U.S. House blocks impeachment measure against Trump, holds officials in contempt over census fight
Attorney general, commerce secretary defied congressional subpoenas
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to set aside an impeachment resolution against President Donald Trump, but held Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for defying congressional subpoenas related to the 2020 census.
The measure against the two Trump cabinet members, which passed 230-198, was a response to Barr and Ross's failure to produce documents requested by House Democrats as part of an investigation into whether the administration attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census that would discriminate against racial minorities.
The action marks an escalation of Democratic efforts to use their House majority to aggressively investigate the inner workings of the Trump administration.
The White House called the vote "ridiculous" and "yet another lawless attempt to harass the president and his administration."
The Justice and Commerce departments have produced more than 31,000 pages of documents to the House regarding the census issue, and senior officials from both agencies, including Ross, have spoken on the record about the matter, the White House said, adding that Democrats continue to demand documents that the White House contends are subject to executive privilege.
"House Democrats know they have no legal right to these documents, but their shameful and cynical politics know no bounds," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House oversight and reform committee, said the contempt vote was an important step to assert Congress's constitutional authority to serve as a check on executive power.
"Holding any secretary in criminal contempt of Congress is a serious and sober matter — one that I have done everything in my power to avoid," Cummings said during House debate. "But in the case of the attorney general and Secretary Ross, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying for the first time in 70 years to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."
While Ross and other officials have claimed the sole reason they wanted to add the citizenship question was to enforce the Voting Rights Act, "we now know that claim was nothing but a pretext," Cummings said. "The Supreme Court said that."
At the direction of Barr and Ross, "the departments of Justice and Commerce have been engaged in a campaign to subvert our laws and the process Congress put in place to maintain the integrity of the census," Cummings said.
The contempt resolution "is about protecting our democracy, protecting the integrity of this body. It's bigger than the census," he said.
Ross called the vote a public relations "stunt" that further demonstrates Democrats' "unending quest to generate headlines instead of operating in good faith with our department."
Democrats prefer to "play political games rather than help lead the country" and "have made every attempt to ascribe evil motivations to everyday functions of government," Ross said.
Impeachment measure nixed
By setting aside an impeachment resolution against Trump, the Democrat-controlled House effectively killed the measure for now but did not bury the issue that has divided Democrats.
The resolution's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Al Green, was seeking to capitalize on growing criticism of Trump after the president's recent attacks on minority congresswomen.
The House voted 332 to 95 to table the measure.
"Impeachment of your President.... is now OVER. This should never be allowed to happen to another President of the United States again!," Trump tweeted.
Green had failed twice before to get an impeachment resolution passed, but Wednesday marked the first time the full House had addressed the matter since Democrats took the majority earlier this year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has long tried to restrain Democrats from initiating the impeachment process against Trump, pending a House judiciary committee probe into whether he colluded with Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election and obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the matter.
However, