Jul 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House report ties Trump citizenship question to political goals

Wilbur Ross, U.S. commerce secretary, testifies before the House Committee on Appropriations in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Wilbur Ross testifies before the House Committee on Appropriations on March 10, 2020. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Trump officials tried to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census to try to impact congressional apportionment, according to a report released Wednesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Why it matters: The report found that documents obtained by the committee are at odds with a 2019 testimony from former Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who said the Trump administration tried to add a citizenship question so it could better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

  • The report also says that some administration officials pushed the citizenship question despite knowing it may be illegal.

Driving the news: "The Committee's investigation has exposed how a group of political appointees sought to use the census to advance an ideological agenda and potentially exclude non-citizens from the apportionment count," the report said.

  • The documents include drafts of an August 2017 memo from Commerce Department lawyer, James Uthmeier, who warned that adding a citizenship question for apportionment could violate the constitution.
  • In later drafts, Uthmeier and another political appointee, Earl Comstock, altered the memo's language that had suggested the citizenship question could be illegal.
  • "'There are bases for legal arguments that the Founding Fathers intended for the apportionment count to be based on legal inhabitants,'" the memo said.
  • The Department of Justice in December 2017 sent a formal request to the Commerce Department to add the citizenship question and in 2018, Ross said the question would be added to the 2020 Census.

The big picture: The Supreme Court in 2019 ruled that the citizenship question could not be added to the census unless and until it does a better job of explaining why that question is necessary.

  • Experts said the citizenship question would lead to a less accurate census, which in turn would skew the makeup of the House and deprive minority communities of federal funding, Axios' Sam Baker reports.

State of play: The House committee faced "unprecedented obstruction" from the Trump administration while conducting the investigation, the report says.

  • Ross and former Attorney General Bill Bar were both held in contempt of Congress after refusing to produce documents subpoenaed by the committee.
  • "President Trump personally directed this obstruction with an overbroad assertion of executive privilege intended to block the Committee’s inquiry," the report found.

Go deeper... Wilbur Ross insists citizenship census question isn't politically motivated

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