Voting on citing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress Thursday is part of lawmakers' constitutional duty, House Speaker John Boehner said.
"It's an unfortunate place where we are. But our members raise their right hand and swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States. And we're going to do our job," said Boehner, R-Ohio, vowing to press ahead with the civil and criminal contempt votes after the Justice Department refused to hand over all its memos and e-mails that reflect internal deliberations that took place after Congress began its inquiry into a botched gun-tracking operation.
The White House has invoked executive privilege in the matter.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, appealed to Boehner to halt the precedent-setting action to hold a sitting attorney general in contempt.
He identified 100 "errors, omissions and mischaracterizations" in a report the committee drew up recommending the contempt citation.
A handful of Democrats have said they would vote with the GOP majority.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday the public would view the votes as "political theater" and "the kind of political gamesmanship that frustrates the American people so much about what happens in Washington."
The National Rifle Association -- which argues the Operation Fast and Furious gun-tracking strategy was part of an administration conspiracy to promote tougher gun-control laws -- said it would penalize lawmakers who vote against the contempt motion in its year-end scorecard.
Thursday's votes were scheduled to begin around 5 p.m. EDT.
The Fast and Furious dispute stems from an oversight committee claim the Justice Department may have sought to mislead the committee about the gun-tracking operation when it said incorrectly in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter the operation did not use a tactic, officially against Justice Department policy, called gun-walking.
The department later retracted that statement.
The 2009-11 Fast and Furious operation was part of a strategy begun during the administration of former President George W. Bush to combat Mexican drug and organized-crime cartels.
News reports have said the operation, run by Arizona agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, used gun-walking, which let suspected smugglers buy more than 2,000 firearms -- including AK-47 variants, .50-caliber sniper rifles, .38-caliber revolvers and semi-automatic pistols -- without intercepting the weapons.
The stated goal of permitting the purchases was to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key cartel figures, which would presumably lead to the figures' arrests and the cartels' dismantling. But the agents lost track of several hundred of the weapons.
Some guns later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including that of a Dec. 14, 2010, shootout in which U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.
The gun-walking operation became public after Terry's death, when enraged agents went to lawmakers about the operation.
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