- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

President Trump has bragged about getting a question on citizenship in the 2020 census, so lawmakers on Capitol Hill were surprised Tuesday when a top Justice Department official skipped a hearing where he was supposed to defend the move.

John M. Gore, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, had been invited to testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing Tuesday, but was a no-show, drawing a bipartisan rebuke and a vow from Chairman Trey Gowdy that he will make Mr. Gore appear.

Mr. Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, said he’ll reconvene the hearing May 18 and will issue a subpoena if he has to.

“He’s coming to talk at some point or another, whether he wants to or not,” Mr. Gowdy said.

Mr. Gore was supposed to be the star witness Tuesday at a hearing looking at preparations for the 2020 census. The decision to include a question on citizenship has made the decennial count more controversial than usual.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Mr. Gore’s no-show and on the looming subpoena.

The department asked last year, late in the process, that the citizenship question be added. The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, agreed earlier this year. In the wake of the decision Mr. Trump’s campaign sent out fundraising emails bragging about the accomplishment.

Justice officials have said they want the citizenship information to help with enforcing voting-rights laws.

Democrats said that explanation didn’t ring true with them, saying the Trump administration has instead undermined voting rights. They fear the citizenship question is an effort to scare people away from taking part in the count, and angrily denounced the Commerce Department for agreeing.

“You simply accepted this?” asked an incredulous Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s non-voting member of Congress.

Earl Comstock, director of policy at the Commerce Department, said they scrubbed the request and said they’re comfortable asking the question.

“There is no definitive evidence this will adversely affect the responses,” he said.

Lawmakers came to Tuesday’s hearing prepared to pepper Mr. Gore with questions about the citizenship question, and were outraged he didn’t show.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asked about the question last month, said citizenship will be the final question on the form — and he said people can refuse to answer if they want. That was a stunning declaration from the country’s top law enforcement official, and it contradicts the Census Bureau’s own stance that federal law requires every question to be answered.

“Congress has passed a law that says you’re required to answer the census,” Mr. Comstock said.

He also said the data collected is confidential and can only be used for statistical purposes.

The Census Bureau used to ask about citizenship. It was a part of the 10-year census up through 1950. After that, the question was relegated to a smaller survey that went to a fraction of the country. It is currently part of the American Community Survey, a rolling in-depth count that targets about 3.5 million households every year.

But that doesn’t give information down to the census block level, which the Justice Department said was what it needed.

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