House panel threatens contempt of Congress vote against Barr, Ross

FILE PHOTO – U.S. Attorney General William Barr leaves after a meeting with Attorney Generals of Northern Triangle of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. law enforcement officer and the Commerce secretary will face a contempt of Congress vote unless they hand over documents by Thursday on efforts to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the chairman of a House of Representatives panel warned on Monday.

Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, sent letters to Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross warning them they had until Thursday to comply with the subpoena after having failed for two months to produce the documents.

Cummings sent the letters after an immigrant advocacy group said in a filing in a Manhattan federal court last week that a longtime Republican specialist on drawing electoral districts played a “significant role” in planning the citizenship question.

The filing charged that the Trump administration had concealed evidence that its proposal for the question was intended to help Republicans draw favorable electoral maps.

A study by Harvard researchers in March predicted the citizenship question would lead to an undercount of some 4.2 million people among Hispanics, costing their communities federal aid and political representation.

In his letter to Ross, Cummings said the Commerce secretary had testified he added the citizenship question “solely” at the request of the Justice Department to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

“Last week, new documents were unearthed that suggest that the real reason the Trump administration sought to add the citizenship question was not to help enforce the Voting Rights Act at all, but rather to gerrymander congressional districts in overtly racist, partisan and unconstitutional ways,” he added.

Cummings said the panel would consider postponing its contempt of Congress vote if Ross and Barr produced unredacted documents the committee had requested by Thursday.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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