Despite President Trump's earlier assertion of executive privilege over the documents, The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted largely along party lines on Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for "for refusal to comply with subpoenas."
There was one Republican who 'crossed the aisle' - Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) broke with his party to vote with the Democrats on the panel.
The panel's 24-15 vote Wednesday for the civil contempt resolution gives Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings the option to file a lawsuit to enforce the panel’s subpoenas for the documents tied to the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
As The Hill details, the citizenship question has been hotly contested since Ross announced in March 2018 that it would be included on the 2020 census, stating that the Justice Department had requested the question in order to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.
In his opening statement, Cummings hit back at the president’s claim of executive privilege over the documents, calling it “another example of the administration's blanket defiance of Congress' mandated responsibilities.”
And the chairman said that his committee has obtained evidence indicating that Ross had pursued the addition of a citizenship question to the census before DOJ officials asked for the question, and that Trump advisers began discussing the question ahead of the president’s inauguration in 2017.
“Although we have limited information about this scheme, we have been blocked from fully determining the real reason the administration sought to add the citizenship question,” Cummings said. “That is because the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce have refused to turn over key documents requested by the committee.”
Republicans who voted against the contempt measures claimed that the vote is an attempt by Democrats to influence the Supreme Court’s current consideration of whether to allow the citizenship question on the census. Three federal judges have ruled against the question’s addition to the census. However, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority seems poised to rule in the Trump administration’s favor.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, asked why Democrats don’t want to ask about citizenship even though many people think the question already is included in the census.
“Every person you ask will say, ‘yes we should do that,’” Jordan said.
Referring to Democrats, he said, “Why don’t they want to know?”
Ross, in a statement, called the committee’s action "shameless" and said Democrats "aren’t going to let the facts get in the way of their own concocted stories."
Barr additionally is accused of ordering Justice Department official John Gore to defy a subpoena for his testimony.
The Justice Department said the Oversight Committee abandoned efforts to reach an accommodation by going forward “with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote.”
It's unclear what will happen now that the committee has voted on the resolution.
CNN reports that depending on how the Departments of Justice or Commerce respond, House Democrats could go to the floor with both criminal and civil contempt. They could also drop criminal before going to the floor if some accommodation happens.
According to a committee aide, a criminal contempt vote would have to go through the floor. However, civil contempt could go through the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which is made up of the three highest-ranked House Democrats and two highest-ranked House Republicans.
In other words, this game of tit-for-tat is far from over (and must be burning some serious billable hour holes in various budgets).