June 25, 2019
House Committee Moves To Hold William Barr In Contempt Over Trump's Census Citizenship Question

The U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee took steps on Tuesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for refusing to answer questions about a controversial question about citizenship the Trump administration wants to add to the 2020 census.

As Reuters reports, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has been trying to get answers from Trump administration officials about the controversial question and has gotten stymied at every turn. Barr and Ross are the latest Trump administration officials to be accused of trying to stifle Congressional efforts to get to the bottom of this issue.

The Question

The Trump administration directed the Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census, to add a question to the 2020 census form. That question asks whether a person is a "citizen of the United States," referring to each member of the household about which the respondent is answering. The administration claims the question is necessary to give the federal government accurate information to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discriminatory voting practices, according to Politifact.

Democrats and immigrant-rights groups claim that it's simply a pretext to give the government information as to where illegal immigrants are living, with a view towards deportation. They claim that including the question would lead to an inaccurate count since households with immigrant families are unlikely to answer the question.

Stymied By Congress

Barr, in fact, has appeared before a Congressional committee to answer questions about the 2020 census, making an initial appearance in April. Since then, however, he's used his authority to block his subordinate from providing Congress with information about the controversial citizenship question, alleges the Oversight Committee's chairman, Elijah Cummings.

Specifically, Cummings claims that Ross directed his former advisor, James Uthmeier, not to answer questions about conversations he had in the White House -- and with whom -- when the citizenship question was being pushed through.

The obfuscation and reticence don't stop at Ross and Uthmeier, says Cummings.

"Official after official appearing before the Committee have refused to answer questions about the real reasons behind their effort, but the mounting evidence points to a partisan and discriminatory effort to harm the interests of Democrats and non-whites."
What Happens Next?

Although Congress has the power to hold individuals in contempt, in practice it's a power that's rarely used.

Whether it will be enacted this time largely depends on Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Her position affords her the power to schedule a vote on any contempt resolution referred to her by any committee. Whether or not she intends to do so, in this case, remains unclear as of this writing.