Attorney General and Commerce Secretary Face Contempt Vote in Congress

Attorney General nominee William Barr, right, meets with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Miss., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in Hawley’s office in Washington on Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A congressional committee Monday cleared the way for the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas relating to a census citizenship question.

Both men are accused of failing to comply with subpoenas issued by the Committee on Oversight and Reform, which seek information relating to the decision to add a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census. 

Experts say the question could be detrimental to the accuracy of the census, resulting in the undercounting of minorities – and hurt Democratic politics for the next decade – and the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Commerce Department offered an implausible reasoning for adding the question to the census. 

The House Rules Committee Monday voted along party lines to send the contempt resolution to the House, where a vote is expected to occur Tuesday.

On Monday, the committee heard testimony from ranking members from the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Congressman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Cummings said the resolution was necessary to preserve the integrity of Congress and to determine. For more than a year, the committee received documents that were largely redacted, already public, or did not fall under the scope of its investigation he said.

“The departments have refused to provide key, unredacted documents that we need to understand the truth about why they really made this decision,” Cummings said.

Jordan testified against the resolution and said both departments have been compliant with requests for information, with the Department of Justice producing approximately 17,000 documents for the investigation and the Department of Commerce producing another 14,000 documents. 

Jordan disputed the usefulness of pressing the issue, since the Supreme Court blocked the question, and he accused Democrats of having an ulterior motive for opposing the question. 

“Why don’t the Democrats want to know? Why don’t they want to know how many citizens are in this country?” Jordan asked. “Judge [Samuel] Alito in the decision a few weeks ago said this, ‘No one disputes the idea that we should know how many inhabitants in this country are citizens.’”

Jordan added five amendments to the resolution – one lists the amount of documents produced by each department, another pertains to Ross’s participation in Congressional hearings, and another notes the fact that the citizenship question was posed on the short-form version of the census between 1820 and 1950. 

Cummings said these amendments were unnecessary. 

“They know what we need,” Cummings said. “We’ve narrowed it and they’ve basically done what they usually do with this administration, they throw a whole lot of documents at you – and they know what we want, and we know they exist.”

Representative Bob Woodall, R-Ga., said he agreed that with Cummings that Congress should not be inhibited when requesting necessary documents during an investigation, although he voted against the resolution. 

“It is our duty, that’s what we are sworn to do, to check and balance,” Cummings said. “And if we can’t get documents, and we can’t get people to come before us, and the people who come before us won’t answer questions, how can we hold any body accountable?”

Representative Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said many of his constituents want to add the citizenship question to the census, and that many people “back home,” were under the impression that the question was already being asked of citizens. 

“In my district, people see the census question in the context of the anti-immigration rhetoric of the administration,” Representative Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said.

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