Luna moves to force vote on fining Garland $10,000 per day

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Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) on Wednesday moved to force a vote on her resolution to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in “inherent contempt” of Congress and fine him $10,000 for each day that he declines to turn over audio from President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur over his handling of classified documents.

House leaders, who had two legislative days to act on the matter, held an immediate vote on tabling the measure — which failed 207-209 — and then one on sending the resolution to the Rules Committee, which also failed 207-211.

Four Republicans joined with all Democrats in voting to table and refer the resolution: Reps. John Duarte (Calif.), David Joyce (Ohio), Tom McClintock (Calif.), and Mike Turner (Ohio).

The chamber proceeded to debate on the underlying resolution with a vote not expected until at least Thursday.

The move plays into widespread panic among Democrats about Biden’s age following a disastrous debate performance nearly two weeks ago. In the report detailing why he would not seek to charge Biden over his handling of classified documents, the special counsel said that any jury would likely see Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory,” citing portions of the October interview in which Biden had trouble remembering dates and key arguments he had made.

Luna, though, had been pushing for inherent contempt before the debate. The proposed $10,000-per-day fine is toned down from her original inherent contempt push, which would have directed the House Sergeant at Arms to arrest and detain Garland over his refusal to turn over the Biden interview tapes.

But even her new resolution is not the preferred course of action for House GOP leaders.

The House last month held Garland in “regular” contempt over refusal to turn over the interview audio. The Department of Justice (DOJ) responded by saying it would not prosecute Garland, the head of the agency because Biden had claimed executive privilege over the audio. Last week the House Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit to force Garland to turn over the tapes.

The DOJ has already provided the House a written transcript of the conversation. Republicans argue that because the DOJ provided the transcript, it cannot withhold the audio, which it says it needs to ensure the transcript is accurate.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) expressed skepticism about the legality of enforcing the fine and of the rarely-used inherent contempt – which encompasses Congress directly enforcing its will rather than relying on the executive branch to do so.

“As a constitutional litigator, former constitutional litigator, my preference is to follow the legal process and legal proceedings that protect the institution,” Johnson said in a press conference on Tuesday. “I frankly have a little pause about presenting an article one authority question to the Article three branch – to the federal judiciary desk, the judicial branch – whether they believe we have the right to enforce a subpoena in this unconventional way.”

But despite those concerns, Johnson said: “If it’s brought to the floor, I’ll vote for it.”

Luna has countered that a lawsuit could take years, and has argued that Congress needs to assert its power.

“Inherent contempt is the ONLY mechanism that can be used to force compliance with subpoenas,” Luna said in a statement on Wednesday. “The Hur tapes are not just an issue of national security, as it is evident Joe Biden is impaired, but has now become a criminal organized effort to usurp Congress as a co-equal branch of government.”

Luna also got support for her push from former President Trump, who wrote on his Truth Social platform on Wednesday: “I AGREE with Anna Paulina Luna and the many House Members who think Merrick Garland should be held in INHERENT CONTEMPT for refusing to release the Biden Tapes even though they were subpoenaed!”

Still, Luna did face some House GOP resistance to her resolution.

Duarte had forecasted his intent to not support Luna’s proposed fine for Garland.

“I’m gonna stand by the Judiciary committee’s due process, regular order. I’m not interested in these individual motions, privileged motions,” Duarte said Tuesday.

Privileged motions have seen a surge in use during this Congress, with rabble-rousers using them to force votes on everything from impeachments to formal reprimands of House members.

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), another member who voted to table the resolution, was the only Republican to vote against “regular” contempt for Garland last month.

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