”
You get the idea. Meanwhile, Democrats are hailing Holder as an epic hero of the civil-rights movement, who might just have single-handedly kept black Americans from being stripped of their voting rights. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) just happens to have been attending a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus when the news was announced, drawing “gasps from many in the audience and a panel including several prominent African-American politicians,” according to the UK Guardian. (Bear in mind that Holder discussed his resignation plans with President Obama over the Labor Day weekend, so Pelosi and every other Democrat leader knew this was coming.)
Just beforehand, the panel had been praising Holder for his instrumental role in pushing the administration on sentencing reform and other key issues. “I do associate myself with the comments … about the excellence our of great attorney general Eric Holder,” Pelosi said.
She went on: “I do, then, want to say that the word is that the attorney general will resign today. He has served our country very well, but the message is that the attorney general will be submitting his resignation to the president.”
The Guardian also had some comments from the White House:
“Holder’s accomplishments have established a historic legacy of civil rights enforcement and restoring fairness to the criminal justice system,” said a White House official.
“Holder revitalized the Department’s praised civil rights division, protected the rights of the LGBT community, successfully prosecuted terrorists and fought tirelessly for voting rights, to name a few. He will remain at the Department of Justice until his post is filled.”
Business Insider has Al Sharpton claiming to be intimately involved in the process of selecting Holder’s replacement. Definition of a banana republic: a tax cheat helping to pick out the next Attorney General.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said his civil rights organization, the National Action Network, is “engaged in immediate conversations” with the White House as they work to name a successor to Attorney General Eric Holder, who is set to announce his resignation Thursday afternoon.
“We are engaged in immediate conversations with the White House on deliberations over a successor whom we hope will continue in the general direction of Attorney General Holder,” Sharpton said in a statement.
Sharpton praised Holder, the first African-American attorney general, as the “best” one in history when it comes to civil rights.
“The resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder is met with both pride and disappointment by the Civil Rights community,” he said. “We are proud that he has been the best Attorney General on Civil Rights in U.S. history and disappointed because he leaves at a critical time when we need his continued diligence most.”
So you’re going to have Republicans reminding Americans about scandals the media scarcely bothered to cover, while Democrats set up the mother of all race-baiting bear traps. The Republicans’ criticisms, accurate as they may be, aren’t likely to interest anyone who isn’t already voting for them. Democrats, on the other hand, will use criticism of Holder to move their dispirited base voters to the polls. It might be one of the few national stories that can be made to seem exciting to Democrats.
It’s a gamble for Democrats, with the danger that voters who are already disgusted with the aura of incompetence surrounding this government will be irritated by encomiums to the Administration official who pretty much pioneered the Incompetence Defense – that remarkable tactic, later used by many other officials and the President himself, in which members of Team Obama say they’re not very good at their jobs, don’t read their emails, don’t know what anyone underneath them is doing, and therefore nothing is their fault. The Washington Free Beacon has a fun montage of all the times Holder claimed to be utterly clueless about important Justice Department matters:
But measure that against the high-octane racial appeals Democrats will build around Holder, and the divisive campaigning he might be able to personally slip in, now that he’s got some free time on his hands, and the odds are his departure will be a political bonus for them.