By Stephen Dinan The Washington Times
Showing a growing frustration with the the Obama administration, congressional Republicans on Thursday authorized their second subpoena this week, demanding White House documents related to failed solar technology company Solyndra.
By a 14-9 party-line vote the Energy and Commerce Committee's investigative subcommittee authorized issuing a subpoena for any White House documents related to Solyndra, which received renewable energy loan guarantees under President Obama's stimulus program. The request for documents could include details of the president's own travel and communications.
Democrats said it was "unprecedented" to subpoena documents from the president's executive office like this, but Republicans said they've run out of patience with White House "stalling."
"We simply cannot allow the executive branch at its highest levels to pick and choose what they will produce, or whether they will produce anything at all," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, the Florida Republican who runs the investigative panel.
Thursday's subpoena came just a day after the Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee voted along party lines to authorize a subpoena for Homeland Security records related to illegal immigrants the department has declined to pursue deportation cases against.
Together they mark an escalation as Republicans have become increasingly aggressive in pushing back against what they see as administration stonewalling of oversight by the new GOP majority in the House.
In each case, the vote only authorizes a subpoena. It's up to the chairmen of the full committees to actually issue them.
Democrats said both votes were premature. They pointed to ongoing discussions between Homeland Security and the Judiciary Committee on the one hand, and between the White House and the Energy and Commerce Committee on the other, as evidence the administration is acting in good faith.
"The White House repeatedly said they had turned over documents and they were willing to turn over more documents," said Rep. Diana DeGette, the ranking Democrat on the investigations panel.
She also said the administration has already turned over tens of thousands of documents.
Each side now argues the other is acting in bad faith.
Republicans point to a lengthy effort to get documents, and said it is only when the committee begins to threaten subpoenas that things shake loose.
Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the full committee, said several new boxes of documents were released to the press Wednesday night even before they were turned over to the committee. Those documents reportedly show the Obama administration mulled bailing Solyndra out just days before the solar panel manufacturer collapsed.
Democrats said they support legitimate requests for information and back the House's right to investigate the administration. But they said the request for all potential Solyndra communications was a broad fishing expedition, and accused the GOP of short-circuiting usual negotiations.
"Apparently what the committee really wants is a confrontation with the president," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the top Democrat on the full Energy and Commerce Committee.
Mr. Waxman, a past chairman of the House's chief investigative committee, said he issued many subpoenas, but never against a White House. He said he was always able to reach an agreement with administration lawyers instead, and said that's what Republicans should try to do in this case.
The White House has sent several letters objecting to the broad request for the documents. It says the committee already has obtained documents from Cabinet departments, and said it doesn't think Congress needs to see the White House's own documents.
"We believe agency communications with the White House are the best source of information to accommodate the committee's interest in this matter," Kathryn H. Ruemmler, the White House's chief lawyer, said in an Oct. 25 letter.
She said the White House has an interest in "confidentiality" of its internal communications.
But Republicans said the White House has not actually claimed executive privilege, which is one of the exceptions that could make some documents off-limits to a congressional investigation.
The administration offered $535 million in loan guarantees to Solyndra, which borrowed $528 million. Documents the GOP has already obtained show approval was sped up despite the concerns of some officials.
Solyndra went bankrupt in September.
The subpoena is the second one the Energy and Commerce investigative panel has issued this Congress.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is scheduled to testify on Solyndra at a Nov. 17 committee meeting.
Late Wednesday another House panel, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Mr. Chu saying he has failed to answer questions on a new round of loan guarantees the Energy Department finalized on Sept. 30.
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the committee, set a deadline of next Monday for the Energy Department to produce the information.