Cummings to move forward with contempt votes for Barr, Ross over census question

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse committee heads demand Coast Guard Academy explain handling of harassment allegations Can the Democrats unseat Trump? Democrats slam alleged politicization of Trump State Department after IG report MORE (D-Md.) on Friday indicated that he would formally move forward with contempt votes for Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrProsecutors are mainly to blame for the criminal justice crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHuawei grappling with 'live or die moment,' founder says Ex-counterintelligence official warns Trump administration not to be shortsighted on Huawei The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries MORE after they missed a Thursday deadline to hand over documents related to his committee's investigation on the census citizenship question.

“We gave Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross every opportunity to produce the documents the Committee needs for our investigation, but rather than cooperate, they have decided that they would rather be held in contempt of Congress," Cummings said in a statement.

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"They produced none of the documents we asked for, they made no counter-offers regarding these documents, and they seem determined to continue the Trump administration’s cover-up."

A spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that Cummings will schedule the contempt votes for the administration officials.

The Democratic-led panel is now expected to vote next week to hold the two officials in contempt — the same week that the House will vote to hold Barr in contempt for failing to provide special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE's unredacted report and underlying evidence to lawmakers. 

Cummings had initially threatened on Monday to hold the contempt votes after the two officials failed to comply with congressional subpoenas issued by his committee for documents pertaining to officials' efforts to add the question to the 2020 census. But he gave them an out to avoid the vote, allowing them a Thursday deadline to provide certain documents in the case. 

However, neither agency handed over the requested documents.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to Cummings on Thursday that the “committee's action is premature,” and that Justice Department officials “are disappointed by the committee's mischaracterization of the Department's continued and ongoing efforts to accommodate the committee's oversight interests.” 

“The Department remains willing to continue working with the Committee to find a resolution that would balance Congress's ‘legitimate need for information that will help it legislate’ and the Department's ‘legitimate, constitutionally recognized need to keep certain information confidential,' " Boyd wrote.

And a Commerce Department spokesperson alleged that the House panel's efforts were an attempt to derail the Supreme Court's deliberations on whether to allow the citizenship question to appear on the census.

"Holding the secretary in contempt is an empty stunt, and it shows that the committee is simply interested in playing politics," the spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill.

Cummings on Friday cast aspersions on the agencies' responses, labeling them "case studies in double-speak."

"They claim that fighting witness interviews for months under threat of subpoena is evidence of a ‘good faith accommodations process,’ they suggest that Secretary Ross’ refusal to meet demonstrates that the Department ‘is eager to continue its cooperation with the Committee,’ and they argue that withholding every single one of the key unredacted documents we subpoenaed somehow proves that ‘there is no information to hide,' " the chairman said.

Last year's announcement that the administration would add a citizenship question to the 2020 census was met with outcry from Democrats. Census data is used to determine federal funding and draw congressional districts, and some fear that asking about citizenship will lead to an inaccurate population count. 

Three federal judges blocked the question from being added to the census. But the Supreme Court's conservative majority is anticipated to rule this month in favor of the question. 

Another layer of scrutiny was added to the question last week, when the American Civil Liberties Union dropped bombshell allegations in a court filing over the role of a late GOP redistricting strategist in developing the question.

The evidence, uncovered in a separate lawsuit in North Carolina, claims that Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller, who died last year, conducted a 2015 study showing that asking about citizenship on the census would help Republicans and non-Hispanic whites in redistricting, while hurting Democrats and Hispanic communities.

The Department of Justice has refuted the claims. And a federal judge in New York on Wednesday declined to rule quickly on the evidence, putting off a final decision on whether Trump officials should be penalized on the matter until at least August.

Cummings has cited the new evidence as reason to push forward with his congressional probe.

— Juliegrace Brufke contributed.