House Dems Vote to Hold AG Barr, Commerce Secretary Ross In Contempt

House Democrats escalated a fight with the Trump Administration over just how a citizenship question was proposed for the upcoming census.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted 24-15 to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to why the Commerce Department added a citizenship question to its 2020 census form, which had not been asked in the census since 1950. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was the lone Republican to vote for contempt. The contempt resolution will now move to the full House of Representatives.

The Department of Justice sent a letter to Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on Wednesday that stated the committee will not be getting the documents it has requested. President Donald Trump has asserted that some of the documents fall under executive privilege and the rest under a protective assertion of privilege. This letter did not seem to satisfy Cummings.

“We must protect the integrity of the census and we must stand up for Congresses authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight,” Cummings said in his statement. He did delay the initial vote on Wednesday morning so that the committee members may review the letter.

The DOJ’s letter ended on this note:

By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process with respect to your requests and subpoenas for documents concerning the Secretary’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The Executive Branch has engaged in good-faith efforts to satisfy the legislative needs of the Committee. Moreover, until the Committee’s abrupt decision to seek a contempt resolution, the Department was prepared to provide a significant number of additional documents responsive to the Committee’s April 2, 2019 subpoena. Unfortunately, rather than allowing the Department to complete its document production, you have chosen to go forward with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote.

“Contempt of Congress is a powerful tool and it should be used responsibly,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said at Wednesday morning’s committee hearing. “This is just another last ditch attempt by the Democrats to muddy the waters around the citizenship question in a desperate hope that it will influence the Supreme Court’s consideration of this issue.”

This is in reference to the case Dept. of Commerce et al. v. New York, et al. that is before the Supreme Court. The court decided to hear the case after U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman blocked the inclusion of the citizenship question from the 2020 census. The case became even more controversial when it was revealed that Dr. Thomas Hofeller, a GOP operative, sent a letter to the DOJ that said a citizenship question would help give “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” an electoral advantage over democrats.

“There is no smoking gun here; only smoke and mirrors,” DOJ wrote to Judge Furman about the letter. “Plaintiffs apparently hope that by filing their eleventh-hour motion they might (improperly) derail the Supreme Court’s resolution of this case.”

[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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