Privilege in Census Probe Drives House to Delay Contempt Vote

WASHINGTON (CN) – With the White House now asserting executive privilege, lawmakers investigating the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census are delaying Wednesday a vote that would hold two Trump officials in contempt.

House Oversight Committee Chair Elija Cummings said the vote initially planned for this morning would be held later in the day, after he said he was handed a letter from the Department of Justice indicating that President Donald Trump has claimed executive privilege on all subpoenaed documents.

“What is being hidden?” asked Cummings, a Democrat, after announcing the postponement. “[The administration] has made clear they will not present documents we’ve considered as priorities. It appears to be another example of the administrations blind defiance of congress’s constitutionally mandated responsibilities.”

This request for documents has been ongoing as the committee initially worked to avoid today’s vote. Cummings pushed the vote back from last week after obtaining some documents, but the extent of that cooperation appears to have dried up. 

In objecting to the citizenship question, challengers say it will deter census participation by immigrants, ultimately leading to an undercount that will reduce government funding for and federal representation of big Democratic-leaning cities where such populations are most prevalent.

Congressman Jim Jordan, a Trump ally, pushed back against the criticism Wednesday, however, saying that the use of citizenship questions in national censuses is supported by the United Nations.

“Why don’t Democrats want to know how many citizens are in the country?” Jordan asked.

Calling the opposition to the census change an attempt to “muddy the waters,” Jordan suggested that many Americans already think the question is included in the census, and even more believe it should be added if it is not.

“We’re going to hold the attorney general and secretary of commerce in contempt because we don’t want to ask a question many people in this country thinks we are already asking,” he said.

One of the key documents sought by the Oversight Committee is a secret memo passed between officials 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, and today was no different.

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 month suggesting that Gore and Mark Neuman, Secretary Ross’ economic adviser, perjured themselves about what motivated 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.

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. Experts predict that inaccurate census reporting in such areas will cripple Democrat politics for the next decade.

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

Models published last week by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank 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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