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THE SITUATION ROOM
Will Congress Hold Attorney General in Contempt?; Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Reform; Romney: "I Will Act to Repeal Obamacare"; Holder Found In Contempt Of Congress; Democrats Walk Off House Floor
Aired June 28, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama's health care reform law upheld in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling with some surprise twists.
CNN's Jeffrey Toobin was inside the court when it all came down.
Is the ruling a political game changer? We're going to hear what President Obama and Mitt Romney had to say.
Plus, what all of this means for you. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the real world impact of the health care reform ruling.
And the historic House vote on whether to hold attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress -- that vote expected this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's the most anticipated Supreme Court decision in more than a decade and one that impacts the lives of almost every American, as well as the presidential campaign. In a 5-4 split, the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, a law so tightly bound to President Obama that both critics and supporters call it -- and I'm calling it now what they are calling it -- Obamacare.
Behind the historic ruling and meticulous legal reasoning that caught many observers off guard as well, as the surprise split that saw the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, siding with the courts' four liberal justices.
CNN's Kate Bolduan begins our coverage outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
All right, Kate, walk us through today's ruling.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
A bombshell ruling and a complex opinion narrowly upholding the president's health care law, including the centerpiece, the individual mandate. But getting to that conclusion was a very surprising opinion, really, as you mentioned, for many court watchers.
The chief justice writing for the majority, writing first that the mandate was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, then later writing that it would be upheld under the taxing cause, Congress' power to tax, a very unexpected legal route and reasoning that really barely got any attention in oral arguments when they were hearing this case.
Now, here's a little bit of the chief justice writing in the majority opinion explaining the reasoning here.
The chief justice writes: "The federal government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. The mandate would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command." He's talking about the Commerce Clause.
But he goes onto say: "The federal government does have power to impose a tax on those without health insurance. The mandate is therefore constitutional because it can be reasonably read as a tax."
I will tell you, Wolf, that reasoning seemed to be supported by the chief justice alone. But on the basic question of should the individual mandate stay or should it go, he was able to get the four more liberal justices to join in to form the majority, a very surprising coalition, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very surprising indeed.
The dissent was very harsh as well against the chief justice's opinion. Tell us about that.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely, a very harsh dissent being read from the bench by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the traditional swing vote. But he was joined by the four more conservative justices on the bench -- the three more conservative justices on the bench.
Those four justices joined together arguing that not only the individual mandate should have been thrown out, but they thought that the entire law should go as well.
And here's what the dissenting justices said really speaking about that tax, taxing clause, the reason behind upholding the individual mandate and the reasoning that the chief justice wrote about. This is what the dissenting justices wrote.
"To say that the individual mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute, but to rewrite it." They go on to say, "Imposing a tax for judicial legislation inverts the constitutional scheme and places the power to tax in the branch of government least accountable to the citizenry."
Pretty scathing criticism directly squarely at the chief justice, Wolf.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. His new book, by the way, "The Oath: The Obama White House vs. the Supreme Court," is coming out in September. Also joining us, Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for "Slate." She and Jeffrey were both inside the court when the decision was read.
Jeffrey, let me start with you.
Take us through those historic moments. You were sitting and you were listening. Dahlia I believe was sitting right next to you.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We were practically this close in the courtroom too.
I have to tell you the five minutes between five of 10:00 and 10:00 were some of the longest five minutes I have ever been through and also some of the most silent. That room, nobody was breathing.
And when Justice -- Chief Justice Roberts at 10:06 said he would deliver the opinion of the court, it's one of these great moments where no one outside of those nine people and the people behind the curtain knew what he was going to say.
What made it even more extraordinary is that the beginning of the opinion was so critical of the law. His first summary, his first probably 10 minutes of what he was saying was about the Commerce Clause. And I remember saying to Dahlia, that's it, it's over.
And then he went into the taxing power. And you thought, wow, he's really going to hold it up. But you didn't know even as he was going that it was going to be upheld. It was just stunning.
BLITZER: Yes. You must have been shocked when he said that "but" and he changed the entire decision basically from what you thought it looked like it was going to be.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, "SLATE": It was an amazing moment, Wolf, if only just for the fact that he was giving the challengers everything they wanted.
