Published: Thu, July 18, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

House holds AG Barr, Ross in contempt over 2020 census citizenship question

House holds AG Barr, Ross in contempt over 2020 census citizenship question

The US House of Representatives has voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress over a census question.

Wednesday's vote is only the latest attempt by House Democrats to force the administration to submit to congressional oversight. The justices blocked the Commerce Department from adding the question unless administration officials could provide a more compelling rationale.

The resolution would refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia, a Trump appointee in the Justice Department who is unlikely to pursue the matter.

Though Trump dropped the question last week, the fight over the citizenship question and citizenship data hasn't ended.

The measure, which passed 230-198, was a response to the Trump cabinet members alleged failure to produce documents requested by House Democrats as part of an investigation into whether the administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would be discriminatory.

Barr and Ross asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier Wednesday to delay a House vote scheduled, which was scheduled.

The contempt citation will be automatically referred to the USA attorney's office in Washington, D.C., for prosecution, but that nearly certainly won't happen, since Barr oversees the office.

Trump's order came after the Supreme Court ruled that the administration can not move forward on adding the question without providing a solid justification for its plan.

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"I do not take this decision lightly", Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said on the House floor before the vote.

However, Ross told Fox Business that his office furnished lawmakers with 14,000 pages of documents related to the census, only excluding about 15 pages the Trump administration has said are protected under the aegis of executive privilege.

Commerce and Justice department officials "obscured evidence suggesting that the true objective of Secretary Ross's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census - suppressing the political power of minority immigrant communities", alleged lawyers with the ACLU and other groups challenging the question in court.

"If the Democrats can't impeach President Trump, they will instead hold his Cabinet in contempt of Congress", he said. He's directing agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases. He called the contempt vote a "PR stunt".

The decision left the door open for the administration to return to court with new arguments for adding the question. Critics have argued that including a citizenship question would discourage immigrants from participating and result in an undercount of the country's population.

Cummings accused Barr and Ross of "blatantly" obstructing the panel's ability to conduct oversight.

A spokeswoman for Barr said the contempt vote defied logic and undermined Congress' credibility with the American people. 'This is just another episode in political theater'.

The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether a congressional subpoena supersedes a claim of executive privilege, thus meaning its decision would reshape the political landscape for years to come. The issue arouse when the House Oversight Committee approved a resolution last month recommending that the House find Barr and Ross in contempt. Democrats claimed that it was because Barr and Ross refused "to comply with subpoenas".

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