House votes to hold Trump Cabinet members Barr, Ross in contempt

The House voted to hold Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGOP rep predicts watchdog report on alleged FISA abuses will find 'problems' Barr defends Trump's use of executive authority, slams impeachment hearings GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump trade adviser pushes back on reports of US-China tariff deal China, US agree to reduce tariffs amid trade talks, Beijing says Income for poorest Americans fell faster than previously thought: study MORE in criminal contempt on Wednesday, escalating a battle between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats.

The measure holds the Trump Cabinet members in contempt for defying subpoenas for documents on their since-abandoned efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The chamber approved the measure in a party-line vote of 230-198, with four Democrats joining all Republicans in voting against the resolution.

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Democrats argued the measure was necessary to hold officials accountable for “obstruction & oppose efforts to undermine the census.” It passed the House Oversight and Reform Committee along party lines ahead of the July Fourth recess.

“The resolution that's before us today is about protecting our democracy. ... It is about protecting the integrity of this body — it's bigger than the census. It's about protecting the integrity of the Congress of the United States of America,” Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaya Rockeymoore Cummings reports surgery was a success, will return to campaign trail The Hill's Morning Report — Public impeachment drama resumes today Maloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump MORE (D-Md.) said on the floor. 

“We need to understand how and why the Trump administration tried to add a question based on pretext so we can consider reforms to ensure this never happens again,” he said.

The move came amid a week of intense partisan fighting in the House and followed a vote the previous night to formally admonish President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE for comments he made about four minority congresswomen over the weekend, which lawmakers labeled as racist.

It also came the same day the House was set to vote on a push from Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenIf we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat Trump administration suspends oil and gas production on 130 plots in Utah after challenge Why fear should not blind us to the promise of AI: A healthy dose of optimism MORE (D-Texas) to pursue articles of impeachment against Trump, something dozens of Democrats have previously signaled they would support should it come up for a vote.

The impeachment measure was ultimately killed in a vote of 332-95 on Wednesday evening, with the majority of Democrats joining Republicans to table the measure.

The contempt vote marked the second time Barr has been the subject of a full House resolution over his failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.

House Democrats also voted last month to authorize Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.) to go to court to enforce requests relating to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE's report from earlier this year.

Ross, in a statement, called the vote Wednesday a “PR stunt” by House Democrats and alleged that it “further demonstrates their unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our Department.” A Justice Department spokesperson also called the move a "political stunt."

“It is an unfortunate fact that there are some who would like nothing more than to see this Administration fail whatever the cost to the country may be,” Ross said. “Preferring to play political games rather than help lead the country, they have made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions of government.”

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer calls on Trump to testify as part of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony Perception won't be reality, once AI can manipulate what we see MORE (D-Calif.) noted in a press conference recently that criminal contempt can carry steep penalties, including heavy fines and up to a year in prison. However, Wednesday's vote is largely symbolic, as it’s unlikely the Department of Justice (DOJ) will pursue referrals to bring criminal charges against Barr, the top-ranking DOJ official.

Republicans accused members across the aisle of political theatrics surrounding the vote Wednesday, arguing they should be focused on tackling legislative priorities instead of attacking the administration.

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP Lawmakers spar over upcoming Sondland testimony Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony MORE (Ohio), the top Republican on the Oversight panel, submitted several amendments to the contempt resolution, including one that noted that a citizenship question appeared on versions of the census from the first half of the 20th century.

"Secretary Ross and Attorney General Barr are doing their jobs, so what's their reward? Democrats are going to hold them in contempt," Jordan said on the House floor.

"Both agencies, the Commerce Department, the Justice Department have submitted 31,000 documents to the committee, they've made available all kinds of witnesses for depositions and transcribed interviews,” he said.

The White House also ripped the move, calling it "ridiculous and yet another lawless attempt to harass the President and his Administration."

"The Departments of Justice and Commerce have produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue, and senior officials from both agencies, including Secretary Ross, have spoken on the record about the matter," the White House said in a statement. "Instead of accepting the numerous good-faith efforts of accommodation the Departments have made, Democrats continue to demand documents that are subject to executive privilege. House Democrats know they have no legal right to these documents, but their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds."

The Trump administration aggressively pushed to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census forms, with the DOJ arguing it would help with enforcing the Voting Rights Act, reasoning that the Supreme Court rejected last month.

The push to add the citizenship question sparked strong pushback from Democrats, who argued it would discourage participation by immigrants, which could lead to an inaccurate count of the population. 

Several states launched legal challenges after the administration announced its plans to move forward with the question last year.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that the question could not be added at the time, finding that the reasoning behind the question was "contrived."

It initially appeared that Trump might still seek the question’s addition to the census despite the ruling but dropped that effort last week.

Trump said he would instead issue an executive order that would require federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department information on citizens and noncitizens.

Jacqueline Thomsen contributed. 

Updated at 7 p.m.