House Oversight Committee Votes to Hold Barr, Ross in Contempt

June 13, 2019 by Dan McCue
Representative Elijah Cummings.

WASHINGTON – The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas related to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The Democratic-controlled committee voted 24-15,  largely along party lines, to advance contempt measures against the two top Trump administration officials to the full House.

Representative Justin Amash, R-Mich., broke with his party to vote with the Democrats on the panel.

The move by the committee came just hours after the Justice and Commerce Departments announced the White House had asserted executive privilege over subpoenaed documents, which were tied to the administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

According to the administration officials, the Justice Department said officials had “engaged in good-faith efforts” to satisfy the committee’s oversight needs.

The vote also came just one day after the House voted to empower committee chairs with more legal authority to enforce their subpoenas.

The decision to hold Barr and Ross in contempt marks a significant escalation of Democratic efforts to use their House majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of the Trump administration.

Many Democrats believe the addition of the citizenship question is a deliberate attempt to suppress the vote in immigrant and minority communities.

Ross has maintained the decision to add the question was based on a Justice Department request to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act.

But last week, computer files belonging to late North Carolina redistricting expert Tom Hofeller were revealed to include detailed calculations that lay out gains Republicans would see in Texas by basing legislative districts on the number of voting-age citizens rather than the total population.

Hofeller, a Republican operative who died last year, said in the documents that GOP gains would be possible only if the census asked every household about its members’ immigration status for the first time since 1950.

The committee’s chairman, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said on Wednesday that the panel “must protect the integrity of the census and we must stand up for Congress’ authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight.”

In his view, the administration’s refusal to turn over requested documents “does not appear to be an effort to engage in good-faith negotiations or accommodations.”

“Instead, it appears to be another example of the administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’ constitutionally mandated responsibilities,” Cummings said.

Trump has pledged to “fight all the subpoenas” issued by Congress and says he won’t work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress halts investigations of his administration.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a ruling on the controversial census citizenship question, a decision that could come down any day before the end of the month.

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