He was giving them the distinction between activity and inactivity. He was giving them forcing people into commerce. What he gave was so extraordinary, beyond what anyone had thought he would give. And then to yank it away and say, but it's a tax. And that was really an amazing moment. Everybody got whiplash because it just happened so fast.
TOOBIN: And the taxing argument has been part of the government's brief all through this process.
BLITZER: Not part of the president's political statements.
TOOBIN: No. That's why.
There's been this contradiction in the government's position, its public/political position, it's not a tax, and its legal position. But they always did raise it. It came up very little in the oral argument, except from...
(CROSSTALK) TOOBIN: Except it did. The solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, he made this point. And we have got the audiotape. They released the audiotape. No videotape.
I want to play this exchange he had with the chief justice on whether or not this mandate was constitutional. Listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: You're telling me they thought of it as a tax, they defended it on the tax power. Why didn't they say it was a tax?
DONALD VERRILLI, SOLICITOR GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: They might have thought, Your Honor, that calling it as a penalty as they did would make it more effective in accomplishing its objectives. But it is in the internal revenue code. It is collected by the IRS on April 15.
I don't think this is a situation in which you can say...
ROBERTS: That's the reason. They thought it might be more effective if they called it a penalty.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, but that was very significant obviously with hindsight.
Dahlia, did you realize when listening to those oral arguments that the entire basis of saying it was constitutional, the mandate, would be based on the tax, as opposed to the Commerce Clause, which they rejected as unconstitutional?
LITHWICK: I wasn't savvy enough to catch it. I didn't think that was an aha moment.
I will say there were some people who immediately after thought, huh, they hooked Roberts here. Roberts is a little bit interested.
Former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger wrote it, sent it Talking Pointing Memo a very short time after, I think he likes this tax argument.
So there were sharper eyes than mine who thought that maybe they'd picked off a fifth vote. But I have to tell you even though this was an idea that has been circulating in the blogosphere, I don't think anyone thought the court was really to go for it.
BLITZER: The solicitor general deserves credit for coming up with that argument because clearly it was very, very significant.
TOOBIN: He deserves credit, especially from me, because I was so critical of his performance.
Look, I called it like I saw it, but I was wrong. He was right. And he's the winner here. And it's no surprise that the first phone call that Barack Obama made after he got the news was to Donald Verrilli to congratulate him, which he certainly deserves.
BLITZER: He deserves a lot of credit, because at the time he was being slammed that he was ineffective, didn't make good arguments, and all of this, but obviously he made that one very good argument.
TOOBIN: He made that argument.
BLITZER: And he gave the chief justice of the United States that opening.
How surprised were you, Dahlia, that the decider was the chief justice, not Justice Anthony Kennedy, who decided to go with the minority?
LITHWICK: We have all been walking around with the what would Kennedy think bracelet for the past three months just thinking this was all about Kennedy. He's the traditional swing voter.
It looked at argument as though he was in play. So I think everyone thought that the chief justice was going to author the opinion, but you're quite right to say that people thought that the big, big decision would be Kennedy and the chief would go with me.
Watching Kennedy vote with the dissenters and read that excoriating dissent today, while the chief voted with the liberals, that's something I don't think anybody...
BLITZER: I could have imagined -- and I'm sure you did and Dahlia, you did as well -- if Justice Kennedy would have gone with the majority, then Justice Roberts may have gone along as well. But for Justice Kennedy to go with the minority and Justice Roberts to that what some would argue a profile in courage moment, that was pretty extraordinary.
TOOBIN: It was extraordinary.
And, again, predictions are hard. And I sure blew this one. But what's so incredible is that Kennedy wrote a dissent that could have been written by Justice Scalia. It was not disagreeing with the majority and it was not just disagreeing with the individual mandate. He would have struck down the whole law, all 2,700 pages.
BLITZER: Because you were right, because when you heard the questions he was asking during the oral arguments, Kennedy, you thought it was over.
TOOBIN: I thought Kennedy -- that's one area where we disagree a little bit. I thought Kennedy was very hostile in oral argument.
And I did think that Roberts asked some questions of both sides that were somewhat more skeptical of both sides. But, look, I didn't predict this result. And I was as surprised as anyone. BLITZER: What does this say to you, Dahlia? And you have been watching this court for a long time. I have been reading your articles for years. What does this say to you about the chief justice?
