A day after the U.S. House passed a resolution authorizing its committees to take the Trump administration to court and pursue criminal contempt cases to enforce their subpoenas, the House Oversight Committee took the next step.
The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday voted in favor of holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress because of the Trump administration's refusal to comply with the committee's subpoena for information about why a U.S. citizenship question was added to the 2020 census.
Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a vocal supporter of impeaching U.S. President Donald Trump, voted with Democrats.
Trump claimed executive privilege Wednesday in refusing to hand over documents to Democratic lawmakers investigating the census question.
"I think it's ridiculous that we would have a census without asking" about citizenship, Trump told reporters at the White House.
The House panel's chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, delayed the contempt vote until later in the day to give the committee's 42 members time to consider Trump's executive privilege claim.
But he questioned why Trump was asserting executive privilege just before the contempt vote when the subpoenas for information were issued two months ago.
"This begs the question: What is being hidden?" Cummings said. "This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good-faith negotiations or accommodations. Instead, it appears to be another example of the administration's blanket defiance of Congress' constitutionally mandated responsibilities."
The Justice Department said it had already turned over thousands of pages of documents related to the citizenship question and was continuing to negotiate about more documents. It called the contempt-of-Congress vote "unnecessary and premature."
The dispute is the latest between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House over documents related to investigations into Trump, his finances, the 2016 election and policies he has adopted during his 2½-year presidency.
The citizenship question would be answered easily by more than 300 million people, easily the U.S. majority. They are Americans by birth or naturalization.
But for others — perhaps 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. — the question is more problematic. Demographers and Democratic critics of Trump fear that non-U.S. citizens will skip the census if the question is included, leaving the government with an inaccurate count.
Some migrants have voiced fears that if they answer the citizenship question and they are in the U.S. without proper documentation, immigration agents could use the information to detain and deport them to their homelands.
In the U.S., the decennial census is used to allocate $800 billion in funding for government programs throughout the 50 states, and also to decide how many representatives each state should have in the House for the next 10 years.
The Trump administration says the citizenship question, which has been asked during past census-taking, but not since 1950, is necessary to better enforce the country's Voting Rights Act.
Court ruling ahead
Later this month, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the question can be included in the census.
But in May, after the high court heard legal arguments for and against use of the question, evidence emerged that it was added to the census specifically to give Republicans and non-Hispanic whites an electoral advantage.
The evidence came from the files of a prominent Republican redistricting strategist, who, before his death last August, had helped lay the groundwork for including the question in the census.
One of Trump's White House advisers, Kellyanne Conway, said the administration was not hiding anything related to the motives behind the citizenship question and was awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling.