Led by Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D), a House committee voted on Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas.
Cummings, chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, scheduled the vote after Barr and Ross failed to comply with a subpoena seeking documents pertaining to the administration’s plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The committee largely split along party lines on the contempt vote. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan – the lone congressional Republican to call for President Trump’s impeachment – was the only GOP lawmaker to support the contempt measure.
Amash explained to Fox News after the vote that he didn’t think any of the excuses presented were legitimate.
The contempt citation, which could now head to the House floor for a vote, marks the latest battle in the ongoing oversight war between the Trump administration and House Democrats. Another House committee voted earlier this year to hold Barr in contempt.
For much of the day on Wednesday, Democrats on the panel accused the executive branch of unprecedented stonewalling, while Republicans blasted their colleagues of refusing to negotiate in good faith in an attempt to score political points against Trump.
Barr and Ross “both refused to comply with duly-authorized subpoenas issued by this committee that require them to produce documents relating to the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census against the advice of experts,” Cummings said. Democrats accuse the administration of using a citizenship question on the census to sway data by discouraging people from responding.
“It’s designed to intimidate and instill fear,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). He said that if the administration was proud of the formulation of the citizenship question, “these documents would be flowing up here yesterday.”
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the oversight panel, said Democrats should want to know how many citizens are in the country. He defended the administration, saying the idea that it has stonewalled the House investigation is “ridiculous.” He added, “contempt of Congress is a powerful tool and it should be used responsibly.”
Trump addressed the issue Wednesday with reporters during a meeting at the White House with the president of Poland. “I think it’s totally ridiculous that we would have a census without asking,” he said.
House Democrats, including two high-profile freshmen, insisted that they’re entitled to more information about how the administration made its decision to include the question.
“This is not about whether or not I want to know who is a citizen,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). She said she wanted to know why the question would be added in an expedited time-frame without normal procedures. “I want to know about corruption. I want to know about the racism,” she said.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), whose parents immigrated to the United States from Palestine, told her colleagues that a citizenship question on the census would make her mother hesitate to answer, “even though she’s been in this country for four decades, and we all know that’s exactly their true intent here.”
The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on a case challenging the addition of the citizenship question to the census.
Cummings said Congress still has a duty to oversee the administration of the census. “We’ve been pursuing this investigation for more than a year, long before the Supreme Court ever took up the case. I first called for this investigation in March 2018,” he said.