LITHWICK: It says that he -- when he got up there at his confirmation and he talked about minimalism and humility and balls and strikes and putting the institution of the court first -- and a lot of us scoffed and said, no, no, he's a movement conservative and he's here to act on the very, very strong right-wing will of the party, I think we were a little bit mistaken.
I think that this was an act of true statesmanship. People are talking about John Marshall today and likening him to the great leaders of the court. I think he made a lot of people very mad today, but I think he fell on his sword for the integrity of the court. I think it says he puts the court first.
TOOBIN: I'm actually going to disagree with some of that. John Roberts was and is a very conservative man. This is still the chief justice of Citizens United. It's still the chief justice of Parents Involved, which may end civil rights -- affirmative action, and that's something they're going to get next year.
Don't let's kid ourselves that John Roberts has suddenly turned into the second coming of Earl Warren. He's a very conservative chief justice. He's just not that conservative on that issue on this day.
BLITZER: What a day it is. All right, guys, thanks so much. We're going to have more to discuss obviously in our next hour as well.
Meanwhile, President Obama had a hint of a smile on his face as he approached the microphones after the ruling. We're going to hear his reaction.
And his rival, Mitt Romney, energized by the decision, his reaction as well.
Plus, the impact on the race for the White House.
And the historic House vote on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, it's happening very soon.
BLITZER: We're awaiting a vote on the House floor. They're voting in fact right now on a Democratic alternative to send this motion back to committee. A motion that would hold attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress. This Democratic motion will be defeated by the majority Republicans in the House.
Then, the Republican version to hold Eric Holder in contempt will come up for a formal vote. We expect that to pass given the lopsided Republican majority in the House of Representatives. There will be some Democrats who will vote for this as well.
We'll continue to monitor what's going on on the floor of the House of Representatives. Never before in the history of the United States has an attorney general of the United States been held in contempt of Congress. We'll let you know what's going on on this historic vote.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty, though, right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's the biggest day they've had in Washington in quite some time, isn't it?
BLITZER: Yes, it is.
CAFFERTY: All right. The Supreme Court reminded all of us in an instant this morning what a tremendous impact these nine people can have on the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. And what came as a surprise to many, as you've heard, is that Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, broke with the conservatives, sided with the court's liberal justice in favor of Obamacare and the individual mandate.
In a way, it was curiously refreshing whether you agree with the court's decision or not. That's because a lot of people have come to believe that politics has played an outsized role in the Supreme Court's decision in recent years. It probably really got going back in 2000 with Bush versus Gore, when the Supreme Court effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush.
Then, two years ago came the Citizens United ruling, allowing unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections as long as it's independent of the campaigns.
Whatever the reasons, there has been a marked decline in the Supreme Court's approval rating with the American public. A recent poll found only 44 percent of Americans approve of how the high court does its job. That's down from 80 percent in 1994.
The "New York Times"/CBS poll shows an overwhelming 76 percent of those surveyed say the Supreme Court justices sometimes let their own personal or political views influence their decisions. Only 13 percent think the court's decisions are based only on legal analysis.
But the court's critical ruling today might move the needle once again when it comes to how we view the highest court in our land. And that's the question we're dealing with: how does today's health care ruling affect your opinion of the Supreme Court?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.
You know, in school, I used to think, Supreme Court -- what a boring branch of government. Not today.
BLITZER: You know, you're absolutely right, Jack. There are several Supreme Court justices who are well into their 70s right now. The next president of the United States, whether that's Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, probably will have at least one, maybe two openings. And that new Supreme Court justice, whoever it happens to be, probably will be late 40s, early 50s, could have a role to play for 30 years, maybe 40 years if they live -- this is a lifelong appointment as you know, Jack.
So, you're absolutely right. This is a high profile issue for millions and millions of Americans as was evidence today.
CAFFERTY: There you go.
BLITZER: Good point. Thank you, Jack.
President Obama was visibly pleased as he made a statement after the ruling came down. He called it, and I'm quoting him now, "A victory for people all over this country".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon.
Earlier today, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the name of the health care reform we passed two years ago. In doing so, they've reaffirmed a fundamental principle, that here in America, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no illness or accident should lead to any family's financial ruin. That's why I knew it wouldn't be politically popular and resisted the idea when I ran for this office.
