Oversight Dems call for probe into citizenship question on 2020 census

Oversight Dems call for probe into citizenship question on 2020 census
© Anna Moneymaker

A pair of top Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are calling for an investigation into the Department of Commerce's decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census forms.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Department of Commerce Inspector General Peg Gustafson, Democratic Reps. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaryland postpones primary over coronavirus fears Maryland governor: 'Simply not enough supplies' on hand to tackle coronavirus Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE (Md.) and Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyOPM chief abruptly resigns The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the APTA - Biden looks for Super Tuesday surge; coronavirus fears heighten 'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base MORE (Va.) called into question the department's assertion that it added the question at the request of Department of Justice, citing three documents that indicated otherwise.

"In sworn testimony before multiple Committees of Congress in both the House and Senate, Secretary Ross and other Department officials repeatedly claimed that they decided to add the citizenship question 'solely' in response to the request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on December 12, 2017," they wrote, referring to Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTariffs on imported oil: A bad idea at the wrong time Tourism industry estimates 4.6 million travel-related jobs lost due to coronavirus 2020 census to run ads on 'Premio lo Nuestro' MORE.

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"However, documents made public as part of ongoing litigation in New York v. United States Commerce Department demonstrate that the request in fact was initiated by the Commerce Department and coordinated with then-White House Chief Strategist Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonSunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump team fiercely debates how long coronavirus restrictions should stay in place Sunday shows preview: State governors and top medical officials prepare for next week of COVID-19 response MORE long before the December 2017 request from DOJ," the lawmakers added.

Cummings and Connolly noted that they have sought documents from both departments and the Census Bureau, which they said they have not received. They alleged that Ross has refused "to comply with our oversight requests," citing "ongoing litigation."

The lawmakers also blasted their GOP counterparts on the Oversight Committee for opting not to back their requests for the information. 

"Congress and Inspectors General have an obligation to conduct independent oversight of Executive Branch agencies. We should avoid interfering with ongoing litigation, but we also should not allow the existence of litigation to prevent us from doing our own jobs," the Democratic lawmakers wrote.

"Therefore, we request that your office investigate the Department of Commerce’s process in adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, whether Secretary Ross and the Department of Commerce meaningfully considered concerns expressed by experts at the Census Bureau, and the extent to which Secretary Ross and other Commerce officials were involved in this decision."

The Department of Commerce first said that the citizenship question would be placed on the census in March, an announcement that was met with sharp criticism from Democrats who argued the Trump administration move was discriminatory.