2019-07-18 14:31:581 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
Within a matter of two days, the House had a handful of important votes, the first of which was on a resolution to condemn Donald Trump's racist tweets. This measure passed, as did another, an agreement to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for not providing documents regarding the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The White House and Justice Department fought long and hard to allow this question on the census as a way to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, with critics believing they only wanted it for political reasons, to change voting districts to the benefit of Republicans and white male voters.
While the administration resisted this allegation, documented communication was found on the hard drive of a Republican redistricting strategist who passed away, proving that he had discussed the matter with the administration.
Lower courts knocked this matter down when it was taken to court, so the administration pushed it all the way to the Supreme Court, who put the measure on hold as they questioned the motives behind adding this question. Trump issued lots of threats, but eventually, the fight over the question was ended as the administration withdrew.
Throughout the past several months, the Oversight Committee has been fighting to see documents related to this decision and to speak with Barr and Ross.
In April the committee authorized Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to issue subpoenas to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore for a deposition and to Barr and Ross for documents. These subpoenas were largely ignored.
The House voted along party lines on Wednesday 230-to-198 to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt for failing to provide the documents regarding the decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Before the vote, Barr and Ross wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stating that they "strongly oppose" the resolution to hold them in contempt and asking her to postpone the vote so they could continue working through a legally-mandated compromise.
"By taking this action, the House is both unnecessarily undermining inter-branch comity and degrading the constitutional separation of powers and its own institutional integrity," wrote Barr and Ross.
This has brought out White House aides to blame the House for attacking the president.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that the vote was "ridiculous" and that it was "yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his administration."
"House Democrats know they have no legal right to these documents, but their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds," she added.
In his own statement, Ross said the House vote was a "PR stunt" and that the Democrats "made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions of government."
Kerri Kupec, spokeswoman for the Justice Department said that "holding the attorney general in contempt for working in good faith with Congress marks a new low for Speaker Pelosi's House of Representatives."
Regardless of the strong feelings all the way around, this vote to hold Barr and Ross in contempt won't go anywhere. Criminal contempt charges get referred to the Justice Department, and of course, they aren't going to prosecute the attorney general.
Republican lawmakers were strongly against holding Barr and Ross in contempt. "We may be in July, but it's Groundhog Day all over again," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Grouped together with the vote to condemn Trump's tweets, as well as other matters, the congressman said Democrats are consumed with passing measures "attacking Trump" while voters aren't concerned with such things.
Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) noted inquiring about citizenship on the census is "standard operating procedure" in Canada and Australia.
"Knowing who is in our country should not be controversial," she added.
However, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) sees this battle as being about congressional oversight of the executive branch, explaining that the administration had "already lost" in court.
"They lost because their justification was 'contrived,' according to Chief Justice Roberts," said the congressman, who added, "This is about congressional power."
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