Republicans and Democrats alike will spend much of this week maneuvering for political advantage as the House prepares to vote on a contempt of Congress charge against Attorney General Eric Holder. If history is any guide, they need not bother. However it turns out, the whole episode is likely to be forgotten by Election Day.
"It really doesn't matter much, despite today's screaming headlines," University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato told The Washington Examiner.
House Republican leaders for weeks resisted pressure from conservatives to find Holder, the nation's top law enforcement official, in contempt for refusing to turn over documents related to the botched gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wanted the party to focused on the economy and Democrats' failure to fix it ahead of the election.
But Boehner changed his mind last week and decided to allow the full House to vote on the contempt charge after President Obama stepped in and asserted executive privilege, denying Republicans access to the documents they sought.
With nearly five months between the scheduled contempt vote and the election, Boehner's calculation appears to be that his party will have little to fear by Election Day. And history is on his side.
Back in 2008, House Democrats voted twice to hold Republican officials from then-President George W. Bush's White House in contempt. White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten were charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the firing of federal prosecutors.
Like Republicans now, Democratic leaders at the time wanted to delay a contempt vote, fearful that it would detract from issues central to the election.
By Election Day, though, it was clear that the fuss over the contempt vote didn't do Democrats any harm. The party picked up 21 seats and took the White House -- largely because the election was dominated by an entirely different issue, the Iraq War, from which voters could not be distracted.
"There was a concern that the vote would take us off message, when we were focused on the Iraq War," recalled a former top aide to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "But in the end, we felt we had to take the vote to preserve the institutional integrity of the House."
And a contempt vote now, this time with Republicans charging a Democrat, isn't like to matter much either by Election Day, Democratic and Republican strategists said. Voters are laser-focused on unemployment, slumping housing prices and their shrinking net worth, they said.
"I think the public cares more about what public officials do or don't do, and not so much about an actual contempt vote, especially when it's along party lines," pollster Ron Faucheux told The Examiner.
Whatever history shows, some believe the contempt vote could be politically risky for both sides.
Democratic strategist Doug Schoen said it could help the Democrats by reinforcing an important narrative "that Republicans are intransigent and polarizing and more interested in confrontation than solving problems."
Faucheux said the public battle over the Fast and Furious documents, not the contempt vote, has a greater chance of hurting the president if the public begins to believe that the White House is hiding something.
"None of this helps the Obama administration," he said.