WASHINGTON — The House has approved a precedent-setting resolution to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress. It was the first time a sitting Cabinet member has been held in contempt.

A number of Democrats boycotted today’s vote.

Republicans pushed through the resolution in a 255-67 vote because Holder did not turn over documents related to a botched gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants Justice Department records from a 10-month period after February 2011. That month, the department initially denied guns were allowed to be purchased in Arizona and be taken to Mexico. In early December that year, the department acknowledged the assertion was wrong.

The vote on a criminal contempt resolution sends the matter to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who is under Holder. A separate vote on civil contempt will allow the House to go to court in an effort to force Holder to turn over the documents the Oversight and Government Committee wants.

In past cases, courts have been reluctant to settle disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government.

The NRA urged House members to vote for contempt, contending the administration wanted to use Operation Fast and Furious to win gun control measures. Democrats who normally support the NRA but who vote against the contempt citations would lose any 100 percent ratings from the group.

That could affect whether they get endorsements from the powerful organization, particularly if Republican opponents surface who are strong NRA backers.

The dispute is both legal and political. Republicans asserted their right to obtain documents needed for an investigation of Operation Fast and Furious — focusing on 10 months in 2011 after the Obama administration initially denied guns were allowed to “walk” from Arizona to Mexico. By year’s end, the administration acknowledged the assertion was wrong.

President Barack Obama asserted a broad form of executive privilege, a legal position designed to keep executive branch documents from being disclosed. The assertion ensures that documents will not be turned over any time soon, unless a deal is reached between the administration and congressional Republicans.

In debate, however, Republicans framed the issue as the need for closure for the family of Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent killed in December 2010 in a shootout with Mexican bandits. Two guns from Fast and Furious were found at the scene.

Democrats said the contempt issue was a political stunt to embarrass the Obama administration in an election year, and added that holding the attorney general in contempt will do nothing to bring closure to Terry’s family.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the contempt motions were “Fast and foolish, fast and fake.”

Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., took the opposite view, arguing, “A man died serving his country, and we have a right to know what the federal government’s hand was in that.”