House

House poised to hold Barr, Ross in contempt

Greg Nash

The House is set to vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for not complying with congressional subpoenas on their thwarted attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The resolution was originally scheduled for a Tuesday vote, but appeared to be pushed to a later date as lawmakers are set to vote on a resolution condemning President Trump’s tweets targeting four minority progressive Democratic lawmakers.

The vote comes just days after Trump abandoned his efforts to get the question on next year’s population survey. He instead issued an executive order directing federal agencies to share records containing citizenship information with the Commerce Department — the recommendation initially made by the Census Bureau more than a year ago.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted on the contempt measure last month, after the Cabinet officials didn’t comply with subpoenas for documents on the addition of the citizenship question.

{mosads}House Democrats are expected to pass the resolution, which would refer the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. for potential prosecution. But the measure is all but certain to be dead on arrival, as it would require Justice Department attorneys to take up a case against their boss and another senior member of the Trump administration.

The vote could end up escalating tensions between Democrats and the administration. It also will mark the second time Barr has been targeted by a House resolution over compliance with a congressional subpoena; lawmakers voted last month to authorize House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to go to court to enforce subpoenas related to the Mueller report.

The Justice and Commerce departments condemned last month’s committee contempt vote as premature, arguing they were already complying with the requests for documents. But House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) countered that officials had plenty of time to provide the information and the documents lawmakers received were heavily redacted, publicly available or not in line with the subpoenas.

Trump asserted executive privilege over the requested documents the same day the committee’s contempt vote was held.

The House’s contempt vote comes in the aftermath of a legal battle over the census citizenship question, which played out in several federal courts for more than a year before the Supreme Court took up the matter.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s 5-4 decision last month that the administration’s rationale for adding the question — enforcing the Voting Rights Act — was “contrived,” and the justices stopped the question from appearing on the decennial survey unless a more valid reason was provided.

Trump initially appeared determined to get the question on the census despite the court ruling. But last week he conceded that there was no feasible way to get it on the forms in time for next year’s population count, instead issuing an executive order on other ways of collecting the citizenship information.

However, the vote does not mark the end of congressional scrutiny over the census. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham is set to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday and is scheduled to appear before the House Oversight Committee next week.

–This report was updated at 8:10 a.m.

Tags 2020 Census congressional subpoenas criminal contempt Donald Trump Elijah Cummings Jerrold Nadler Wilbur Ross William Barr

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