House votes to hold Barr and Ross in contempt over Census question

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Leah Millis  Reuters

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Leah Millis Reuters

The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday evening to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over their refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents concerning the Trump administration's drive to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The vote was largely along party lines, with just Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) joining the Democrats in favor the vote.

That setback pushed President Trump off of adding the question to the census, leading him to instead opt for an executive order to compile the citizenship data from existing federal databases. On Wednesday, the House cleared three Senate-passed measures to block the administration's plan to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, inviting presidential vetoes. In May, new evidence emerged suggesting that the question was crafted specifically to give an electoral advantage to Republicans and whites.

Ross had argued that the aim of the census question was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters.

"By taking this action, the House is both unnecessarily undermining inter-branch comity and degrading the constitutional separation of powers and its own institutional integrity", the letter says.

The White House called the vote "ridiculous" and "yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his administration".

While Ross and other officials have claimed the sole reason they wanted to add the citizenship question was to enforce the Voting Rights Act, "we now know that claim was nothing but a pretext", Cummings said. Further, the Department has identified tens of thousands more responsive pages and was working to produce them before the Committee halted the accommodation process to pursue its entirely premature contempt resolution. Those found in criminal contempt are normally referred to the Justice Department for prosecution; in this instance, the Justice Department would not prosecute itself.

Wednesday's vote authorizes the House to take the demands for documents and testimony to court, but its timeline for doing so is unclear.

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"This majority thinks this is another political opportunity", McCarthy said. The issue arouse when the House Oversight Committee approved a resolution last month recommending that the House find Barr and Ross in contempt. Democrats claimed that it was because Barr and Ross refused "to comply with subpoenas".

"Asking about citizenship is neither new nor controversial", he said in a statement. "The Supreme Court said that".

"They lost because their justification was 'contrived, ' according to Chief Justice Roberts", Raskin said, adding: "This is about congressional power".

Lawmakers say Barr and Ross refused to hand over key documents shedding light on the administration's push to include the question about USA citizenship on the 2020 census, after Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over them.

Barr and Ross wrote in a letter to the House speaker that "the Departments have made significant efforts to accommodate requests from the Committee concerning the Census matter".

Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., argued during floor debate that his panel made "extraordinary efforts" to try to get the documents surrounding the genesis of the citizenship question.

Grisham said the departments of Justice and Commerce have produced more than 31,000 pages of documents on the issue, and that senior officials from both agencies have spoken on record to address the matter.

"There's another - in some ways even bigger issue, and that is what is: the USA enforcement capability in the event that they violate the agreements", Ross told Fox Business Network in an interview.

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