House Holds 2 Officials in Contempt 07/18 06:35
The Democratic-controlled House voted Wednesday to hold two top Trump
administration officials in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with
subpoenas related to a decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Democratic-controlled House voted Wednesday to hold
two top Trump administration officials in contempt of Congress for failing to
comply with subpoenas related to a decision to add a citizenship question to
the 2020 census.
The House voted, 230-198, to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce
Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt. The vote, a political blow to the
Trump administration, is largely symbolic because the Justice Department is
unlikely to prosecute the two men.
The action marks an escalation of Democratic efforts to use their House
majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of the Trump
Four Democrats opposed the contempt measure: Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New
Jersey, Anthony Brindisi of New York, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Jared
Golden of Maine. All but Lamb are in their first term and all represent swing
districts. Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican,
supported the contempt measure.
President Donald Trump abandoned the citizenship question last week after
the Supreme Court said the administration's justification for the question
"seems to have been contrived ." Trump directed agencies to try to compile the
information using existing databases.
The White House called the vote "ridiculous" and "yet another lawless
attempt to harass the president and his administration."
The Justice and Commerce departments have produced more than 31,000 pages of
documents to the House regarding the census issue, and senior officials from
both agencies, including Ross, have spoken on the record about the matter, the
White House said, adding that Democrats continue to demand documents that the
White House contends 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," White House press secretary
Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight
and Reform Committee, said the contempt vote was an important step to assert
Congress' constitutional authority to serve as a check on executive power.
"Holding any secretary in criminal contempt of Congress is a serious and
sober matter --- one that I have done everything in my power to avoid,"
Cummings said during House debate. "But in the case of the attorney general and
Secretary Ross, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional
oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying for the first time in
70 years to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."
While Ross and other officials have claimed the sole reason they wanted to
add the citizenship question was to enforce the Voting Rights Act, "we now know
that claim was nothing but a pretext," Cummings said. "The Supreme Court said
At the direction of Barr and Ross, "the departments of Justice and Commerce
have been engaged in a campaign to subvert our laws and the process Congress
put in place to maintain the integrity of the census," Cummings said.
The contempt resolution "is about protecting our democracy, protecting the
integrity of this body. It's bigger than the census," he said
Ross called the vote a public relations "stunt" that further demonstrates
Democrats' "unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good
faith with our department."
Democrats prefer to "play political games rather than help lead the country"
and "have made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions
of government," Ross said.
Ross told the oversight committee that the March 2018 decision to add the
question was based on a Justice Department request to help enforce the Voting
Democrats disputed that, citing documents unearthed last month suggesting
that a push to draw legislative districts in overtly partisan and racist ways
was the real reason the administration wanted to include the question.
Democrats feared that adding the question would reduce participation in
immigrant-heavy communities and result in a severe undercount of minority
voters. They have pressed for specific documents to determine Ross' motivation
and contend the administration has declined to provide the material despite
"The real issue we should be debating" is why Democrats are afraid to ask
how many citizens live in the United States, said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.
Contrary to Democrats' claims, Ross and other officials have cooperated with
the oversight panel and provided thousands of documents, Comer said.
"If the Democrats can't impeach President Trump, they will instead hold his
Cabinet in contempt of Congress," he said. "This is just another episode in
In a letter late Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Barr and Ross
asked Democrats to postpone the vote, saying they have shown a "clear record of
cooperation" with Congress. The contempt vote "is both unnecessarily
undermining" relations between the two branches and "degrading" Congress' "own
institutional integrity," they wrote.
Trump has pledged to "fight all the subpoenas" issued by Congress and says
he won't work on legislative priorities, such as infrastructure, until Congress
halts investigations of his administration.