AOC Asks Commerce Secretary Why Feds Are ‘Violating the Law’ to Include Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

Melanie Arter | March 15, 2019 | 3:40pm EDT
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (Screenshot)

( - During a House Oversight Committee hearing on Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) grilled Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on his involvement in the decision to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Ocasio-Cortez asked Ross about whether he discussed including the question on the Census with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

“Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach mentioned by my colleague was noted by the New York Times as laboring long and hard in his career, notably in the areas of voter suppression and nativism. He stated last year that he encouraged President Trump to add a question about citizenship during the Census during the early weeks of Trump’s presidency,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“Kobach said ‘I raised the issue with the president shortly after he was inaugurated,’ and ‘he was absolutely interested in this.’ Shortly thereafter in April of 2017, Steve Bannon asked you to speak to Mr. Kobach about his ‘ideas about including a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial Census. Did you speak with Mr. Kobach about his ideas on the citizenship question?” she asked.

Ross noted that Kobach discussed the issue with the secretary, saying, “Kris Kobach did have a conversation with me. He said he had a question he would like us to ask.”

“I’m sorry. I must reclaim my time. Mr. Kobach later sent an email to you on July 14th writing that the lack of the citizenship question ‘leads to the problem that aliens who do not actually reside in the United States are still counted for congressional apportionment services.’ Of course, they do reside in the United States. They reside in my district. They’re my constituents, but he then wrote ‘it is essential that one simple question be added to the upcoming 2020 Census,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“It’s all there in black and white,” she said. “Kobach is clear about his reason for adding the citizenship question in his correspondence to you. It has nothing to do with the DOJ. It has nothing to do with the Voting Rights Act. It is about congressional apportionment to immigrants, but following that email and its concerning contents, did you cut off all contact with Mr. Kobach or did you speak with him again?”

Ross said he had “no recollection” of speaking with Kobach again.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know the southern District of New York has identified a July 25th call between you and Mr. Kobach after that email. Did you bring up Mr. Kobach or his ideas about the citizenship question with anyone in the Commerce Department after Kobach’s email?

ROSS: I ultimately rejected the question that Kobach wanted.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: So it does say here - Judge Fuhrman in the Southern District of New York wrote that you in fact mentioned Kobach again … in a September 6, 2017 meeting on the citizenship question. In fact, it was so concerning to your own staff that the general counsel expressed ‘concern’ about your contact with Kobach and recommended talking to others first. Do you recall anything about that meeting?

ROSS: No, I don’t. If you have a document, I’ll be glad to look at it.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I’d be happy to share that, and additionally, do you think it would be helpful for us to speak with Mr. Kobach about this matter?

ROSS: I have no idea. The committee has to make its own decision.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Alright, one other thing. It’s been stated multiple times in this hearing that the question is a reinstatement of a previous question, but the last time a citizenship question specifically around citizenship was discussed on the Census was 1950, and I pulled up the old question here, and - I know it’s tough to see from far away, but - I pulled up the old question that was originally on the Census is 1950, and I see here that the question that is being proposed for 2020 is quite materially different.

So it is not a reinstatement. It is not to placing again or a restoration of the original question. It is a materially different question. Now the U.S. Census Act of 1974 requires that if the secretary finds such a change necessary, they must send a report to Congress on the proposed change when the question is proposed, not when it is decided upon. Was that legally required report to Congress submitted to us?

ROSS: I can’t respond to your question about the two documents you held up unless you show them to me. I don’t have them in front of me.

OCASIO-CORTEZ:: I did not ask a question about the documents. I asked if the report that is required of you was submitted to Congress.

ROSS: We filed the required report on March 31, 2017. We filed another required report on March 31, 2018.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: One last thing. So what we don’t have is the required report to Congress, and while there’s all of this debate on whether a citizenship question should be included or not included, the question I have is why are we violating the law to include any question whatsoever on the 2020 Census?

When Ross said he didn’t have any need to respond to Ocasio-Cortez’s question after she ran out of time, Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) asked Ross to answer. Ross asked the congresswoman to repeat the question.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: We are now in violation of the U.S. Census Act of 1974, which requires you to submit a specific report to Congress ahead of any changes that you find necessary. This question is not a reinstatement of the 1950 question. It’s a change, which means that change requires you to send a report to us while the question is proposed, not before it is decided or settled, so my question is, why are we violating the law to include this question?

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-N.C.): Point of order. At this particular point, the gentlewoman is talking about a statute that’s been violated. There’s been no enunciation of what that statute is. I don’t even know what she’s talking about.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I’d be happy to provide it.

CUMMINGS: Yeah, I think she laid it out pretty nicely. She said it twice. I’m serious.

MEADOWS: But in previous testimony, Mr. Chairman, he said that they’ve submitted reports and--.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And there are three reports required. They submitted the first one and the second one but not the third one that is required to Congress, and this is in U.S. Code-- 13 U.S. Code Section 141 Population other Census information Subsection F3, and I’d be happy to provide that to you.

CUMMINGS: Now, I notice that all your I guess those are attorneys back there squirming around telling you stuff. Maybe they can help us with this answer. Did they tell you what the answer is to that? You got a lot of people back there.

ROSS: I’ve been told by counsel that we have complied with all the regulations. I will take up with counsel these suggestions that have been made with the congressperson, and we will get back in due course on the record.

CUMMINGS: As a follow up oh that question, can you give me that in writing, the fact that you complied with the law?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And Mr. Chair, I’d also like to note that according to our committee staff, there is not compliance with F3.

CUMMINGS: Well he’s going to give me-- he said he did, so he’s going to give me a statement --- he’s still sworn, so he’s going to give me a statement saying he did, so i’m looking forward to that statement.

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