US House votes to hold commerce secy and attorney general in criminal contempt

The US House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt of the Congress.

Proponents of the resolution, moved by the leaders of the Democratic party that has a majority in the House, alleged that these two members of the Trump's cabinet failed to comply with subpoenas about the origins of a controversial citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

The resolution was passed by 230 to 198 votes. Four members from the ruling Republican Party supported the Democratic resolution in this regard.

The vote comes weeks after the Trump administration reversed course on the citizenship issue, following a major setback in the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice indicating it would begin printing the Census without the controversial question.

"Today, we are taking action to support the work of the Committee on Oversight and Reform in its investigation of the Trump administration's attempt to add a question to the 2020 Census on citizenship status, which evidence has indicated likely was instigated by a deliberate effort to undercount people of colour," House Majority Leader Steny H Hoyer said.

Hoyer said the resolution was necessary to compel Barr and Ross to cooperate with the investigation, which he said was critical to ensuring that the American people learn the full facts about what the Trump administration is doing in their name.

The vote comes just weeks after the Restore Public Trust filed a lawsuit against Ross for refusing to fulfil several public records requests, and on the heels of The New York Times revealing that the administration worked with an expert on Republican gerrymandering to draft the citizenship question.

The White House described the move as a "ridiculous".

"Today's vote by Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats to hold Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt is ridiculous and yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his Administration," the White House press secretary said.

The Departments of Justice and Commerce have produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue, the White House said, adding that senior officials from both agencies, including Ross, had spoken on the record about the matter.

In a statement, Ross described this as a "PR stunt" by the Democratic party.

"House Democrats never sought to have a productive relationship with the Trump administration, and today's PR stunt further demonstrates their unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our Department," Ross said.

Indian-American Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the House rightly held Barr and Ross in criminal contempt for their "unprecedented" obstruction, adding that the committee's subpoenas must be enforced.

"The American people deserve to know more about the administration's failed plan to rig the census and hurt communities of colour in an effort to consolidate a white Republican electorate," Gupta said.