We ultimately included a provision in the Affordable Care Act that people who can afford to buy insurance should take the responsibility to do so. In fact, this idea's enjoyed support from members of both parties, including the current Republican nominee for president.
Still, I know the debate over this law has been divisive. I respect the very real concerns millions of Americans have shared. And I know a lot of coverage through this health care debate has focused on what it means politically.
Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I believed it was good for country. I did it because I believed it was good for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president reacting in the East Room of the White House.
The ruling adds new fire to the already-heated presidential campaign. Mitt Romney is making it issue number one, at least right now.
Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us with more reaction.
What is the Republican presidential candidate saying?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, until today health care reform had been on the back burner in the general election phase of this campaign. But in response to the Supreme Court's ruling, Mitt Romney said the American people now face a choice -- and he's right.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Walking out to a podium that was bearing the sign "repeal and replace Obamacare", Mitt Romney said what the Supreme Court got wrong, he will make right.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.
ACOSTA: Using the term "Obamacare" 18 times --
ROMNEY: Obamacare. Obamacare. Obamacare. Obamacare. Obamacare. Obamacare. Obamacare.
ACOSTA: Romney presented himself as the voters' last chance to strike down the president's health care law.
ROMNEY: So, this is now a time for the American people to make a choice.
OBAMA: Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics.
ACOSTA: Across town and minutes later the president acknowledged his signature legislative achievement remains unpopular, but then he threw some jabs of his own, explaining the law's most controversial element, its individual mandate, came from his Republican opponent.
OBAMA: In fact, this idea's enjoyed support from members of both parties, including the current Republican nominee for president.
ACOSTA: Both sides seized on the justices words from the health care ruling. Democrats pointing to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who noted the mandate came courtesy of Massachusetts, i.e. Romney.
And Republicans nothing Chief Justice Roberts held the mandate was constitutional because its penalty is really a tax.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: This is a middle class tax increase. You know why we know it's a middle class tax increase? Not because I'm saying it, because the Supreme Court has said it. It's the basis for them upholding it.
ACOSTA: Something the president denied three years ago.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: It's still a tax.
OBAMA: No, that's not true, George. For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.
ACOSTA: If he repeals the laws, President Romney said he would keep some of its consumer protections.
ROMNEY: Got to make sure that those people who have pre- existing conditions know that they will be able to be insured and not lose their insurance.
ACOSTA: But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi noted, as the insurance companies have, the mandate pays for those protections.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't know, maybe he's going to pay for it out of his own pocket.
ACOSTA: Now, the Romney campaign says it's raised more than $1 million since the Supreme Court ruling. Oddly enough, the decision is uniting the GOP behind the man once dubbed by Democrats and even a few Republicans as the father of Obamacare -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim, thank you.
Let's dig a little bit deeper with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
How does this move the ball in the presidential race, this historic decision today?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what it does is draws some neon lines. It accentuates the narrative that has always been there -- as Jim was pointing out, took Mitt Romney nanoseconds to get -- to give a press conference and say he's going to repeal and replace the president's health care reform bill.
And it galvanizes those conservatives who have been so skeptical about Mitt Romney as the father of Massachusetts's health care reform, they're now galvanized around him because he's the only horse they've got to fight the president. Makes the congressional races that much more important. If you want to repeal it, you have to have congressional majorities.
On the Democratic side, I think in an odd way, first of all, this is not a failure for the president. This is a victory. But in an odd way, it also liberates him to a certain degree to talk more about health care reform. It was kind of on the backburner before because he has this axe hanging over his head, the Supreme Court. Now that's gone, you're going to be hearing a lot more from the president talking about the virtues and benefits of universal coverage.
BLITZER: You can just imagine if the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the health care reform law, what an embarrassment, what huge disaster that would -- that could have been.
Listen to what the Republican leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate said today, reacting to this decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, the Supreme Court has spoken. This law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American people on a deception.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You heard the president in that interview with George Stephanopoulos to say this is not a tax increase, he rejected that. But the solicitor general during the oral arguments said yes, this is a tax the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service would be administering this penalty.
BORGER: They're going to have to hire agents.
BLITZER: And that was the basis for the chief justice saying this is constitutional.
