House oversight GOP refuses to force DOJ official to answer census questions

House oversight GOP refuses to force DOJ official to answer census questions
© Greg Nash

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Friday killed a motion to force a Justice Department official to answer questions about the agency’s request to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. 

The committee voted 22-15 along party lines to table Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings Maloney to serve as acting Oversight chairwoman after Cummings's death Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 MORE’s (D-N.Y.) motion to subpoena John Gore, the acting head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, to compel him to answer questions about the agency's request for the controversial question, which the Commerce Department ultimately approved.

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“Right now Mr. Gore is here voluntarily, so he is not legally required to answer any of our questions, so I move the committee subpoena Mr. Gore right now like we should have last week,” Maloney said.

Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyElijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate The Hill's Morning Report — Arrest of Giuliani associates triggers many questions MORE (R-S.C.) had threatened to subpoena Gore at the panel's May 8 hearing on the census after Gore failed to appear as a witness.

Gore on Friday voluntarily came before the committee as the lone witness in a continuation of the hearing, but said he would not be making any statements beyond what the Justice Department has already made publicly available due to pending litigation over the citizenship question.

Gowdy said while he’s happy to make a Justice Department witness appear before the committee he cannot make that witness talk. 

“I cannot make someone talk or produce documents,” he said.

The administration is facing a flurry of lawsuits over the question, which hasn’t appeared on the census questionnaire since 1950. 

Gore's excuse Friday wasn’t good enough for Democrats.

“Mr. Gore the government gets sued all the time,” Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMichael Steele: Celebrating Elijah Cummings, a servant and a leader Republicans seek to delay effort to censure Schiff after Cummings' death House leaders offer tributes from floor to Elijah Cummings MORE (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, said. “Come on. Are you really saying this committee’s jurisdiction ceases to exist because you happen to be involved in litigation with another party?”

Cummings argued that Congress is an independent branch of government that conducts independent litigation.

“We are investigating the underlying facts, how and why did you and the political appointees at the Justice Department come to ask the Census Bureau to add a new, untested citizenship question to the census,” he said. “That is our job under the Constitution.”

Cummings then asked Gore how the decision was made and if Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE was involved in deciding to make the request.

Gore declined to answer, saying he would not discuss any internal conversations.

“You mean you can’t answer a question about whether you talked to your boss, who we pay?” Cummings asked.

The Justice Department has said it requested the additional question on the census to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, but Democrats and civil rights groups fear the question will frighten people in immigrant communities away from responding to the census, resulting in an inaccurate count.