Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) stated on Tuesday that House Democrats were discussing behind closed doors how to arrest the members of President Donald Trump’s administration who did not comply with congressional subpoenas.
“Let me tell you, this is pretty — and this is the last caucus conversation we had. Do you know this is really unprecedented? This is the worst time we’ve ever had a situation like this,” Tlaib said during a town hall meeting. “So they’re trying to figure out — no joke — they’re trying to figure out, ‘Well, is it the D.C. police that goes and gets them?’ No, no.”
“What are we hoping? I mean, I’m not in those kinds of conversations, but I’m asking, like, you know, what happens? And they’re like, ‘Well, Rashida, we’re trying to figure it out ourselves because this is uncharted territory,'” she continued. “No, I’m telling you that they’re trying to be like, ‘Well, where are we going to put them? Where are we going to hold them?’ No, I mean those are the kinds of things they’re trying to tread carefully.”
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Accordingly, in an escalating effort to force White House officials to comply with congressional subpoenas, House Democrats have reportedly been reexamining holding those members of the administration in inherent contempt — a power that the legislature has not used since 1935.
The Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI) explains that inherent contempt is the oldest of three strategies that Congress can use to enforce subpoenas. According to the Washington, D.C.-based think tank:
“Since 1935, Congress has relied on the executive and judicial branches when people refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas. This practice makes sense: if Congress cannot get the information it needs on its own authority, then it can rely on the authority of the other branches of government. However, there is another option. Instead of turning to another branch, Congress can legally imprison or fine individuals who refuse to comply.”
Tlaib incorrectly suggested that the process could be enforced by the Washington, D.C. Police Department — the procedure actually only involves the chamber that is concerned. Following a contempt citation, the individual is arrested by the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms, and subsequently brought to the floor for punishment, which may include imprisonment.
It is not clear why Democrats have been discussing the logistical execution of holding an individual in inherent contempt, as the procedure is determined by the House’s sergeant-at-arms.
“I mean this is — I’m like you all, I ask the same questions, but what happens when they don’t comply? I mean the fact of the matter is we held [Attorney General William] Barr and [Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross] in contempt,” Tlaib said. “Well, what happens if they don’t comply? And everybody is looking each other, we’re like, ‘We haven’t had this ever happen before.'”
The House of Representatives voted 230-198 in July to hold Barr and Ross in contempt of Congress for defying congressional subpoenas. While it was only the second time in history that a sitting Cabinet member was held in criminal contempt, it was not, in fact, unprecedented — former President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, was held in contempt after he refused to turn over documents related to the “Operation Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal.
“I just want you to know I will relay your message, I will tell them they can hold all those people right here in Detroit, we’ll take care of them, and make sure they show up to the committee hearings,” Tlaib told a constituent. “We won’t hurt them. We’ll make sure they come and show, right? I’ll make sure that you’re in charge.”
“Congress has several ways to enforce subpoena authority through the legal process. Inherent contempt is the most draconian, and allows Congress to take information — from citizens, as well as federal officials — without justification and without oversight,” Rachel Bovard, CPI’s senior director of policy told The Daily Wire. “It’s an incredibly authoritarian power of Congress that, if used now, will set a dangerous precedent moving forward.”