House Oversight to hold contempt votes on Barr, Ross over census citizenship question

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Top Dems question legal basis for appointing Cuccinelli as temporary immigration chief MORE (D-Md.) on Monday announced that his panel will schedule a vote to hold Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump blasts Mueller, decries 'witch hunt' at 2020 launch Trump blasts Mueller, decries 'witch hunt' at 2020 launch Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossLobbying World Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question MORE in contempt over the committee's investigation into the Trump administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

In letters to both Cabinet members, Cummings wrote that his panel was moving forward with contempt votes after the two administration officials failed to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents relating to the citizenship question.

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“Unfortunately, your actions are part of a pattern. The Trump Administration has been engaged in one of the most unprecedented cover-ups since Watergate, extending from the White House to multiple federal agencies and departments of the government and across numerous investigations," Cummings wrote.

"The tactics of this cover-up are now clear. The Administration has been challenging Congress’ core authority to conduct oversight under the Constitution, questioning the legislative bases for congressional inquiries, objecting to committee rules and precedents that have been in place for decades under both Republican and Democratic leadership, and making baseless legal arguments to avoid producing documents and testimony."

However, Cummings indicated he would be willing to hold off on scheduling the votes if the officials provided certain documents by Thursday.

A committee spokeswoman told The Hill that the vote will be held next week.

If officially scheduled, this would be the second contempt vote held for Barr. The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines last month to hold him in contempt for failing to turn over the entire, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence.
 
Ross has also sought to avoid testifying about the citizenship question, citing the several lawsuits surrounding the issue.
 
A spokesperson for the Commerce Department said in a statement that the agency has "worked in good faith with the committee," handing over nearly 14,000 pages of documents about the citizenship question.

"The Committee has taken this extraordinary step to compel production of documents protected by longstanding and well-settled privileges, including the government’s right to protect confidential attorney-client and deliberative communications, which has been upheld in court," the spokesperson said. "To any objective observer, it is abundantly clear that the Committee’s intent is not to find facts, but to desperately and improperly influence the Supreme Court with mere insinuations and conspiracy theories."
 
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
 
Cummings has also been seeking the testimony of John Gore, a top official in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division who formally requested the question's addition to the census. Barr instructed Gore to not comply with a committee subpoena for his testimony after the panel declined to allow a Justice Department attorney to be in the room with Gore, in line with committee rules.
 
In the letters, Cummings pointed to new evidence filed in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week that alleged previously undisclosed actions by a GOP redistricting strategist in getting the citizenship question added to the census.
 
The documents allege that Thomas Hofeller, who died last year, first pitched the question to Trump officials and that language he drafted was used in a Justice Department memo requesting the question be included on the census.
 
The ACLU court filing also said Hofeller conducted a 2015 study that found asking about citizenship would help Republicans and white communities in redistricting efforts, while harming Democrats and Latino communities.
 
The Justice Department has denied the allegations, describing the evidence as an "eleventh hour" attempt to derail the Supreme Court's consideration of the citizenship question. The ACLU has disputed that characterization.

“The Committee is examining, among other issues, whether and how Mr. Hofeller’s study may have influence the Department of Justice’s request, which requires our review of documents leading to that request and drafts of the request itself,” Cummings wrote in his letter to Barr on Monday. “The Department cannot issue a blanket denial, but then refuse to produce documents that could relate to the veracity of its assertions.”

The new evidence raised questions about the motivations behind adding the question to the census, as it undercuts the administration's argument that the query is necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
 
Opponents of the question say that asking about citizenship will cause noncitizens and Hispanics to avoid the question or the census altogether, leading to an inaccurate decennial population count.
 
Three federal judges ruled this year to block the question from being added to the census. However, the Supreme Court's conservative majority signaled during oral arguments this year that they would rule in favor of including the question.
 
Legal experts told The Hill that the new evidence about the question is unlikely to sway the court's ruling, which is expected to be issued by the end of the month.
 
Updated at 5:15 p.m.