Commerce chief Ross calls contempt vote 'political theater'

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the census as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross listens during an event with President Donald Trump in the Ros

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the census as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross listens during an event with President Donald Trump in the Ros

Gen. William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with its subpoenas seeking information about why the Trump administration wanted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The resolution named Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for failing to cooperate with a congressional oversight investigation. It is unclear, however, what practical impact the House contempt vote will have since a U.S. attorney is not likely to take action against the head of their own Justice Department.

The contempt resolution is the latest effort by House Democrats to force President Donald Trump and his administration to disclose their motivation behind a almost two-year effort to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census.

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".

Commerce and Justice department officials "obscured evidence suggesting that the true goal of Secretary Ross's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census - suppressing the political power of minority immigrant communities", alleged lawyers with the ACLU and other groups challenging the question in court. But at the end of last week, Trump retreated, instead asking government agencies to provide records that could determine a head-count of citizens without polling census-takers directly.

The White House immediately blasted the move, calling it "yet another lawless attempt to harass the President and his Administration".

Ross had argued that the aim of the census question was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters.

The intent of the citizenship question, opponents said, was to manufacture a deliberate undercount of areas with high immigrant and Latino populations, costing Democratic-leaning regions seats in the House of Representatives.

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.

She added: "House Democrats know they have no legal right to these documents, but their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds".

"It is about protecting the integrity of the Congress of the United States of America", Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said on the House floor Wednesday.

"But in this case, the attorney general and Secretary Ross have 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", he added. In a voluntary interview, he declined to answer several of the committee's questions and the Justice Department blocked him from sitting for a compelled deposition after the committee refused to let DOJ counsel join Gore in the session. 'The Supreme Court said that'.

But the symbolism represents a substantial escalation: these would be the first criminal contempt citations passed since Democrats took control of the House in January.

'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 of political theater". While the resolution authorized the House panel to take its subpoena of Barr to court, an agreement struck between the Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department ahead of the vote meant the committee said it wouldn't take that action so long as the department is cooperating.

The administration said Congress is not entitled to some of the documents because they are subject to executive privilege.