On Wednesday, the U.S. House voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress with Florida congressmen playing pivotal roles, even as they, like most of the House, mainly voted along party lines.
The House passed the contempt resolution on a 231-187 vote with six Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., joining Republicans. The contempt vote is based on Republicans arguments that Lerner refused to answer questions about the IRS targeting conservative groups.
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., led the attack, being the first Republican to speak against Lerner on Wednesday.
"Mrs. Lerner made 17 separate factual assertions before invoking her right to remain silent," Nugent said. "You can't make selective assertions and still invoke your Fifth Amendment right."
Nugent was far from alone as Republicans in the Florida delegation chimed in, agreeing that Lerner needed to be held in contempt and championing a measure, which passed with 260 votes, demanding U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appoint an independent special prosecutor to examine the IRS abuses.
"In a country that prides itself on our freedoms, we shouldn't have to wonder if we will be wrongfully targeted by the IRS and other government agencies if our political philosophy is different than the administration's," said U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla.. "It's alarming that these actions are condoned at any level. The votes to hold Lois Lerner in contempt and for the attorney general to investigate these egregious actions are necessary. Justice must be upheld and Americans across the country must know that their freedoms are restored."
From his perch as chairman of the U.S. House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., expressed his support for a special counsel to investigate the IRS and holding Lerner in contempt of Congress.
Its clear to me that were not finished with this dark chapter of American history. Congress and the American public do not have all the answers that they deserve, and I wont stop fighting until they get them, Crenshaw said on Wednesday. Thats why I led the fight last year as head of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations to cut the IRSs budget. And, its why I told Commissioner John Koskinen a month ago that I was troubled that he was asking for a 10 percent increase for the IRS for 2015.
The attorney general needs to formally investigate the targeting of conservative groups so the IRS can be held fully accountable for its actions, Crenshaw added. And, I fully support holding Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions that will help Congress get to the bottom of what happened.
But Democrats from the Sunshine State pushed back. At the House Rules Committee meeting on Tuesday, during a debate on whether to hold Lerner in contempt, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., insisted this was all about politics.
What the scandal is in all of this stuff is that there is no scandal, Hastings said. What happens is, you havent been able, nobody has been able, to tie this to the administration. And just to abuse (sic) you all of the notion that it's only tea party people that have been investigated, that just simply is not the case. What happens with IRS, and we should get off of their backs, they are thrust upon political seasons with immense responsibilities to make a determination as to whether or not organizations qualify under the laws as they are written with reference to 501(c)(3) and (c)(4).
I want to make it very clear: I take umbrage for the reason I belong to Mount Hermon AME Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and way before any of this took place, my church was under two years of investigation because John Kerry came to church, Hastings continued. And there are conservative churches that have had their charters reviewed by the Internal Revenue Service. So this isnt all about one particular segment of our society. I think the most pertinent thing out of this is ... that the law needs to be written clearly so that the IRS and anybody else can have a better understanding
I just, for the life of me, dont believe that in this week, what we are doing is handling the business of the people of the United States of America, Hastings added. Like you all, I spent 10 days on the ground in my district, and I had a considerable amount of interface with a variety of people, Democrat and Republican. Nobody said to me 'Benghazi.' Nobody said to me anything about the IRS. Nobody said anything about any need for any select committee to investigate anything. Almost all were concerned about jobs. A considerable amount of query about unemployment benefits for people who have lost their jobs. And here we are, about the business of looking for scandal where there is no scandal and that is the scandal: that you are spending taxpayer time and money going about looking for something that didnt exist.
Ms. Lerner had every right to assert her Fifth Amendment rights, Hastings concluded. And when she asserted her Fifth Amendment rights, they stand. And I predict for you, in spite of all of the hoi polloi here, that when it is in court, and it will be in court if you all vote it out tomorrow, that you will find that it will be dismissed. And then where are we, with some more political mish-mash? Enough already, people.
For her part, Lerner is relying on her attorney, William Taylor, who agreed with Hastings that the vote was all politically motivated.
"Today's vote has nothing to do with the facts or the law," Taylor insisted on Wednesday. "Its only purpose is to keep the baseless IRS 'conspiracy' alive through the midterm elections. Ms. Lerner has not committed contempt of Congress. She did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence."
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.