The Justice Department official behind the request that the Census add a citizenship question for its 2020 survey stonewalled many of the questions asked by House Oversight Committee Democrats’ about the move at a Friday hearing.
John Gore, the acting assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, cited the lawsuits brought against the decision in order to dodge questions about why he sought the change. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, at times raised his voice and expressed frustration over the excuse.
“Mr. Gore, the government gets sued all the time,” he said. “Are you really suggesting that this committee’s jurisdiction ceases to exist because you happened to be involved in litigation with another party?”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D
“We conduct parallel investigations all the time. Every day we conduct them. If we had to shut down our investigations every time a federal agency got sued, we might as well just resign and leave,” she said.
Gore mostly declined to answer any questions about who was involved in the decision to request the question. He did, however, deny that he spoke to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — who led President Trump’s now defunct voter fraud commission — about requesting the citizenship question.
He was also asked whether he had discussed the request with outside political groups, specifically the Republican National Committee and the Trump Campaign.
“I didn’t consult with any of those organizations. I can’t speak for other people, they’ll have to speak for themselves,” he said.
He also said Thomas Brunell — a Trump pick to lead the Census Bureau who was withdrawn from consideration — was not involved in the decision.
Brunell recently said that the move to add the question was a “political decision” that Trump was entitled to make because he won the election.
“I don’t know where Mr. Brunell is drawing that conclusion from,” Gore said Friday. He declined to say whether he spoke to Trump White House advisor Stephen Miller about the move.
Frustrated by Gore’s refusal to detail the decision-making process, Maloney brought a motion to compel Gore to answer lawmakers’ questions. Republicans on the committee blocked it by a 22-15 vote.
He spoke most extensively when asked about the public justification the Trump administration has given for adding the question.
Former Census directors, civil rights groups and Democrats oppose the move — which Gore has claimed is necessary for the DOJ’s Voting Rights Act enforcement — because they fear it will discourage immigrant communities from participating in the decennial survey. An undercount would skew how federal funds and political power is distributed throughout the country.
The Commerce Department — whose secretary Wilbur Ross approved the addition of the question — is facing several lawsuits challenging the change. The Department of Commerce has agreed to provide to the House Oversight Committee the administrative record that it will be filing in one of the lawsuits, brought in New York. It’s unclear when those documents will become public.