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Republicans Walk Out of US House of Representatives in Protest


Republicans in the House of Representatives have staged a dramatic walk-out from the House chamber in a protest against Democrats. VOA's Dan Robinson reports the event occurred just before a vote on a Democratic resolution to cite one current and one former White House official with contempt of Congress, and as Democrats and President Bush remain deadlocked over controversial surveillance legislation.

The walk-out came as the House prepared to vote on the resolution citing former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current chief of staff Joshua Bolten for contempt of congress for failing to obey subpoenas in connection with the controversial dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 and 2007.

But Republicans also protested Democrat's refusal to bring up for a vote in the House a Senate-passed bill supported by President Bush to revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the government to listen in on phone calls without a court warrant.

The current law expires February 16. Republican minority leader John Boehner led the protest after accusing Democrats of political grandstanding on the surveillance measure.

"We will not stand for this and I would ask my House Republican colleagues, and those who believe that we should be here protecting the American people [to] not vote on this bill, let's just get up and leave," said Boehner.

With that, Republicans went outside to the front steps of the Capitol to hold a small rally repeating criticisms of both the contempt resolution, and the foreign intelligence issue.

With most Republicans absent, the House voted 223-32 to approve the resolution citing Bolten and Miers.

In refusing to allow the two to testify before Congress, President Bush has cited executive privilege, used by presidents to assert that matters in the executive branch involving deliberations with advisers, must remain confidential.

Under former attorney general Alberto Gonzalez, the Justice Department refused to pursue contempt charges against Bolten and Miers, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey is not expected to agree to any investigation.

Congressman John Conyers, whose judiciary committee issued subpoenas for the two, underscored Democrat's justifications for the contempt resolution.

"It concerns whether the American people can be assured that their laws are being fairly and impartially enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice," he said. "That is why we are here."

Angry Republicans rose to accuse Conyers and Democrats of ramming the contempt resolution through Congress, and continuing to politicize the firing of U.S. attorneys while ignoring other pressing issues.

"For some reason, the majority feels that after eight months now this is a pressing issue," said Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

The House resolution allows lawmakers to pursue a lawsuit on the contempt of Congress issue.

Republicans say court battles could produce rulings that would lead to further expansion of executive powers at the expense of congressional oversight.

On foreign intelligence, President Bush offered to delay his departure on a Africa tour in order to resolve the issue.

"The American people are watching this debate as well," said Bush. "They expect Congress to meet its responsibilities before they leave town on a recess."

However, Democrats are standing firm, refusing to bring up the Senate-passed bill which contains a controversial provision that gives legal immunity to telecommunications companies for providing private information to the government.

This week, Democrats failed in an attempt to pass a temporary extension of the law, something President Bush said he would reject because he wants a permanent measure.

On Thursday, House Speaker Pelosi repeated Democrat's insistence that even if the law expires Americans would be in no greater danger.

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