BORGER: You can almost read between the lines that the chief justice was sort of admonishing the administration for saying, you know what, call a tax a tax. If it looks like a tax, walks like a tax, it's a tax. Call it a mandate, a penalty, a fine, it's a tax.
So I think you're going to be hearing a lot more about what Mitch McConnell just said with Republicans saying that -- they're going to say this is the largest tax increase to come down the pike, maybe in history.
BLITZER: But it's a little awkward for the Romney campaign to be doing that because Romney supported a mandate, an individual mandate in Massachusetts with penalties, i.e., tax increases in Massachusetts.
BLITZER: So it's an argument he's going to have a tough time making.
BORGER: And that's why during the primaries, Wolf, as you recall, Rick Santorum was out there making the argument, Mitt Romney is not the man to argue against Obamacare.
BLITZER: He didn't say that. He said he was the worst man to make the argument.
BORGER: That's right. He's not the man, he's the worst man.
BLITZER: That's what Rick Santorum said then.
BORGER: And now, of course, he's supporting Mitt Romney, but for that very reason he said he can't make the case. However, I do believe now that there's one candidate against the incumbent president that Mitt Romney will be making that case and that Republicans have no choice but to follow him because he's their presumptive nominee.
BLITZER: He certainly is.
Thanks very much. You heard the president in his remarks call him the nominee, although technically he's not yet the nominee. He's the presumptive nominee.
BORGER: I think he'll get it. Yes.
BLITZER: I think he'll get it, too.
The health care ruling may be a big win for President Obama, but a potential setback for him is unfolding on the floor of the House of Representatives right now. The House may hold the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress.
This is the first time that would happen in U.S. history. The vote expected any moment now. They've been voting on a Democratic alternative which will fail. The Republican version will pass.
We're going to tell you what's going on. This is an historic day in Washington. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The House of Representatives is about to vote to determine if for the first time in U.S. history a sitting attorney general may be held in contempt of Congress.
Republicans are spearheading the attack on Eric Holder because he won't share documents concerning a now discredited program called "Fast and Furious."
It was supposed to trace weapons smuggling, but ended up helping Mexican drug cartels acquire guns from the United States. Joe Johns is covering the story for us.
Joe is watching what's going on. I take it, Joe, they have just rejected a Democratic motion to refer all of this back to the committee.
The Republicans had the majority on that. I assume they're going to have a majority in the next few minutes to hold Eric Holder in contempt.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This measure that was just voted down was a measure brought to the floor of the House by Democratic Congressman John Dingle, the dean of the House.
He's from the state of Michigan, which happens to be the home state of the border agent, Brian Terry, who was killed in the "Operation Fast and Furious," which launched this controversy on Capitol Hill, which has led to a contempt vote against Eric Holder probably in the next few minutes.
Democrats had wanted to vote for this measure to try to send this over to committee. They, of course, would lose that vote. After that a large number of Democrats were also expected to walk out of the House of Representatives. That is expected to happen very soon.
Expected to go down the center aisle there of the House of Representatives on the floor and then go down the House stairs out to the Elm Tree, which is a site typically used for news conferences and such and talk about their reasons why they want to walk out on this vote in the House of Representatives.
I talked a little while ago to the House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer who told me that this idea has sort of mushroomed. It started fairly small just with the Congressional Black Caucus, and then it sort of grew and grew.
He said a lot of people in a meeting of Democrats were talking about it this morning and decided they thought they need to do more to make a statement because of the unprecedented nature of this vote.
Nonetheless, even if they do walk out, it is still expected that Republicans have enough votes joined by perhaps as many as 20 or 30 Democrats to go ahead and pass this measure.
I think we may even have some pictures now of the Democrats beginning to walk out. Not just the Congressional Black Caucus, also members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, members of the Congressional Asian-Pacific Caucus and a number of progressives all saying they are leaving the floor of the House of Representatives and do not want to participate in the vote against Eric Holder proper.
They also got some wind in their sails from the House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, who moved in her position from saying she'd stay on the floor to vote to agreeing that because of what she considers the egregious nature of the vote, she too said she would also leave the House floor.
Again, though, this is expected to pass. And Eric Holder likely to be held in contempt of the House of Representatives, the first sitting attorney to be hit with a contempt of Congress citation in this way -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, not likely, he will be held in contempt. Look at that tally so far, 133 yays, that's in favor of holding him in contempt of Congress and only 23 nays.
