The 2020 US census has emerged as a political flashpoint, with Democrats warning that the Trump administration's order to add a citizenship question would suppress congressional representation for some communities
Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump asserted his executive privilege Wednesday to block Congress from obtaining documents related to how his administration added a citizenship question to the 2020 US census.
A Democratic-led House of Representatives committee responded emphatically, voting to hold two Trump cabinet members -- Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross -- in contempt for refusing to produce the subpoenaed material.
The Justice Department notified House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings of the decision shortly before his panel's contempt action, prompting only a temporary delay before the members followed through with their vote.
"These documents are protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege," the department wrote in a letter to Cummings.
It added that Trump "has made a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the subpoenaed documents" in order to allow more time for review.
- 'Bent over backwards' -
The committee voted largely along party lines, 24 to 15, in favor of contempt, with congressman Justin Amash -- the only Republican lawmaker to openly support initiating impeachment proceedings against the president -- voting with Democrats.
Cummings said he "bent over backwards" to work with the administration on obtaining the census materials, but Barr and Ross refused to provide them.
"They delayed, dissembled, and degraded our committee's efforts to conduct this investigation and fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution," he said.
"This is clearly part of a strategy -- led by the president -- to obstruct congressional investigations across the board, and it begs the question: what else is being hidden from the American people?"
The contempt resolution could receive a full House vote but no date has been set.
The census, conducted every 10 years, has become a hot-button issue ahead of the 2020 election, and the US Supreme Court has heard arguments in the case, which could have high-stakes political implications.
Democrats have said they fear that asking respondents whether they are US citizens will reduce census participation in communities with large immigrant populations, suppressing representation in Congress and reducing access to federal dollars.
The clash between Trump's administration and congressional Democrats comes after recently uncovered documents from a Republican strategist suggest that the citizenship question would politically benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.
Ross, in a statement, blasted the contempt vote as an "empty stunt" designed to "improperly influence the Supreme Court's impending decision" on the citizenship question.
Democrats have been escalating their clash with the White House in recent weeks, as some restive members of the caucus have called for impeachment proceedings against Trump related to his conduct regarding the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted those calls, and the majority of her caucus is so far supporting her.