Eric Holder cries, "Race!"
is once again under fire from Republicans -- this time for pulling the
race card to dismiss critics of his tenure as attorney general.
The attorney general cited race in
explaining why a "more extreme segment" of his critics were going after
him. "This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be
identified with him, both due to the nature of our relationship and, you
know, the fact that we're both African-American," Holder said in an
interview with The New York Times.
Holder has faced more congressional scrutiny than any member of President Obama's Cabinet. Calls for his resignation on Capitol Hill
have mounted as the investigation into the ATF's Fast and Furious
gunrunning probe intensifies. The Republican presidential candidates are
as united in calling for Holder's resignation as they are in calling
for the repeal of the federal health care overhaul.
Holder's Republican detractors have been
aggravated by the Justice Department's lawsuits against states pursuing
crackdowns on illegal immigrants, its decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and several other initiatives.
And Republicans rejected the notion that race had anything to do with it.
J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman
from Oklahoma, told Fox News that the criticism of Holder appears to be
based on the Justice Department's actions.
"I think it's fair criticism. When you look
at Fast and Furious ... when you look at guns ending up in the hands of
drug lords and criminals south of the border, I think that's fair
criticism," he said.
Watts, who is black, cautioned against
jumping to cite race as a motivation for criticism, something he said
both parties are guilty of doing.
"I think it cheapens and it weakens the
legitimate claims of racism," he said. "I think racism is obviously
alive and well, but I think it cheapens it when we so quickly and in
such cavalier ways, we often jump to that. Now I'm not saying that the
attorney general's being cavalier. ... He probably honestly feels like
But a Justice Department official called the
criticism of Holder's comment a "distortion," noting that he was
talking about how he's identified with the president. In his New York Times interview,
Holder did not ascribe race as a factor for all his critics, just the
"extreme" ones. He accused his critics more generally of playing
"Washington gotcha" games and "construing things to make it seem not
quite what it was."
"As he said in that article, in testimony
and elsewhere, he believes some of the more extreme criticism is the
typical Washington 'gotcha' games -- which is unfortunate," the official
said. "A reading of that article and that comment makes clear that he
was referring to how he is identified with the president and sometimes
viewed as a stand-in for him as he is a member of his cabinet and they
have a lot in common. The position of attorney general has historically
been a target for partisan attacks and given the critical work that he
has been doing and the Department has been doing for the last three
years, it's no surprise that some are engaging in such tactics."
Dan Gerstein, a public relations consultant, said Holder's remarks were probably a reflection of his own "frustration."
But Gerstein questioned why the attorney
general would mention race when he could just as easily dismiss the
criticism of his tenure as a product of partisanship.
"Crying foul on race is something ... you
have to be really, really, really careful with when you're in a position
of power," Gerstein said. "To President Obama's credit, he doesn't do
that. ... (Holder) should take a cue from his boss."
Gerstein said Holder runs the risk of marginalizing himself with such a remark.
Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., said it looks like Holder is playing the "last card in the deck."
West told The Daily Caller
that Holder's "incompetence" is behind the criticism. "It has nothing
to do with your race -- it has everything to do with competence, with
your character and with your ability to lead the Department of Justice," West said.
Holder is not the only black Cabinet-level
official in the Obama administration. He's just the one who attracts the
most partisan scrutiny.
Holder, in testimony earlier this month,
decried the gun-walking tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious --
which was tied to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry one year
ago, as well as the deaths of Mexicans south of the border. Holder has
claimed he did not learn about the operation until earlier this year.
He said at the hearing on Capitol Hill this
month that "nobody" in his department has lied, he and urged lawmakers
not to let the issue become a "political sideshow."
Despite Holder's appeals, the controversy is
not going away. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government
Reform Committee, this week urged Holder to testify before his panel
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus meanwhile have been divided over the Fast and Furious scandal.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who is Issa's
Democratic counterpart on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee,
said in a CBS "Face the Nation" interview in October that while he
doesn't believe Holder knew about the operation early on, he supports
Cummings said he thinks Issa has turned the
probe into a "witch hunt" -- however, he said he wants a "responsible
and balanced investigation" and vowed to "pursue the facts wherever they
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., though, told The
Daily Caller earlier this month that the Fast and Furious fallout is a
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