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 AmashAmash says he's happy not feeling 'bound to a particular party' Amash on Syria: Trump's not ending anything Trump says House Democrats 'unfortunately' have the votes to impeach MORE (R-Mich.) joined Democrats in authorizing the subpoenas, which will allow committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCracks emerge in White House strategy as witness testifies Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey 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.

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A second subpoena is to compel Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGiuliani says he won't comply with subpoenas from Democrats Barr bemoans 'moral upheaval' that has brought 'suffering and misery' Trump threatens to sue Schiff and Pelosi 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 RossDemocrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records Overnight Energy: Dems subpoena Perry in impeachment inquiry | EPA to overhaul rules on lead contamination tests | Commerce staff wrote statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump Commerce staff drafted statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump's hurricane predictions 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 SchultzDeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief Democrats walk tightrope in fight over Trump wall funds Parkland father: Twitter did not suspend users who harassed me using name of daughter's killer 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 RoyTrump congratulates China on anniversary as GOP lawmakers decry communist rule Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state GOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped 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 TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? 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.