Congress votes to hold a commerce secretary in contempt for first time in US history
The House of Representatives voted to hold both Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress.
On Wednesday, Wilbur Ross became the first commerce secretary in the history of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress. In a 230-198 vote, the House of Representatives voted to hold both Ross and Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt of Congress.
Barr is the second attorney general Congress has held in contempt. In 2012, the House voted to hold President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt in relation to the Fast & Furious scandal, even though Holder testified before Congress 11 times.
Hours before the contempt vote took place, Ross and Barr wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pleading with her not to hold the vote. Their request went unheeded.
The overwhelming majority of Democrats supported the resolution, while Republicans unanimously opposed it. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, an independent who recently left the Republican Party, voted in favor of the resolution, while only four Democrats voted against it.
The vote came after both Ross and Barr refused to cooperate with congressional investigations into the Trump administration’s attempt to rig the 2020 census with a racist citizenship question. Both men ignored subpoenas demanding documents to aid in the investigation.
Ross falsely claimed to Congress that the idea to add the question came from the Justice Department. Internal documents show it was the Commerce Department that asked the Justice Department to request a citizenship question. Adding the question, according to a Republican operative involved in the process, would undercount millions of black and Hispanic residents and would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
In the end, it was a racist ploy to advantage Republicans and unfairly harm Democrats.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration lied about why it wanted the question on the census in the first place, ultimately halting Trump’s efforts to add it.
The contempt vote allows Congress to sue Ross and Barr in federal court and have a judge enforce the subpoena. The vote also formally refers both men to the Justice Department for possible punishment, up to and including fines and jail time. Given Barr’s role as head of the Justice Department, it is highly unlikely the pair will face any repercussions.
Before the vote, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the House Oversight Committee, explained the reasons for moving forward with contempt, even though punishment is unlikely.
“Look, if you act with contempt for Congress and the American people, then you should be held in contempt of Congress and the American people, that’s pretty clear to me,” Raskin told NBC News. “We’ve never seen anything like this systemic defiance of the Congress by the president before.”
With the contempt vote behind it, Congress will likely file a lawsuit in federal court in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports. Many members of the Trump administration have been willing to defy Congress, but it remains unknown if they would also defy a court order directing them to comply with a congressional subpoena.
If the lawsuit against Ross and Burr is successful, America could soo find out.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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