Contempt Vote for Barr, Ross on Deck in House Census Probe

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies during the House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (CN) – House Democrats will vote next week to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress if they do not hand over all documents related to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings had warned the Trump administration officials on Monday that they were on a steady collision course with contempt for their patent refusal to comply with subpoenas issued in April.

The subpoenas sought emails, notes and other correspondence shared by the White House, the Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s campaign team.

“We have been extremely patient in waiting for these documents which were subpoenaed more than two months ago on a bipartisan basis,” Cummings said Wednesday in a statement. “If they are not produced by tomorrow, we will be forced to move forward with holding Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt of Congress.”

Cummings confirmed that the Commerce Department did release some documents to the committee late Tuesday night, thereby putting off what would have been a public Thursday morning contempt vote.

The department turned over transcribed interviews from three Commerce Department officials who coordinated the addition of the citizenship question to the census, Cummings said.

Those officials were former Commerce Department Secretary James Uthmeier, the department’s General Counsel Peter Davidson and Deputy Chief of Staff Earl Comstock.

One of the key documents the Oversight Committee has requested is a secret memo passed from Uthmeier to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore that the committee says contains critical information about the origins of the citizenship question.

This is vital, House Democrats argue, because the memo long predates any official request by the Department of Justice for the question’s addition to the census.

Unredacted emails between Secretary Ross and Justice Department officials are also sought.

Secretary Ross has told Congress repeatedly that he added the question at the request of the Justice Department because the agency felt it would help better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

But some emails obtained by the committee indicate Ross was looking into adding the question shortly after his 2017 swearing-in.

Republicans on the committee have criticized their Democratic colleagues’ pursuit of the information as a way to interfere with a case over the citizenship question that has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Though the Supreme Court is expected to rule any day on whether the question will appear in the decennial survey, attorneys for the challengers unveiled new evidence last week that suggests Gore and Mark Neuman, Secretary Ross’ economic adviser, perjured themselves about the intent in adding the question.

The records show that the officials obscured how the change stemmed from the belief by Thomas Hofeller, a now-deceased Republican strategist, that the addition of a citizenship question would give Republicans and non-Hispanic whites an advantage in voter redistricting.

Opponents of the question say it will scare off voters in immigrant-heavy cities, lead to inaccurate census reporting that will cripple Democrat politics for the next decade.

According to a March poll from Pew Research, 20 of the largest U.S. cities are home to 61% of the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population.

The need to have those voices counted in a census is crucial because the population count is what is used to determine representation in Congress. It also shapes how many votes are allocated for the Electoral College.

Experts warn that cities like Houston, Miami or San Antonio need to report correctly to keep voters there from becoming disenfranchised.

Models published Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based think Urban Institute show that the threat to black and Latino voters is particularly significant.

Each group is at risk of being undercounted by roughly 4% respectively, a number which in real terms, reflects a total of roughly 3.9 million people, according to the models.

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