Ross to Face Democrats on Census Citizenship Question

(Bloomberg) -- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will face questioning by the House Oversight and Reform Committee about the decision to add a citizenship question to the census, becoming one of the first members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet called to testify now that Democrats are in charge of the panel.

Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland said Tuesday that Ross has agreed to testify March 14 and he’ll be queried about what Democrats say was Ross’s misleading past testimony about why the citizenship question was added to the 2020 Census.

Ross to Face Democrats on Census Citizenship Question

“Committee members expect Secretary Ross to provide complete and truthful answers to a wide range of questions, including questions regarding the ongoing preparations for the census, the addition of a citizenship question, and other topics,” Cummings said in a statement.

A federal judge last week blocked the Trump administration’s plan to put a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. The judge also ruled that Ross’s rationale for the change against Census Bureau recommendations -- that it was to help promote enforcement of the Voting Rights Act -- was "pretextual."

Democratic Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia, a member of the committee, has said the panel wanted Ross as one of its first witnesses because of the political and economic implications of adding such a question for states with large immigrant populations.

Democrats and other critics say the Commerce Department’s addition of the citizenship question will directly impede the Census Bureau’s count of the U.S. population, which they say is required under the U.S. Constitution and doesn’t differentiate between citizens and non-citizens. The census hasn’t included a question about citizenship since 1950.

Ross to Face Democrats on Census Citizenship Question

The Census count is used to determine congressional seats and federal funding decisions. California is among states that have filed legal action to block the inclusion of the question.

Cummings and Connolly wrote in a September letter to then-Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, that Ross and other Commerce Department officials asserted multiple times that the decision to include the citizenship question stemmed solely from a Justice Department request in December 2017. But the Democrats said internal documents show Ross was taking steps to add the question long before then.

“Falsifying or concealing a material fact to Congress is a serious criminal offense,” Cummings and Connolly wrote in the letter. “It is our committee’s constitutional duty to investigate this matter and to hold Secretary Ross accountable for his actions.”

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