Thursday, June 13, 2019
"Wednesday brought yet another demonstration of the Trump administration’s indifference to the constitutional system of checks and balances. The president asserted executive privilege over all documents requested by the House Oversight and Reform Committee in its investigation of his administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The battle over the integrity of the census has been fiery, with good reason. The addition of the question could result in a major undercount of residents in Hispanic and immigrant-heavy areas, skewing the electoral map in favor of Republicans. The administration has claimed that the change is needed to ensure enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by providing better data on the citizenship of voting-age adults. Democrats have their doubts — doubts that received a significant lift last month when it was revealed that documents detailing the partisan rewards of adding a citizenship question had been found in the digital files of a now-deceased Republican strategist, Thomas Hofeller, who played a key role in getting the question added.
Also gnawing at Democrats: the fact that Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, appears to have lied to Congress in his March 2018 testimony regarding the question’s origins. More than two dozen states and cities are suing the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau to block the citizenship question.
Mr. Trump’s assertion of executive privilege, defying Congress’s legitimate oversight functions, came just as the House Oversight Committee was preparing a morning vote to recommend holding William Barr, the attorney general, and Mr. Ross, the secretary of commerce, in contempt of Congress for failing to provide subpoenaed documents related to the census. The vote was delayed until afternoon, but ended up with the committee passing the contempt resolution largely along party lines.
Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee.T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
In a letter to Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the committee, the administration complained that the panel was not being patient enough with the executive branch’s “good faith efforts” to meet lawmakers’ needs. Yet putting pressure on administration officials to comply with lawful subpoenas for testimony and documents is the only reasonable response to a president who is pushing the envelope of executive privilege in his publicly declared war on the balance of powers. Mr. Trump has been very clear about his intention to stiff-arm lawmakers’ efforts to hold him accountable. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he proudly announced back in April.
With past administrations, many such disputes have been handled by negotiation or settled in court. Mr. Trump is, in effect, declaring lawmakers powerless over the executive branch, a sweeping and as-yet untested claim.
This week’s drama, in fact, has been largely a replay of last month’s battle over information related to the Mueller report. In that case, the Justice Department dragged its feet on producing documents until Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, got fed up, and the committee voted to hold Mr. Barr in contempt of Congress. Only then did the Justice Department work out a deal to hand over at least some of the requested material.
House Democrats are right to be aggressive with their oversight demands. They have little reason to believe that Mr. Trump’s administration is operating in good faith, and he seems to have adopted a strategy similar to the one he used in business: bog things down in the courts until your opponents give up. Or, in this case, until after the 2020 election.
The legal fight to block the new census question now sits before the Supreme Court, and early signs are that it will overturn the decision of the lower courts and rule in the administration’s favor. If anything, this makes it all the more important that Congress act. As Mr. Cummings noted Wednesday, “Congress has an independent — independent — responsibility under the Constitution to oversee the census, separate from any private litigation.”
The American people need to know whether the Trump administration is manipulating the official tools of government in the service of a partisan power grab."
Opinion | The Census: Another Brick in Trump’s White House Wall