House holds AG Barr, Commerce Secretary Ross in contempt

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U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivers opening remarks at a summit on “Combating Anti-Semitism” at the Justice Department in Washington, July 15, 2019.

Erin Scott | Reuters

House Democrats on Wednesday voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas related to President Donald Trump’s push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The resolution passed by a vote of 230-198. It marks the latest escalation in the fight between Democrats, who say their oversight duties require launching a slew of subpoenas and requests for information from the Trump administration, and Trump, who has vowed to fight “all the subpoenas” from the House.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month voted to recommend that the entire House hold Barr and Ross in contempt for “refusing to comply” with their subpoenas for information about the census controversy.

“It begs the question: What else is being hidden from the American people?” Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a press release at the time.

Ross responded in a statement Wednesday, saying, “House Democrats never sought to have a productive relationship with the Trump Administration, and today’s PR stunt further demonstrates their unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our Department.”

“It is an unfortunate fact that there are some who would like nothing more than to see this Administration fail whatever the cost to the country may be,” Ross said. “Preferring to play political games rather than help lead the country, they have made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions of government.”

The White House also responded after the decision, calling it a “ridiculous and yet another lawless attempt to harass the President and his Administration.”

Trump had asserted executive privilege over the documents requested by the committee. A Commerce Department official told Cummings in a letter at the time that Trump’s hand was forced because Oversight had set an “unnecessary” and “premature” contempt vote “rather than allowing the Department to complete its document production.”

Trump abandoned his bid to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census last Thursday, just a few weeks after the Supreme Court blocked the question. Chief Justice John Roberts said Ross’ reasoning for adding the citizenship question was “contrived” and not “genuine.” Trump himself said the reasoning for the question on the census was for redistricting purposes.

Instead of gathering the data through the census, Trump said he would order federal agencies to give the Commerce Department all records related to information regarding how many citizens and noncitizens live in the United States.

The census question would have led to fewer responses, especially in households with noncitizens, according to Census Bureau research. Democrats say adding the question would result in an undercount in areas with a large Hispanic population and other minority communities, which would reduce Democratic representation in such areas.

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