Congress

No subpoena vote over census citizenship question after officials agree to testify

Chairman Elijah E. Cummings characterized the agreement for transcribed interviews as one step forward for the inquiry

Chairman Elijah Cummings speaks with staff before the start of the House Oversight and Reform Committee markup of a resolution authorizing issuance of subpoenas related to security clearances and the 2020 Census on April 2, 2019. On Wednesday the committee canceled planned subpoena votes for three current and former Commerce Department officials Wednesday in its census citizenship question inquiry after the trio agreed to closed-door interviews. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Oversight and Reform Committee canceled planned subpoena votes for three current and former Commerce Department officials Wednesday in its census citizenship question inquiry after the trio agreed to closed-door interviews.

Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., characterized the agreement for transcribed interviews of General Counsel Peter Davidson, Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Earl Comstock, and former counsel to the Commerce Secretary James Uthmeier, as one step forward for the probe.

[It's not just the citizenship question. 2020 census faces other woes]

The panel will continue to seek documents and testimony about the addition of the question, Cummings said, which Democrats have argued was meant to reduce noncitizen response and to draw Republican-leaning congressional maps. 

“I’m glad it is being done but I am not going to be giving trophies for what we are supposed to do,” he said.

Republicans have pushed back on Democrats’ pursuit of the investigation, claiming it would interfere with the Supreme Court’s consideration of the addition of the citizenship question. The court is set to rule on the case before the end of the month so the government can finalize its census questionnaire.

[The GOP's secret roadmap to undermine the 2020 census]

The panel has engaged in a struggle with President Donald Trump’s Commerce Department over the census since Democrats took over the House in January. Earlier this week, Cummings threatened to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt over an April subpoena for documents and testimony.

Cummings said Wednesday the committee was still working on getting the documents ahead of a Thursday deadline.

The administration has maintained in testimony to Congress and the courts that the question was added following a Justice Department request for more citizenship information to aid Voting Rights Act enforcement.

The Commerce Department has maintained it has cooperated with the committee’s investigation and that the April subpoena sought documents protected by privileges surrounding internal deliberations. A department spokesman in a statement Wednesday reiterated a Monday statement in which department stressed it has produced more than 14,000 documents and argued that the committee intends to use its investigation to try to influence the Supreme Court decision.

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