The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Census controversy

Politics | The U.S. census is moving forward with a citizenship question as Congress pushes back
by Anne K. Walters
Posted 6/13/19, 05:43 pm

WASHINGTON—The controversy over a decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census has dominated the news coming out of the nation’s capital this week. Critics say the change was designed to provide an electoral advantage to white Republicans, while the Trump administration claims it is just trying to enforce voting laws.

The latest dust-up occurred Wednesday, when the House Oversight Committee voted to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to testify about the change to the once-a-decade survey. The committee’s resolution passed largely along party lines—with the exception of Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who crossed the aisle in the 24-15 vote—and cites what Democrats say is evidence that the Trump administration lied about why it decided to include the new question.

Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he tried to work with the White House before moving forward with a contempt vote, but “they delayed, dissembled, and degraded our committee’s efforts to conduct this investigation and fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution.” He called it “part of a strategy” to obstruct congressional oversight powers.

The committee highlighted evidence it said shows officials discussed the matter even before Trump took office. That contradicts Ross’ claims that he sought to add the question at the behest of the Justice Department in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The full House of Representatives now needs to vote on whether to hold Ross and Barr in contempt, but under a separate measure passed this week, committee chairs can take direct legal action against officials who don’t cooperate with subpoenas.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration said Wednesday it would exert executive privilege in order to keep documents related to the census question from Congress.

The fate of the census question itself is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the case in April. A decision is expected by the end of the month, in time for the Census Bureau to proceed with preparations for the 2020 survey.

The District of Columbia, 18 states, and multiple cities are challenging the new question, arguing fewer immigrants will complete the survey out of fear of revealing their immigration status to authorities.

A Harvard University study estimated that asking respondents about their citizenship would result in 6 million fewer Hispanics responding to the census. The Washington Post concluded the undercount would result in a loss of congressional representation in states like Texas and California, while giving states such as Ohio and Alabama more representation. The result would also affect the allocation of billions of dollars for federal programs like Medicaid that are determined based on state population.

In a motion to the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, the American Civil Liberties Union contended that new evidence shows Republican redistricting specialist Thomas Hofeller “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,’ and that Petitioners obscured his role through affirmative misrepresentations.”

The Trump administration dismissed the claims as an “11th hour campaign” to derail the case based on conjecture.

“There is no smoking gun here; only smoke and mirrors,” the Justice Department wrote in a court filing.

A District Court judge held a hearing on the new claim last week but declined to weigh in before the Supreme Court rules on the broader issue.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau said it began testing this week the effects of asking respondents about their citizenship.

YouTube/Senator Josh Hawley YouTube/Senator Josh Hawley Michael Bogren

Religious freedom flop

Michael Bogren, a Trump administration judicial pick, withdrew his nomination after some Republicans voiced concerns about his record on religious freedom.

The White House tapped Bogren in March to serve on the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Michigan, but Republicans quickly opposed the nomination. In 2017, Bogren represented the city of East Lansing, Mich., against Steve and Bridget Tennes, a Catholic couple who sued the city after they were banned from selling goods at the East Lansing farmers market for declining to host a same-sex wedding at their farm. The city implemented a new ordinance barring farmers market vendors who engaged in practices the city considered discriminatory.

In the motion to dismiss the suit, the city argued that a member of the Ku Klux Klan would not be allowed to refuse services to an interracial couple, or that an imam who was a driving instructor could not refuse to teach a woman to drive.

In a hearing on May 22, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., grilled Bogren on the analogies: “So, you think those things are equivalent. You think that the Catholic family’s pointing to the teachings of their church is equivalent to a KKK member invoking Christianity?”

After a noncommittal back-and-forth, Bogren said he was merely doing his job as a lawyer. “I represent clients, not causes. This is not ideological,” he said. “The point I was trying to make was that religious beliefs trying to justify discrimination if extended to sexual orientation, which the City of East Lansing protects, could be used to try to justify any other discrimination whether it be gender or race.”

Hawley said the city took a “scorched earth” approach that trampled religious freedom. Following the judge’s order, the city issued the Tenneses, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a permit to operate at the farmers market in 2018, but a Michigan federal court heard the case again in April.

After the hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, including Hawley, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Tom Tillis of North Carolina said they would vote against Bogren. Some conservative organizations also voiced opposition to Bogren’s nomination, including the Judicial Crisis Network and the Heritage Foundation.

Bogren defended his record in a statement announcing his withdrawal. He called lawmakers’ concerns a “gross mischaracterization.”

Bogren’s cousin, Margot Cleveland, an adjunct professor at Notre Dame and a writer for The Federalist, defended him, as did other conservatives. Ed Whelan with the Ethics and Public Policy Center said in a National Review op-ed, “Bogren made it clear he was advancing legal arguments on behalf of his client, not expressing his personal views.” Whelan argued that if a lawyer could be disqualified for arguments made on behalf of a client, that same standard “could rebound to the detriment of conservative nominees who have defended religious liberty or pro-life legislation in unpopular contexts.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., blamed the issue on vetting. “I'm going to go talk to the White House,” Graham told CNN. “It’s probably something we should have known more about.” —Harvest Prude

Associated Press/Photo by Matthew Putney Associated Press/Photo by Matthew Putney Former Vice President Joe Biden at a town hall meeting on Tuesday in Ottumwa, Iowa

2020 update

Quinnipiac released a new slate of polls on Tuesday covering the battle for Democratic nomination for president in 2020 and potential matchups between Democratic candidates and President Donald Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead over second-place Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont narrowed from 19 to 11 percent since the last poll, but Biden remains the strongest candidate in a race against Trump, with a solid 13 percent lead over the president.

