The House this week will vote on whether to hold former top Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, while Senate lawmakers will grapple with legislation that would green light construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.
The GOP-led House is planning up to three votes this week that aim to cast a negative spotlight on the Obama administration, including a Thursday vote on whether to hold Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify before a House oversight committee. The GOP wants to know more about her about her role in an IRS pattern of targeting conservative and Tea Party groups who sought tax-exempt status.
Lerner contends she has a constitutional right to remain silent, but Republicans believe she waived that right last year when she read a lengthy statement defending herself at an oversight hearing. Democrats, who are in the minority, are likely to oppose the contempt resolution. They have accused Republicans of pursuing Lerner for political purposes, saying little evidence exists of an administration-wide conspiracy to target conservatives.
But Republicans, who have conducted numerous hearings and collected thousands of pages of documents and emails, believe they have a legitimate reason to pursue Lerner, the IRS and the Obama administration about the role each played in the targeting scandal.
In addition to the contempt vote, the House also will vote on a resolution calling on Attorney General Eric HOlder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS pattern of targeting, which was first uncovered by the Treasury inspector general.
Most Democrats are likely to vote against this measure, too, but the GOP majority ensures both the contempt vote and special counsel measure will pass. A contempt vote would trigger a Department of Justice investigation into whether Lerner broke the law by refusing to testify.
House leaders also are weighing whether to put a measure on the floor this week that would create a select House committee to investigate the Obama administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, last week announced he would move to create the special committee after repeated stonewalling from the Obama administration on turning over documents related to Benghazi that House lawmakers have requested.
Republican leaders had resisted the call for a select committee but were angered by the recent revelation that the White House had withheld an email from a top White House aide promoting the idea that the attack was prompted by an anti-Muslim video and was not related to terrorism.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said a vote on forming a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack could come as early as this week.
On Sunday, a Democratic House lawmaker said if Republicans form the special committee, Democrats should refuse to appoint their own members.
“I don't know what our leadership will ultimately decide, but I don't think it makes sense for us to give this select committee any more credibility than it deserves,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California said on Fox News Sunday. “And frankly, I don't think it deserves very much. We've tread down this path so many times.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., appearing on the same show, said the withheld email shows underscores the need for a select committee to examine why then-U.N Ambassador Susan Rice went on five Sunday talk shows following the Benghazi attack and blamed it on the anti-Muslim video.
“Why is it that we're just receiving this email, that really shows where the idea from the video came, because that video was not in the talking points, and yet that is what Ambassador Rice pushed on your show and every Sunday show?” Ayotte said on Fox.
The Senate, run by Democrats, has no intention of pursuing the Benghazi or Lerner investigations.
Instead, they will move to begin debate on the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act.
The bill includes GOP co-sponsors, which would help it garner the 60 votes needed to debate and eventually pass the measure, but Republicans and a group of Democrats want an additional vote on a measure that would permit the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project.
President Obama has put off making a decision on the pipeline, which would stretch from the oil sands of Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast. A group of Democrats, some of them vulnerable incumbents up for re-election, are insisting on a standalone bill to green-light Keystone XL. Republicans, meanwhile, want to attach the measure to the energy-efficiency legislation, which would likely trigger a veto threat from Obama.