The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for refusing to turn over documents related to the Trump administration’s ill-fated decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The House voted 230 to 198 to approve the citations after the Supreme Court, in an opinion by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, accused the administration of creating a “contrived” justification to the question, which the Census Bureau warned would lead to a large undercount of Hispanic voters.
The administration had claimed that the question was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act but court documents show that the question was preceded by studies and memos showing that adding the citizenship question would “clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
Trump basically contradicted his administration’s entire dubious justification last week when he declared that the question was necessary “for Congress, for districting.”
The Trump administration attempted to figure out a workaround after the Supreme Court blocked the question but ultimately gave up.
Trump admin accuses Dems of harassment:
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham called the vote a “ridiculous and yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his administration.” She added, “their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds,” The New York Times reported.
Democrats vowed to move forward with the investigation of the administration’s move to add the question.
“It is bigger than the census. It is about protecting the integrity of the Congress of the United States of America,” Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said on the House floor Wednesday. “We need to understand how and why the Trump administration tried to add a question based on pretext so that we can consider reforms to ensure that this never happens again.”
What happens now?
The contempt vote will allow the Oversight Committee to take Barr and Ross to federal court to ask a judge to enforce the Congressional subpoenas that the two cabinet officials refused to comply with. The citation also formally refers Barr and Ross to the Justice Department for prosecution, though The Times notes that there is “no real risk” the department, which is headed by Barr, will pursue the case.
The only time Congress held a cabinet member in contempt was Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general, though nothing really happened to him either.