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House GOP fails to pass effort to fine Garland $10,000 per day

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The House on Thursday rejected a rare effort to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in “inherent contempt” after a handful of Republicans helped squash the resolution.

Democrats and a handful of Republicans defeated the measure on a 204-210 vote. It was forced by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) and would have required the top Justice Department official to pay fines of $10,000 per day until he handed over audio of former special counsel Robert Hur’s interview with President Joe Biden.

Four Republicans voted against the resolution, and unexpected GOP absences drove the vote count down further. Democrats were united in opposition.

Democrats had failed twice on Wednesday to pigeonhole the effort. Four Republicans voted with them on Wednesday, but the House minority party was ultimately foiled by absences.

But Republicans had been privately fuming over the effort behind the scenes for days. Some questioned why they were giving it political oxygen in a week dominated by Democrats’ ongoing existential political crisis over whether Biden should stay at the top of their ticket.

One GOP member, who had expected Speaker Mike Johnson to help kill Luna’s resolution, argued that Republicans should just “keep quiet” and leave Democrats to their “circular firing squad.”

Another GOP member, granted anonymity to discuss private conversations, recounted complaining to Johnson recently that the speaker wasn’t doing enough to push back on the right flank of his conference. Others lamented that Luna’s resolution would just end up in court anyway, and still others argued that they didn’t support the effort but the likely ensuing backlash wasn’t worth opposing it.

To that last point, the political dynamic got more complicated for Republicans after former President Donald Trump publicly endorsed her effort. That put more pressure on GOP lawmakers to back it, rather than risk a high-profile break with their party’s nominee.

Johnson and other Republicans tried to talk Luna out of forcing a vote, but in the end, she stuck by her vow to bring it to the floor. In a bid to assuage her colleagues, Luna softened the measure’s language — no longer calling for the House sergeant at arms to take Garland into custody and instead levying fines.

Johnson told reporters this week that the resolution gave him “pause” from a constitutional perspective, but that he would support it if it came up.

Luna vowed in a social media post to force the vote again when GOP attendance is better.

“Republican bills went down today. We will bring the vote back to the Floor with legislative appropriations when Members are here,” she wrote.

Congress hasn’t used its inherent contempt powers since 1935. Republicans separately voted last month to hold Garland in contempt for refusing to hand over the audio, which Biden asserted executive privilege over. DOJ officials subsequently announced they would not pursue charges against Garland.

The Justice Department did hand over the transcript of the interview, but Republicans have argued that they need the audio so they can listen to details like Biden’s tone or pauses in his answers.

A DOJ spokesperson said Garland was unavailable to comment.

House Republicans have also sued to try to get the courts to force Garland to hand over the audio.