July 19, 2019
The House may not be getting much satisfaction from the Executive Branch these days, but its Democratic Caucus finally has exacted retribution.
On July 17, members of the House voted 230-193 to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for their refusal to turn over key documents related to the Trump administration’s intention to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census, The New York Times reported.
Democrats investigating the issue believe that the documents and testimony that Barr and Ross have shielded from public view would confirm what they have long suspected—that the question was being added to the Census for politically motivated reasons; and not to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, as the Trump administration claims.
The Supreme Court hinted at that theory in late June in a ruling about the citizenship question, when Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said the explanation offered by the Trump administration for adding the question “appears to have been contrived.”
Democrats said Wednesday that their investigation would continue regardless, in an effort to vindicate Congress’s oversight authority and potentially head off future attempts to discourage participation by noncitizens in the census.
“It is bigger than the census. It is about protecting the integrity of the Congress of the United States of America,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the Oversight and Reform Committee chairman, said as he whipped up support on the House floor. “We need to understand how and why the Trump administration tried to add a question based on pretext so that we can consider reforms to ensure that this never happens again.”
Wednesday’s contempt vote formally authorized the oversight panel to take AG Barr and Secretary Ross to federal court to seek judicial enforcement of subpoenas for the material in question. A lawsuit is expected in the coming weeks, and the administration has maintained it is on firm legal footing in its position.
Research contact: @nytimes