But there's going to be not many more because so many of these Democrats, you can see them walking out of the floor of the House of Representatives in protest. They won't even vote on this. They are so angry.
This is their way of protesting what they see as totally inappropriate motion to censure, if you will, to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. You need 218 votes to pass, the Republicans already have 165.
You see 11 Democrats though already, Joe, 11 Democrats have voted with the Republicans. I suspect that number will go up a little bit more. But how surprised should we be that some Democratic members of the House of Representatives will vote with the Republicans?
By the way, you see members walking down the stairs of Capitol Hill. Nancy Pelosi, the right in the white in the middle of your screen among those, they're walking out in protest.
You said it was organized by the Congressional Black Caucus, but others have now joined including Steny Hoyer. You see him walking out as well. Joe, this is a dramatic moment in Washington.
JOHNS: It certainly is a dramatic moment in Washington. To answer your question, no, we should not be surprised that a certain number of Democrats are joining with the Republicans.
That is because of the influence of the National Rifle Association. The National Rifle Association's actually counting the vote here and will count the vote against any Democrats in NRA-leaning districts because they want the contempt vote against Eric Holder.
I spoke yesterday with one of the top officials of the National Rifle Association. He says in his view he thinks that "Operation Fast and Furious," which was a gun-running operation that turned bad, was essentially a precursor, if you will.
To open the door to more gun control, at least more gun control reporting in the United States. Of course, the National Rifle Association doesn't want --
BLITZER: I'm going to interrupt you, Joe, because you see the total now, 222 yays, 46 nays, this will pass. You need 218. That's the majority in the House of Representatives.
Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States, will be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide documents in regards to the "Fast and Furious" gun smuggling operation.
It's 241 now voting in favor. Only 53 opposed, 53 Democrats as you can see, no Republicans voting nay, 17 Democrats so far voting along with the Republicans.
What we're seeing now are live pictures outside the capitol. These are members who have walked out in protest. They're holding hands. They're walking in solidarity to protest this contempt motion against Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States.
It's the first time in American history that the nation's highest ranking law enforcement official will be held in contempt of Congress. There you see Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, the former speaker, walking with other members of the House of Representatives.
I assume they're going to go to microphones and make some sort of statement. But, Joe, you're watching all of this unfold. You know, who would have thought it was all going to come down to this?
JOHNS: That's true, Wolf. It's also important to say this is sort of a two-part vote. First, we have the criminal contempt. That is the criminal contempt that will be then referred to the United States attorney for the District of Columbia as is the custom. Of course, so many times we've reported, the United States attorney for the District of Columbia happens to be an employee of the Justice Department, therefore an employee of Attorney General Eric Holder.
Not very likely that they're going to get very far with trying to get him to prosecute his boss, nonetheless, the second part of this contempt citation is to authorize the House Oversight Committee to go to court to sue over these issues in federal court.
That of course is a different story. And where likely we'd see all these questions of the president's executive privilege coming up.
It could be a very long process and go weeks, months, by that time there could still be a negotiation as to the information the congress has been asking for from Eric Holder, which they say he has no provided them, which of course has led to this contempt issue in the first place.
BLITZER: And this is a Emanuel Cleaver, I think, who is the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
REPRESENTATIVE EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: As you can see, this represents the whole diversity of the Democratic caucus of the 112th Congress.
And one of the things that we are attempting to do is to make sure that at least a group of members of Congress express to the nation that we believe to be a calamity. This is a terrible day for the House of Representatives.
What this is about, we can't decide for sure, but it's certainly not about Eric Holder or holding back documents. And so we did not want to participate in something that we believe to have some kind of smell to it.
And we are declaring by walking out that we're not participating in this activity. So we hope that Americans will understand that we've done everything conceivably possible through the committee process to respond to what has been asked.
And so the tri-caucus believing that we need to do something did make a presentation to the Democratic caucus and we received the support to do this from the total caucus.
And as you can see, our caucus chair's here as well as our leader and our whip as well as our assistant leader, all of the caucus chairs. So we would bring to the microphone now Judy Chu, who is the chair of the Asian-American-Pacific caucus.
