GOP Calls Obama’s Census Plans Unconstitutional, an ‘Assault on Democracy’

By Matt Cover | February 12, 2009 | 7:08 PM EST

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., left, and House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio., talk about the Census during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Washington ( – House Republican leaders criticized President Barack Obama’s plans to have White House political staff more involved in the coming 2010 census, calling the move unconstitutional and a political power grab.

But the White House and some Democrats said that political games with the census would not occur and that there is historical precedent for the Census Bureau working closely with the White House.
At a press conference Thursday, Republican leader Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) said the White House plan would undermine the fairness and accuracy of the census. He also said that Obama’s plans could result in massive waste and fraud.
“This unprecedented move by the president, I think, would undermine the goal of having a fair and accurate census count,” Boehner told reporters at the press conference.
“I think it would also open the door to massive amounts of waste and fraud in terms of the $300 billion that’s distributed around our country based on the census data.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said that there was no legal or constitutional basis for Obama’s plans, citing the fact that Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which contains the census provision, spells out the powers of Congress -- not of the president or executive branch.
“We [Congress] give to the executive branch and the Commerce Department the requirement to administer this constitutional duty, belonging to the Congress,” Issa explained. “By no means is there any basis, legal or constitutional basis, for the president to direct the census.”
Obama has made no formal announcement of plans to take over the census, but numerous press reports last week – citing unnamed senior administration officials – said that he planned to have the Census Bureau’s director report directly to White House staff.
Also, on Thursday, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) withdrew his name for nomination as Commerce Secretary citing, among other issues, the Obama administration’s plans for handling the Census Bureau.
The White House issued a statement Feb. 5 clarifying the earlier reports, saying the Census Bureau director would “work closely” with the White House, not be controlled by it.
“There is historic precedent for the director of the Census, who works for the Commerce secretary and the president, to work closely with White House senior management — given the number of decisions that will have to be put before the president. We plan to return to that model in this administration,” White House spokesman Ben Labolt told Congressional Quarterly.
House Republicans, however, view Obama’s plans as an attempt to prevent change in the future and ensure a permanent GOP minority.
“I think you have to ask whether this is the first sign of an imperial presidency,” Issa told when asked about Obama’s motives. “A presidency in which they want to run things from the Office of the President, which has gone from about 80 people to about 180 people, from the previous administration to this administration.”
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the census move was part of a broader “assault on democracy” he sees coming from the Obama administration.
“I am also bothered by what I see as an emerging pattern, an assault on democracy, [because] we have the politicization of the census department, we have card check – an effort to eliminate the secret ballot, the essence of American democracy – and we also have a number of people on the other side of the isle who are talking about the Fairness Doctrine, and that is clearly an assault on the First Amendment.”
Card check legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, basically replaces the secret ballot for workers interested in forming a union by allowing union organizers to publicly ask the workers to sign a card in favor of unionizing. If a bare majority of employees approve, then an employer would have to recognize the union.
Supporters say that “card check” organizing simply makes it easier for the employee to organize, but opponents of the legislation – including former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern – warn that the legislation would do away with the secret ballot.
In reference to the president’s apparent new policy for the Census Bureau director, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) said that he thought Obama was overlooking the fact that the public can change its mind, putting a majority party quickly into the minority.
“When people use the phrase ‘permanent majority’ they are overlooking the fact that we are servants of the sovereign American people, who can and do change their minds,” he said.
McCotter called for Obama to fulfill the oath of office that he and all members of Congress take – to uphold the constitution – by following it.
“We are all sworn to uphold the Constitution,” McCotter stated. “The best way to uphold the Constitution itself is to obey it. That is all we are asking for from this administration.”
After the Republican press conference, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) issued a statement that, in part, read:  “At today's event the House Republicans went on about how there were political machinations going on. But the only true political machinations have been over the past eight years: the Bush Administration's woefully inadequate planning and preparation for the next census, which may result in a failed count unless action is taken in the weeks ahead.”
“A failed census is the ultimate political machination,” said Maloney. “It means lower income and minority citizens would be more likely to be missed, and affluent citizens would be more likely to be counted twice.”