The brazen contemptuousness of the Trump administration has finally been formally acknowledged by the House of Representatives.
The Democratic-led body voted along straight party lines — 230 to 198 — to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt after they refused to submit the requested documents related to the administration’s squirrelly attempts to add a question regarding citizenship to the 2020 census.
The largely toothless move comes a day after the House Democrats sent another symbolic message to the Trump administration by passing a resolution condemning the president’s racist tweets.
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The contempt citation will have little effect given that it is the Justice Department that Attorney General Bar heads that is responsible for prosecuting the contempt referrals from Congress, something that he is hardly likely to approve for himself and his fellow Trump cabinet member.
The House has been trying to investigate the circumstances surrounding the administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the census, a move that many Democrats see as a transparent effort to reduce the count of undocumented residents and shift the balance of voting power to reduce the influence of minorities in the political process in a form of voter suppression through manipulation of congressional districts determined by the census results.
“Asking the citizenship question on the census is part and parcel of that scheme to discourage minority voting in America, to frighten immigrant communities,” Congressman Gerald Connolly (D-VA) told The Washington Post.
The Democratic committee chairmen seeking to exercise their constitutionally mandated oversite of the executive branch are looking for documentation of the administration’s discussions of the motivations for adding a citizenship question despite the fact that the Supreme Court has already rejected the administration’s proffered reasoning for the move as “contrived.”
According to The Washington Post:
“In April, the Oversight Committee authorized its chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), to issue subpoenas for a deposition of John Gore, principal deputy assistant attorney general, and to Barr and Ross for documents related to the 2020 Census decision. But the Justice Department said it would not comply with the subpoena for Gore to testify about the question, and the administration has vowed to stonewall all House subpoenas.”
The defiance of the Trump administration forced the Democrats to vote to sanction Barr and Ross to establish their status as a co-equal branch of government that the president and his cronies cannot simply ignore.
Trump effectively abandoned his efforts to add the citizenship question to the census rather than trigger a constitutional crisis by ignoring the Supreme Court’s decision, saying that the administration would attempt to gather the information on citizenship status through other federal databases.
It remains to be seen whether the contempt citations will have any effect whatsoever on the future of the two senior cabinet members or whether the alternative data gathering methods will allow republicans to weaponize the citizenship data for their own political gain.
Watch this space for details as the battle continues.
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Original reporting by Felicia Sonmez at The Washington Post.