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House holds William Barr, Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over Trump administration attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The House approved the contempt resolution 230-198. The Nevada congressional delegation voted along party lines.

The criminal contempt charge is the result of Barr and Ross failing to comply with subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee, which was conducting an investigation into the administration’s efforts to include the question on the survey.

Ross mocked the House vote earlier on Fox Business News, saying the exercise was “silly” and amounted to “political theater” meant to embarrass the Trump administration.

But state and local officials had warned the question may lead to lower participation from immigrants, leading to an undercount that could have financial and social consequences from coast to coast.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak estimated that more than $675 billion in federal program funding for states is at stake in the census. Nevada received more than $62 billion in fiscal year 2016 based on the 2010 count.

And just last year, the state’s population, now at 3 million, grew by 2.1 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

The citizenship question has not appeared on census forms since the Truman administration. The count is designed to determine overall population, not citizenship status.

Lower response rate feared

Minority rights advocacy groups charged that he administration was using the question to suppress participation of immigrants. States and cities worried it would provide an inaccurate count that is used to determine federal formulas for spending for education, welfare, Medicare and Medicaid.

The Trump administration said the data was needed to enforce laws such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And the Justice and Commerce departments both pushed back against the Oversight Committee investigation, claiming officials were working cooperatively in submitting information to the panel.

But last month the Supreme Court delivered a victory to the House and handed President Donald Trump a defeat when it ruled in a 5-4 decision that the government’s stated reasons for including the question on the census were contrived. It ruled, however, that the government could still ask the question if it supplied appropriate reasons for it.

As the census was being printed, Trump did an about face last week and announced from the White House that he was dropping efforts to include the citizenship question.

No choice

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the oversight committee, said he had no other recourse than to come before the House with the criminal contempt charge because the administration has refused to comply with subpoenas for information.

“What we are doing again today is protecting the integrity of the House,” Cummings said.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said “I’m glad that this disgraceful effort to silence communities of color failed.”

“The Trump administration got caught in a lie about their true intentions add the citizenship question to the census, and now they’re trying to cover it up,” Titus said. “The facts are on our side — and so is the Supreme Court.”

Rep. Mark Amodei, the lone Republican in the Nevada delegation, saw the vote as a partisan exercise.

Amodei was on the House Judiciary Committee when Republicans found then-Attorney General Eric Holder, during the Obama administration, in contempt over the “Fast and Furious” gun scandal.

“It was meaningless then,” Amodei said.

The extraordinary vote against the attorney general and the commerce secretary comes one day after the House voted to condemn the president’s “racist” language in attacks on four minority women lawmakers.

Next week, the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees will hear testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigative report could lead House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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