House Oversight authorizes subpoenas on census citizenship question

The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted Tuesday to authorize subpoenas to compel Trump administration officials to provide documents related to the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The committee voted 23-14 along mostly party lines to approve three separate subpoenas, ratcheting up the panel's legal fight with the administration. Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Amash says some Republicans privately sympathize with Trump impeachment comments Rand Paul splits with Amash on Trump impeachment MORE (R-Mich.) joined Democrats in authorizing the subpoenas, which will allow committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsNancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now House Democrats, Trump lawyers ask appeals court to expedite subpoena case Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech MORE (D-Md.) to seek testimony and unredacted information about the controversial change to the decennial survey.

One subpoena is aimed at securing testimony from Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore.


A second subpoena is to compel Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign Justin Amash confirms collusion witch hunt was all about politics MORE to turn over a memo to Gore from James Uthmeier, general counsel to the Department of Commerce, in fall 2017. It also would demand any Department of Justice communications about the citizenship question with the White House, the Republican National Committee, the Trump campaign or members of Congress.

The third subpoena is targeted toward Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy Tech gets brief reprieve from Trump's Huawei ban Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE and seeks unredacted copies of several documents and internal communications related to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

It's unclear when Cummings will issue the subpoenas, but the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the citizenship question this month, and a ruling is expected in the spring. The Census Bureau plans to start printing documents for the survey in June.

Ross issued a statement following the vote noting that the Commerce Department had already turned over thousands of pages of documents to the committee, and that he personally testified before the panel two weeks ago.

“The Department remains committed to an open and responsive relationship with the Committee and has been nothing but cooperative with the Committee’s expansive and detailed requests for records,” Ross said.

Cummings, seeming to anticipate the administration's response, said during Tuesday's vote that many of the documents the department has provided are either heavily redacted or have been made public.

Democrats have expressed concerns about the reasoning behind the administration’s decision. A citizenship question has not been included on the nationwide survey in decades.

“It’s unnecessary. It’s outrageous. It is clearly designed intentionally to undercount immigrants,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzCongressional Women's Softball team releases roster Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences House panel advances bill to block military construction funds for border wall MORE (D-Fla.) argued during Tuesday’s committee hearing.

The Commerce Department agreed in March 2018 to add a question to the census asking whether respondents were U.S. citizens. Ross said it would help the Department of Justice better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Census data is used to redraw congressional districts, which determine how many House seats each state receives and how many Electoral College votes they can cast in presidential elections. The count also determines how federal funding is divvied up among states.

Opponents of adding a citizenship question argue that the new query could be used to identify those in the country illegally or discourage them from filling out the survey. It would also lead to a severe undercount of communities with large immigrant populations, Democrats and advocacy groups argue, which would in turn threaten funding for those areas.

Republicans, echoing the administration's position, assert that questions about citizenship or country of birth have previously been asked in sample surveys, making the addition of a citizenship question a reasonable step.

"I find this politicized nature of the question so extraordinary," Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyLet Texas be Texas: A solution for our polarized nation Republicans defend drug company in spotlight over HIV medication prices House committee approves 9.8b health, education bill MORE (R-Texas) said. "And this is what I think is driving the American people insane. This is just basics, right? We’re just counting heads. And we’re asking a question.”

He said it’s reasonable to question if someone who is in the country illegally might not answer the question, but added that the executive branch should be able to make the determination of whether to pose it at all given the resources that go into the census.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE weighed in on Monday, tweeting that the census would be "meaningless" and a waste of money without the citizenship question.

Updated 4:12 p.m.