President Donald Trump is nothing if not resourceful. He is well aware that the House is planning to sue both Barr and Ross. It is why he has just invoked executive privilege in order to block access to census documents.
The census documents focus on a citizenship question that was added to the 2020 census and the administration’s decision to add it.
The House Oversight Committee was planning to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. This is as a result of a census-related dispute for not complying with subpoenas that were issued by the committee. The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday to the Committee that Trump has asserted his executive privilege over the materials. Essentially, this means that the Committee will not be able to access the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The House Oversight Committee had planned to vote on holding Barr and Ross in contempt, though it would be delayed until Wednesday morning so that members would have a chance to read the letter from the Department of Justice.
Committee Chairman, Elijah E. Cummings, identified that it’s important to protect the integrity of the census. He also explained that the contempt vote would allow Congress to have authority over the Constitution to ensure that there was meaningful oversight.
What’s being hidden?
Cummings wants answers, particularly from Trump. Subpoenas were issued almost two months ago, yet Trump waited until the eve of the contempt vote to assert his executive privilege. This means that Cummings is automatically suspicious that there’s something to hide.
The biggest problem is that there’s a huge fight going on between the Republican administration and the House Democrats. Most of it focuses on the investigatory powers of Congress. How much power do they have to investigate and when is it okay to say that enough is enough? The investigations being conducted throughout multiple courts and committees seems to grow daily.
Trump voiced his frustration over the House oversight and their intensity. He said that every day, there’s more and more. It’s always after this and after that to continue the investigations. Trump identified that he feels that they’re doing it because it’s the only way that they think they’ll be able to win the election in 2020.
What will happen with Barr and Ross?
There are a number of things that could happen with Barr and Ross now that Trump has used his executive privilege to prevent the documents from going out to the committee. If a contempt resolution is approved, then Cummings could ask the federal court to order Ross and Barr to comply with the subpoenas.
It is also possible that a deal could be agreed upon between the Justice Department and Democratic lawmakers to avoid needing a court ruling.
The biggest problem is that there are multiple committees who want to hold Barr in contempt. He has been issued several subpoenas. The first was to turn over materials related to the Mueller investigation. The second was related to the census documents.
It comes back to the fight that is happening between the administration and the House Democrats. The Democrats identify that the biggest issue is the rejection of congressional oversight and the stonewalling that’s happening to prevent witnesses from testifying and documents from being released. However, the administration is identifying that the Dems are asking for way too many materials than they should have legal access to simply to embarrass the President, and for that, they’re not willing to negotiate.
The Truth Behind the Census Question
The addition of the census question was made by Ross. The administration is saying that it needs to be known if people are a citizen of the United States. This would identify whether the person was born in the U.S., born to U.S. parents abroad, citizen by naturalization, or not a citizen at all. It does not ask whether noncitizens are in the country legally or not. Further, the information on the census has always been deemed as private.
However, there are opponents of the question because they feel that it will suppress responses within immigrant communities. It may cause an undercount in the areas where they are living.
Now, opponents want to know how Ross came about adding it. Ross has said that it was solely as a response from a request made in December 2017 from the Justice Department. However, the documentation is either missing, being held onto, or heavily redacted.
Whether the census question will stay or not is still being heavily discussed. It also begs the question that Representative Jim Jordan asked: Why don’t the Democrats want to know the number of citizens in the United States?