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 CummingsWill Congress score headlines or legislative wins in next session? Pelosi agrees to term limits vote; insurgency collapses Black Caucus huddles as talk of term limits heats up MORE (Md.) and Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyCongressional scorecard finds federal agencies improving on IT GOP, Dems locked in fight over North Carolina fraud probe NC voter: Someone collected my absentee ballot and never turned it in 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 RossReplacing unpopular steel tariffs with quotas is even worse for US energy Judge refuses to pick sides in Census dispute, schedules trial Ross: I don't know who started 'rumor' about travel warning for China MORE.

ADVERTISEMENT

"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 BannonHillicon Valley: Ecuador says 'road is clear' for Assange to leave embassy | Panel questioned Bannon on Cambridge Analytica | Trump aide says US knew about arrest of Huawei exec | Judges grill DOJ lawyers on AT&T merger appeal CIA, climate scientists, and Mueller all show limits of Trump’s authority Don’t get too excited: The US-China truce will be short-lived 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.