By Andrew Restuccia
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Thursday to subpoena the White House for all internal communications related to the failed solar company Solyndra.
The subpoena escalates the ongoing battle between the White House and Republicans over a $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee to Solyndra, the California solar panel maker that filed for bankruptcy in early September, setting off a firestorm in Washington.
Republicans have pummeled the White House over the loan guarantee for weeks, using Solyndra’s bankruptcy to challenge the administration’s green energy agenda.
The committee’s investigative panel voted 14-9, along party lines to subpoena the internal communications a day after the White House offered to provide documents if Republicans narrowed their request. Every Republican on the panel voted in favor of the subpoena and every Democrat voted against it.
“I regret that we have reached this point,” Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the chairman of the committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and the GOP’s pointman on the Solyndra investigation, said Thursday. “At this point in time, I am not confident that we will have a good faith response from the White House without issuing a subpoena.”
“Sometimes, in the course of an investigation, we find ourselves unable to secure necessary evidence,” full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. “House Rules expressly give us the power of subpoena to compel cooperation in these instances. It is a tool we use sparingly and only as a last resort. Today, it is our last resort.”
The subpoena comes a week after the White House launched a 60-day review of the Energy Department’s loan program amid news that other companies backed by the administration face financial troubles. Beacon Power, an energy storage company that received a $43 million loan guarantee last year, filed for bankruptcy late last month.
Republicans also voted Thursday to block a motion offered by Democrats to delay the subpoena vote until Nov. 15 in an effort to work with the White House to obtain the documents.
Democrats on the committee blasted Republicans for issuing the subpoena, arguing that talks with the White House to secure the documents were making progress.
Top Republicans and Democrats on the panel met with White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler Wednesday in an effort to come to an agreement that would avoid a subpoena vote.
“The White House repeatedly said that they had turned over documents and they were willing to turn over more documents,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the top Democrat on the investigative panel, said at Thursday’s hearing, calling the subpoena “an act of irresponsible partisanship.”
The White House offered to provide Solyndra documents if lawmakers narrowed their request, arguing it was too broad. But Republicans said the compromise was insufficient.
“The White House has refused to produce them and we have no choice but to authorize the issuance of a subpoena to compel them,” Upton said at the hearing. “I will say it again; I wish it has not come to this.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said Thursday that the subpoena is an effort to orchestrate a high-profile clash with the White House.
“Apparently, what the committee really wants is a confrontation with the president, not information for the investigation,” Waxman said.
Both Waxman and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who both formerly chaired the committee, said they never issued a subpoena to the White House and were always able to negotiate a compromise.
Republicans are hoping to uncover evidence that politics played a role in the approval of the loan guarantee and the decision to restructure the loan in February, an allegation the White House strongly denies.
The investigation has not found evidence of political favoritism.
But emails released by Republicans show that the White House pressed administration officials to make a swift decision on helping Solyndra. They also show that there was disagreement within the administration on the wisdom of approving the loan guarantee.
Republicans scheduled the subpoena vote after the White House rejected last month a request for all internal White House communications on Solyndra.
Ruemmler, in a letter to the committee last month, said the documents that have already been provided by the administration “should satisfy the committee’s stated objective.”
“Your most recent request for internal White House communications from the first day of the current administration to the present implicates longstanding and institutional executive-branch confidentiality interests,” she said.
The administration says it is cooperating fully with the Solyndra investigation, noting that the White House, its Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department and the Energy Department have provided more than 80,000 pages of documents to Republicans in recent months. The documents provided include communications between the White House and Solyndra.
On the eve of the subpoena vote, the Energy Department provided about 15,000 pages of documents to the committee.
Thursday’s vote mark the second time that the committee has subpoenaed the Obama administration for Solyndra documents.
The subcommittee voted in July to subpoena OMB for documents related to the 2009 Energy Department loan guarantee to the company. The July subpoena was issued before Solyndra filed for bankruptcy and laid off 1,100 workers.
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