Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be one of the first members of President Donald Trump’s administration called to testify now that Democrats are in charge of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, according to the panel’s new chairman.
“We’re going to ask him to come in,” Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said in an interview Thursday. He said it hasn’t been determined whether a subpoena will be necessary, “but we’re going to have him come in.”
A main topic will be allegations by committee Democrats that Ross has given misleading testimony on multiple occasions to Congress about a decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. Democrats have said Ross may have committed a criminal offense if he wasn’t truthful about how that decision came about.
Another senior Democrat on the committee, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, said the committee is going to make the Ross appearance a priority because of the obvious political and economic implications of adding such a question for states with large immigrant populations.
Democrats and other critics say the controversial Commerce Department decision will directly impede the Census Bureau’s count of the U.S. population, which they say is required under the U.S. Constitution and doesn’t differentiate between citizens and non-citizens.
The census hasn’t included a question about citizenship since 1950, and Democrats worry that adding it now could suppress the response rate among immigrants and non-citizens. That in turn could affect some states’ number of congressional seats, Electoral College clout and federal funding. California is among states that have filed legal action to block the inclusion of the question.
Ross’s role has come under scrutiny after his appearances before House and Senate committees on the decision. Cummings and Connolly, in a September letter to then-Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, complained that Ross was refusing their requests to obtain more information, and asked for him be subpoenaed.
They wrote that Ross and other Commerce Department officials asserted multiple times that the decision to include the citizenship question stemmed solely from a Justice Department request in December 2017. But the Democrats said internal documents show Ross was taking steps to add the question long before then. The Justice Department said in a court document in October that Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was among those Ross spoke with before including the question.
“Falsifying or concealing a material fact to Congress is a serious criminal offense,” Cummings and Connolly wrote in the letter. “It is our committee’s constitutional duty to investigate this matter and to hold Secretary Ross accountable for his actions.”
With Democrats taking control of the House on Thursday, Cummings now has the power to subpoena witnesses for information and testimony.
Cummings said Thursday that Ross will be among the first people his committee will call.
There was no immediate response Thursday from the committee’s new top Republican, Jim Jordan of Ohio.
© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.