At about the same time during the last election cycle, Quinnipiac released similar polls for the GOP nomination and possible presidential races. In those polls, Trump trailed seven other Republican candidates and had only 5 percent support. He also trailed Hillary Clinton 50 to 32 percent in a hypothetical matchup.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has undergone multiple back surgeries, announced this week that he is suspending his campaign for the summer. Although he suggested that he may return after Labor Day, members of his campaign staff told the Huffington Post he was letting most of them go. —Kyle Ziemnick

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Jon Stewart (center) with 9/11 first responders on Capitol Hill Tuesday

This week in Congress

In the House of Representatives

  • The House on Monday began considering a package to fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. It includes the Hyde Amendment, which prevents taxpayer dollars from directly funding abortion, despite avowed opposition from Democrats.
  • The Justice Department on Monday agreed to turn over evidence from the Mueller report to Congress.
  • The Judiciary Committee on Tuesday heard testimony from Watergate whistleblower John Dean for historical perspective on presidential obstruction of justice.
  • The House authorized a resolution on Tuesday allowing committees to take legal action against officials who resist congressional subpoenas, bypassing a floor vote.
  • On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously agreed to a permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, a day after hearing emotional testimony from former Daily Show host Jon Stewart.
  • Looking ahead: Former Trump administration aide Hope Hicks agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in a closed-door hearing next Wednesday.

In the Senate

  • The Senate on Monday confirmed Ryan Holte (by a 65-35 vote) and Richard Hertling (69-27) to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims for 15-year terms. Senators also confirmed Rossie David Alston to the Eastern District Court of Virginia by a 75-20 vote.
  • On Tuesday, lawmakers confirmed Sarah Daggett Morrison to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio by a 89-7 vote.
  • The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. testified Wednesday behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee in compliance with a congressional subpoena. He said after the three-hour hearing that there was “nothing to change” from his previous testimony.
  • Looking ahead: Watch for the Appropriations Committee to vote on legislation next week to give the White House $4.5 billion for help with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. —H.P.
Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Justin Amash on Capitol Hill on Wednesday

Amash out

After becoming the lone Republican to call for Congress to impeach President Donald Trump, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan stepped down from the House Freedom Caucus on Monday.

“I have the highest regard for them, and they’re my friends,” he told a CNN reporter, but added that he “didn’t want to be a further distraction for the group.”

Amash helped found the Freedom Caucus after his election to Congress during the 2010 tea party wave. The libertarian nevertheless has clashed with the group over Trump administration policies, such as the president’s efforts to ban immigrants from some Muslim-majority nations. After Amash called for impeachment of the president on the grounds of obstruction of justice, the group announced unanimous disapproval of his position.

Amash is now facing two GOP primary challengers in Michigan in 2020, amid a withdrawal of support from some Republican Party donors. He has not ruled out the possibility of challenging Trump in 2020 as a Libertarian candidate for president. —H.P.


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  •  CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Fri, 06/14/2019 11:18 pm

    Why is it the the same people who object to a citizenship question on the Census would also be the same people to argue that we should provide services to non-citizen immigrants?

    Posted: Sat, 06/15/2019 12:02 am

    I don't think illegals or non-citizen immigrants would fill the form out anyway.

  • VISTA48
    Posted: Sun, 06/16/2019 12:44 pm

    So once again, US citizens must complete the forms under penalty of law, while those here illegally are protected no matter what they do. To top it off, if we don't approve of it all and continue to fund it, we are racist bigots. Is there not a point where the legal citizens are represented? This is like seeking marriage to someone who dislikes you and hates your family. 

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Mon, 06/17/2019 12:26 pm

    Re: Census Controversy

    Anne, this was a well-written article. I believe the main point, among others, is the fact that the House Oversight Committee voted to hold Attorney General Barr and the Commerce Secretary in contempt for withholding information that would allow Congress to perform its constitutionally designed function of executive oversight, that is, keeping an eye on the executive for abuse of power. Whether one agrees with the president or not, the important thing in American democracy is to keep the branches of our governement accountable to each other. Both parties' presidents in our generation have been eroding the constitutionally guaranteed oversight powers of Congress. American citizens should be concerned over the consistent flouting of the Constitution by our current president. If our patriotic founders had wanted an autocracy, they would not have written the Constitution as they did. I'm glad that the Supreme Court maintains itself as a separate branch with independent oversight powers. How awful it would be if the Supreme Court varied its decisions to suit the whims of every new president. If the executive branch was honest in its approach to designing the census, they wouldn't mind answering Congress' legitimate, legal questions.


  •  austinbeartux's picture
    Posted: Mon, 06/17/2019 02:47 pm


    Your antipathy for the President is revealed by your own comments:

    1) "keeping an eye on the executive for abuse of power"

    2) "the consistent flouting of the Constitution by our current president"

    3) "If the executive branch was honest. . ."

    The oversight function of Congress was designed to thwart corruption and criminality by the Executive Branch.  There are two issues being discussed as of late: 1) the census question and 2) the Russian collusion allegation.

    1: Census--we have an Executive Branch wanting to know how many legal citizens vs illegal non-citizens are in our country.  This is an entirely legitimate question.  Not wanting to know the answer to that question is like telling Costco to NOT ask for a membership card upon entrance or check-out.  Shouldn't Costco be allowed to check for a membership card?  There's no substantive difference.  The Democrats motivation for demanding more documentation is rotten to the core.  Their hatred for Trump (and personally he bothers me a lot too) has caused sort of a Trump Derangement Syndrome.

    2: Russian Collusion: There wasn't any.  And to whatever extent Trump "obstructed" was him simply venting.  No corrupt motivation was there (meaning he wasn't trying to cover up the alleged collusion.)  Again, the Democrats motivation for wanting a 100% unredacted Mueller report is rotten to the core.  Again, Trump Derangement Syndrome.