Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at...

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, Thursday, June 27, 2024. The Justice Department has charged nearly 200 people in a sweeping crackdown on health care fraud schemes nationwide with false claims topping $2.7 billion. Credit: AP/Jose Luis Magana

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday rejected a GOP effort to fine Attorney General Merrick Garland $10,000 a day until he turns over audio of President Joe Biden’s interview in his classified documents case as a handful of Republicans resisted taking an aggressive step against a sitting Cabinet official.

Even if the resolution, titled inherent contempt, had passed, it was unclear how the fine would be enforced as the dispute over the tape of Biden's interview with special counsel Robert Hur is now playing out in court.

The House voted 204-210, with four Republicans joining all Democrats, to halt a Republican resolution that would have imposed the fine, effectively rebuffing the latest effort by GOP lawmakers to assert its enforcement powers — weeks after Biden asserted executive privilege to block the release of the recording.

House Republican leaders were caught off guard by the failed vote, telling The Associated Press that they expected the effort to pass but that, regardless, they would continue using other tools to obtain the audio recording.

“We expected it to pass, but we’ve been very aggressive on enforcing the subpoena against Merrick Garland and seeking to hold him accountable,” Speaker Mike Johnson said after the vote. “We are using every tool in the arsenal to ensure that he follows the law and that we can complete our constitutional responsibility."

A spokesperson for Garland said the attorney general was leading a cross-border crime forum and was unavailable for comment.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., the resolution’s lead sponsors, said during debate Wednesday that “No one is above the law.”

“This is not a decision that we have reached lightly, but the actions of the attorney general cannot be ignored,” Luna said.

The House earlier this year made Garland the third attorney general in U.S. history to be held in contempt of Congress. But the Justice Department said Garland would not be prosecuted, citing the agency’s “longstanding position and uniform practice” to not prosecute officials who don’t comply with subpoenas because of a president’s claim of executive privilege.

Democrats blasted the GOP effort as another political stunt. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said that the resolution is unjustified in the case of Garland because he has complied with subpoena.

“Their frustration is that they can’t get their hands on an audio recording that they think they could turn into an RNC attack ad,” McGovern said in reference to the Republican National Committee. “When you start making a mockery of things like inherent contempt you diminish this institution.”

Garland himself has defended the Justice Department, saying officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to provide information to the committees about Hur’s classified documents investigation, including a transcript of Biden's interview. However, Garland has said releasing the audio could jeopardize future sensitive investigations because witnesses might be less likely to cooperate if they know their interviews might become public.

House Republicans sued Garland earlier this month in an attempt to force the release of the recording.

Republicans have accused Biden of suppressing the recording because he's afraid to have voters hear it during an election year. The White House and Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have slammed Republicans’ motives for pursuing contempt and dismissed their efforts to obtain the audio as purely political.

The congressional inquiry began with the release of Hur’s report in February, which found evidence that Biden willfully retained and shared highly classified information when he was a private citizen. Yet the special counsel concluded that criminal charges were not warranted.

Republicans, incensed by Hur’s decision, issued a subpoena for audio of his interviews with Biden during the spring. But the Justice Department turned over only some of the records, leaving out audio of the interview with the president.

Beyond the bitingly critical assessment of Biden’s handling of sensitive government records, Hur offered unflattering characterizations of the Democratic president’s memory in his report, sparking fresh questions about his competency and age that cut at voters’ most deep-seated concerns about the 81-year-old seeking a second term.

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