House

Barr, Ross urge Pelosi to delay contempt vote over census citizenship question docs

Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday to delay a House vote to hold them in contempt for not turning over congressionally subpoenaed information on the administration’s initial efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

In a letter sent shortly before the vote is set to be held, Barr and Ross called it “unfortunate” that the House “has chosen to go forward with an unjustified contempt vote regarding a citizenship question that, as you know, will not be asked on the 2020 Census questionnaire.”

{mosads}“By taking this action, the House is both unnecessarily undermining inter-branch comity and degrading the constitutional separation of powers and its own institution integrity,” the letter states.

“We urge that the House postpone the contempt vote in order to allow the constitutionally mandated accommodation process to continue,” Barr and Ross wrote. “And we respectfully remind the Committee that the constitutionally required obligation to engage in good-faith accommodation cuts both ways.”

The Hill has reached out to Pelosi’s office for comment.

The two Cabinet members argued that their departments are “committed” to working with Congress to provide them with the requested documents relating to the citizenship question, saying that they have “made significant efforts” to accommodate the requests.

Barr and Ross also pointed to President Trump’s assertion of executive privilege over the requested documents in showing that they could not immediately provide them to Congress.

“The Departments have been consistent – as have the courts considering the reinstatement of the citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census – that the documents the Committee seeks are protected from disclosure by these time-honored privileges,” the letter reads. “In order to ensure the free-flow of advice and decision making and to avoid compromising the ongoing litigation, we have not waived those privileges.”

The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted last month, largely along party lines, to hold Barr and Ross in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas over the census citizenship question.

Ross first announced last year that the administration would add the question to the 2020 census, but the move was almost immediately countered with several legal challenges.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last month against the question’s addition, finding the reasoning to be “contrived.” And after initially saying he would still seek the question’s inclusion on next year’s census, Trump last week abandoned that effort.

The president instead issued an executive order requiring that federal agencies provide citizenship information to the Commerce Department.

The Oversight committee had subpoenaed both the Justice and Commerce Departments earlier this year for documents relating to the citizenship question.

The federal agencies claimed that they had complied with the requests, handing over thousands of pages of documents to lawmakers, an argument also made by Republicans on the panel, including ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio).

However, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and other Democrats claimed that many of the documents handed over were heavily redacted, already publicly available or not in line with the subpoenas.

The resolution lawmakers will vote on on Wednesday would refer the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. for potential prosecution. However, that possibility is certain to be dead on arrival, as it would require federal prosecutors to pursue charges against high-ranking members of their own administration.

Tags Census citizenship question Contempt Donald Trump Elijah Cummings Jim Jordan Nancy Pelosi Wilbur Ross William Barr

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