(END LIVE FEED)
BLITZER: This is an historic moment right now. We're going to stay on top of it. I want to bring Joe Johns back into this coverage of what's happening. The attorney general of the United States held in contempt of Congress, 255 to 67, but most Democrats simply walked out in protest.
Joe, you heard Congressman Emanuel Cleaver say -- and he was I think using some signals, some code language if you will, that this has some kind of smell to it.
And I know what a lot of members of the African-American community have been implying, have been suggesting given the fact that the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, is himself African-American, but how do you interpret what Emanuel Cleaver has just said?
JOHNS: I think you interpret it as some very angry members of congress who essentially sort of to use legal terms, don't believe due process was used here.
Probably the point man for Eric Holder throughout this entire controversy has been the congressman from the state of Maryland who's pushed this thing again and again and again pointing out.
That, look, there are something like 100 different reasons why the investigation has been imperfect. Probably chief among them the notion that the attorney general has been asked to provide information to the Congress that he is bound by law not to provide.
Because of investigations that are ongoing, prosecutions that are ongoing, a question of grand jury secrecy and so on. So it sounds as though they're saying Eric Holder is in a position where he can't win.
And he's being taken to the mat for political reasons, they say during an election year by the Republicans simply because Republicans see this as a value to their base.
And a value to getting, for example, the National Rifle Association and others excited and that it would pay off for them in November. That is sort of the back story -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So the Republicans managed to pass overwhelmingly the first resolution, first of two as Joe points out, this for criminal contempt of Congress. This motion will be referred to the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia.
They're about to vote on a second resolution, a civil action if you will, a second contempt resolution that would send this motion to the courts for adjudication.
I want Joe Johns, Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin, everyone standby. We're following two critically important stories here in the nation's Capitol Hill on this day.
The reaction to the Supreme Court decision upholding the president's health care reform law as well as the House of Representatives now for the first time in American history holding an attorney general of the United States -- the highest ranking law enforcement official in the country, in contempt of Congress. Our coverage resumes right after this.
BLITZER: Now that the House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly given the Republican majority, overwhelmingly to hold Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States in contempt of Congress.
We expect to be hearing directly from the Attorney General Eric Holder. He's getting ready to make a statement. We'll have coverage of that as well.
But let's assess what's going on, on this historic day. Joining us now the Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Paul Begala and the Republican strategist, Nancy Pfotenhauer, she is a former spokeswoman for the John McCain presidential campaign.
Let me start with you, Nancy. Never before in the history of the United States has the attorney general been held in contempt of Congress. And you saw that walkout in protest.
These members, these Democrats are very upset. You heard Emanuel Cleaver say there are something smells to this whole notion. What do you think?
NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, yes, forgive me, I'm having a hard time believing that they're so upset about violations of process when they violated process after process to ram down the health care act that the Supreme Court ruled on today.
So I think that it's a little selective for them. And the Republicans passed this with double-digit Democratic support. Again, I think once you hit that double-digit, it's hard to claim there's not bipartisan support.
BLITZER: There were about a dozen Democrats who voted along with the Republicans, Paul.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, under enormous pressure from the NRA, the gun lobby, which is the most effective powerful lobby in Washington.
You know, here's the tragedy. This is legitimate are for congressional inquiry. Congress has an obligation to look into this, right? But they've crossed the line, I think in most people's eyes to looking political and partisan.
The attorney general has complied thousands and thousands of documents. So far "Fortune" magazine has done a six-month review including thousands more documents that they got a hold off.
And they said actually it's not even clear that bad guys, cartels, drug cartels, got guns under this. Inspectors general investigation going on, they've jumped the gun here.
They look so partisan now to hold the attorney general in contempt when we don't even know if there's been a scandal and he's been compliant --
BLITZER: He's been held in contempt. Nancy, hold your thought for a moment. I want to take a quick break. Resume this conversation. We're also going to talk about what the United States Supreme Court did today as well. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture. This is the office of the United States attorney in New Orleans. The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, about to walk into that room, go to the microphone and give a statement reacting to the motion in the House of Representatives.
An overwhelming vote, 255 to 67 to hold the attorney general in criminal contempt for refusing to turn over documents related to the so-called "Fast and Furious" gun running sting.
As soon as the attorney general starts speaking we'll of course have live coverage, anxious to hear what he has to say as we await the attorney general. He could be walking in momentarily.
