House committee votes to hold AG Barr, Commerce Sect. Ross in contempt
US Attorney General William Barr (l), with then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the background, holds a press conference at the Justice Department in Washington DC on April 18, 2019. EFE-EPA/Erik S. Lesser
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the Commerce Department, including 'questions regarding the ongoing preparations for the census, the addition of a citizenship question, and other topics', on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on March 14, 2019. EFE-EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings conducts a committee meeting in Congress in Washington DC on June 12, 2019. EFE-EPA/ Jim Lo Scalzo
Washington, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution to hold US Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for failing to provide to lawmakers information related to the administration's decision to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census.
The measures was approved by a vote in committee of 24-15, with all the Democrats and one Republican, Justin Amash, voting for it and all 15 "no" votes coming from Republicans.
Ross reacted to the vote by releasing a statement, saying that "Today, the Democrats maintained their shameless, weekly attacks on this Administration without consideration for the truth."
Ross, as head of Commerce, oversees the Census.
In a White House question and answer session after he welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda to Washington, President Donald Trump said that it was "ridiculous" to have a Census that does not ask respondents if they are citizens of the country where they reside.
Now the resolution will go to the full House and, if it is backed by the majority the chairman of the Oversight Committee, Elijah Communigs, could ask a federal court to force the two officials to turn over to Congress all documents on the citizenship question showing how the decision was made and other matters relating to the issue.
If that were to happen, it would be a setback for Trump, who earlier on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to keep the documents requested by Congress secret.
Executive privilege is a doctrine that permits the US president to prevent the release of materials used within the Executive Branch, and Trump is using it to try and prevent the Democratic House from getting access to documents he wants to keep private.
The inclusion of the question asking Census respondents' citizenship had aroused concerns of Democratic lawmakers, who fear that undocumented immigrants will be afraid to answer such a question and thus may not participate in the Census at all, resulting in what could be a substantial undercount of the number of people living in the US next year.
Every 10 years, the Census is used to allocate federal funds, to reapportion electoral districts for the House and representation in the Electoral College, which ultimately decides presidential elections by formally electing the president.
The committee first requested the documents in April but neither Ross nor Barr have complied with that request.
In a letter sent to Cummings, a copy of which was obtained by EFE, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs Stephen Boyd reported Trump's exercise of executive privilege to the committee, justifying it by saying that some of the documents lawmakers want are protected under lawyer-client confidentiality rules.
The controversy over the question was revived in recent weeks when a report prepared years ago by a Republican adviser came to light saying that Republicans wanted to include the question precisely to be able to redesign certain electoral districts to benefit the conservative party.
The issue is in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule soon on the matter, but meanwhile the Trump administration on Tuesday launched a pilot program for the Census using two different forms - one including the citizenship question and another that does not include it.