Ross Warned by House Democrats Not to Delay Census Testimony
(Bloomberg) -- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was warned that he must not try to put off a scheduled public hearing before a U.S. House committee next week, where a main topic will be his role in seeking to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
The warning came in a letter to Ross on Wednesday from House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, after Ross requested more time to prepare for the hearing that’s been scheduled for March 14, according to an official familiar with the matter.
“We have had many very serious questions for Secretary Ross since we invited him to testify several months ago, and we will finally have a chance to ask him these questions -- under oath -- at our hearing next Thursday,” Cummings said in a statement Thursday.
Ross’s reason for asking for a delay was that the scope of topics had been broadened from the original request for him to appear in January. But Cummings, in his letter, said that while he would narrow some of the issues to be discussed, he also insisted that Ross appear as scheduled, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the proceedings.
A main topic of the hearing is to be allegations by committee Democrats that Ross has given misleading testimony on multiple occasions to Congress about the citizenship question. Democrats have said Ross may have committed a criminal offense if he wasn’t truthful about how that decision came about.
In a letter to Cummings, Michael Platt Jr., Ross’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said the Commerce Department needed more time because the committee now is indicating it wants documents about topics including the secretary’s “personal finances and ethics obligations” and reports of a “technology transfer to Saudi Arabia.”
“To be clear, the secretary has every intention to appear before the committee and continue assisting in your oversight capacity -- the department simply needs more time to produce responsive documents and prepare to testify on the broad range of important topics raised in your letters,” he wrote.
Yet the focus on the census issue is especially timely. On Wednesday, a federal judge in California became the second to strike down the administration’s effort to add the citizenship question, after a New York judge in January previously ruled that Ross exceeded his authority under federal law. The Supreme Court had already scheduled a hearing on the matter for April based on that earlier ruling.
Democrats and other critics say the citizenship question would impede the Census Bureau’s count of the U.S. population.
Democrats worry that adding it now could suppress the response rate among immigrants and non-citizens. That, in turn, could affect some states’ number of congressional seats, Electoral College clout and federal funding. California is among states that have filed legal action to block the inclusion of the question.
Ross’s role has come under scrutiny of Democrats because he and other Commerce Department officials have 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. The Justice Department said in a court document last October that Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was among those Ross spoke with before including the question. Census-takers started asking about citizenship in 1820, but haven’t posed the question to every household since 1950.
The committee also is expected to look into the ethics office’s refusal to certify Ross’s latest financial disclosure because -- after reporting that he had sold off his shares in BankUnited Inc. in 2017 -- he actually sold the stock in October 2018. According to a later filing, he said he mistakenly believed that the shares had been sold earlier.
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