Let's bring back Nancy Pfotenhauer, former spokeswoman for the John McCain campaign. Also Paul Begala, our senior strategic analyst, shall we say, also senior advisor to "Priorities USA Action," which is the "Super PAC" that supports the president of the United States. Is that right?
BEGALA: Absolutely. I'm a sophomore advisor.
PFOTENHAUER: I think a senior advisor works for you.
BLITZER: What do you want to hear the attorney general say?
BEGALA: That he's doing his job and he's doing it well. I also want him to say we have to be careful in overcorrecting. This looks like an undercover operation.
BLITZER: Here he comes. Hold on a second. Here's Eric Holder.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good afternoon. Today's vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically- motivated investigation during an election year.
By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety. Instead of trying to correct the problems that led to a series of flawed law enforcement operations.
And instead of helping us find ways to better protect the brave law enforcement agents like Agent Brian Terry, who keep us safe, they have led us to this unnecessary and unwarranted outcome.
During this time, the men and women of the United States Department of Justice and I, have remained focus on what should and must be our government's top priority, protecting the American people.
When concerns about "Operation Fast and Furious" first came to light, I took action and ordered an independent investigation into what happened.
We learned that the flawed tactics used in this operation began in a previous administration, but I made sure that they ended in this one. I also made sure that agents and prosecutors across the country knew that such tactics must never be used again.
I put in place new policies, new safeguards and new leadership to make certain of this and took extraordinary steps to facilitate robust congressional oversight. Now let me very clear, that was my response to "Operation Fast and Furious."
Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not consistent with the facts. I had hoped that congressional leaders would be good faith partners in this and some were.
Others however have devoted their time and their attention to making reckless charges, unsupported by fact and to advancing truly absurd, truly absurd conspiracy theories.
Unfortunately, these same members of Congress were nowhere to be found when the Justice Department and others invited them to help look for real solutions to the terrible problem of violence on both sides of our southwest border.
That's tragic and it is also irresponsible. The problem of drugs and weapons trafficking across this border is a real and significant public safety threat. And it deserves the attention of every leader in Washington.
In the face of these and other challenges, the Justice Department has continued to move forward in fulfilling its critical law enforcement responsibilities whether it is with regard to prosecuting financial and health care fraud, achieving a record mortgage settlement, taking aggressive action in protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Or challenging proposed voting changes and redistricting maps that would potentially disenfranchise millions of voters. This Department of Justice has not been afraid to act. Nor have I been.
Now, some of these enforcement decisions were not politically popular and helped to explain the actions that were taken today by the House. As attorney general, I do not look to that which is politically expedient.
On behalf of the American people who I am privileged to serve, I seek justice. In recent weeks, the Justice Department secured its seventh conviction in the most serious terror plot our nation has faced since 9/11.
Just two days ago, the department awarded more than $100 million in grants to save or to create law enforcement jobs including more than 600 jobs for recent veterans.
This, this is the kind of work that leaders in Washington should be striving together to advance. At a time when so many Americans are in need of our help, I refuse to be deterred from it.
And I will not let election year politics and gamesmanship stand in the way of continued progress. Today's vote may make for good political theatre in the minds of some, but it is at base both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.
They expect and they deserve far more. As a result of the action taken today by the House, an unnecessary court conflict will ensue. My efforts to resolve this matter short of such a battle were rebuffed by Congressman Issa and by his supporters.
It's clear they were not interested in bringing an end to this dispute or even obtaining the information they say they wanted. Ultimately, their goal was the vote that with the help of special interest they have now engineered.
Whatever the path this matter will now follow, it will not distract me or the men and women of the United States Department of Justice from the important tasks that are our responsibility.
A great deal of work for the American people remains to be done. I'm going to be getting back to it. I suggest that those who orchestrated today's vote do the same.
(END LIVE FEED)
BLITZER: Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States with an angry statement explaining his position reacting to this unprecedented and historic move by the House of Representatives to hold him in contempt, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to provide documents related to the so-called "Fast and Furious" scandal.
And I think it's fair to say it has been a scandal. We're going to have White House reaction, much more coverage on this. Also the Supreme Court decision on health care in the United States. Stay with us. THE SITUATION ROOM will resume in just a moment.