Democratic lawmakers grill commerce secretary on 2020 census citizenship question

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is sworn in before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the Commerce Department in Washington U.S

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is sworn in before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the Commerce Department in Washington U.S

"Mr. Secretary, you lied to Congress".

Questioned by House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, Ross defended his earlier testimony: "I testified truthfully to the best of my ability in response to my understanding of what the questions were".

Ross testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in an often contentious hearing.

Ross doubled down on his statement that his motivations to push a citizenship question in the census were only based on a request from the justice department. Since its attempted inclusion in the 2020 census, Ross has fielded three legal challenges from jurisdictions with high immigrant populations, including a coalition suit of 18 states and six cities.

"This is because the census is used to reapportion Congressional seats, and Democrats know that Congressional apportionment according to the population of citizens, rather than total population, will cause them to lose seats in Congress", the column said, alleging that Democrats need the votes of non-citizens, who are not now allowed to vote, "to survive as a party".

Two federal judges have declared the move to reinstate the question illegal.

A federal judge in NY had previously blocked the administration from adding the question to the population count that occurs every 10 years, and the Supreme Court last month agreed to review that decision.

"So far the committee has been unable to get a copy of these documents despite multiple requests and interviews with your staff and with Department of Justice staff", said Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif.

The most withering criticism came from Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., who said Ross withheld critical information from Congress about what led up to the decision.

Clay cited an internal email from May 2017 - seven months before the Justice Department request - in which Ross spoke of "my months-old request that we add a citizenship question".

Clay said Ross failed to mention the memo when previously testifying to Congress.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the Commerce Department in Washington U.S

Meadows added, "Many of the questions that you will receive today have nothing to do with accurately counting the number of people that are here in the United States of America".

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg said Ross's decision to add the question was also circumventing government procedures and lacking a factual basis for necessity.

But, in a stinging opinion in January, a federal judge called this explanation a "sham", and saying Ross pressured his own staff to ask the Justice Department to request the citizenship question.

That delivery occurred months before the DOJ formally requested the citizenship question.

"Did the secret memo or note describe the real reason you wanted to ask the citizenship question?"

Ross said he did not believe such a message was delivered, but if there was a document of that sort he wanted the chance to review it. "This administration has done everything in its power to suppress the vote, not to help people exercise their right to vote".

"My team has initiated a $500 million advertising campaign to assure hard-to-count communities that the census is safe, secure, vital and that all collected data is used for statistical purposes only and can not be shared with law enforcement bodies", Ross said.

"If I had a nefarious goal, I surely wouldn't have added $3.2 billion to the budget of the census", Ross said.

Republicans said it was completely appropriate to add the citizenship question to the census.

"For the life of me, I do not know why the Democrats don't want to know how many citizens are in the United States of America", said Rep. Jim Jordan of OH, the ranking Republican.

Under the terms of his appearance, the committee agreed not to question him about his financial disclosures and would accept responses to questions about them in writing.

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