President Donald Trump on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to block congressional subpoenas sent to two cabinet secretaries, and after reviewing Trump’s claim, the House committee ordering their appearance voted to hold the Trump officials in contempt. 

At issue is how a citizenship question was inserted into the 2020 census, the first time such a question has been proposed since 1950. The census began in 1790.

A Justice Department letter to House Oversight and Reform Chair Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., early Wednesday indicated the president had sought use of his secrecy powers because Cummings had “chosen to go ahead with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote.” The letter arrived as Cummings was convening the panel to consider a contempt recommendation for Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilber L. Ross, Jr. This is the second time in a week that Barr has been the subject of a contempt recommendation for refusing to answer a congressional subpoena.



Cummings recessed the panel for several hours to evaluate the president’s assertion of necessary secrecy, though the administration has instructed every current and former staff member to ignore congressional subpoenas on every issue under investigation by the Democrat-controlled House. Cummings indicated before the contempt vote his committee would not back down from its requests to determine the origin of the citizenship question.

Trump, speaking from the White House, defended the administration’s position to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census.

“When a census goes out, you should find out whether or not — and you have the right to ask whether — somebody is a citizen of the United States,” Trump said, according to the New York Times.

After the House committee recessed, it reconvened and voted to hold Barr and Ross in contempt late Wednesday.

Democrats say the Trump administration added the citizenship question for political reasons and that Ross misled Congress by claiming the purpose of it was to assist the Justice Department to enforce the Voting Rights Act.



Cummings said Ross was “aggressively pressing his staff to add the citizenship question ... at the urging of the White House.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she wants to “know why this question was magically added after we have seen that a political operative knew and detailed an intent to intimidate racial and immigrant communities for a partisan purpose,” indicating such a question hurts Democrats and benefits Republicans.

Ross, despite his refusal to speak to Congress, has denied any political motivations for adding the question.

On Tuesday, the full House voted to authorize the Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce subpoenas against Barr and former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II, with regard to the Mueller Report. However, at this time, it is unclear the additional contempt citation against Barr and Ross will go before the full House for approval. 

The House has attempted to use subpoenas and contempt citations to get the administration to release requested documents.