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

The House voted to hold Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump administration awarding M in housing grants to human trafficking survivors Trump stokes conspiracy about Epstein death, stands by wishes for Ghislaine Maxwell Democrats' silence on our summer of violence is a tactical blunder MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis Ross33K laptops meant for Alabama distance learning are stuck in customs, could be held until October Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors Trump census order faces logistical challenge 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 CummingsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden comes to Washington to honor John Lewis Lawmakers set for tearful goodbye to John Lewis We have 100 days to make our nation right 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 TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation 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. GreenThe Memo: Trump's race tactics fall flat Trump administration ending support for 7 Texas testing sites as coronavirus cases spike The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Miami mayor worries about suicide and domestic violence rise; Trump-governor debate intensifies 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 NadlerBy questioning Barr, Democrats unmasked their policy of betrayal Chris Wallace: Barr hearing 'an embarrassment' for Democrats: 'Just wanted to excoriate him' Apple posts blowout third quarter MORE (D-N.Y.) to go to court to enforce requests relating to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 PelosiGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Negotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms Top federal official says more details coming on foreign election interference 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 JordanThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Tucker Carlson calls Fauci a 'fraud' after tense hearing Overnight Health Care: Five takeaways from Fauci's testimony | CDC: Children might play 'important role' in spreading COVID-19 | GOP leader wants rapid testing at Capitol 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.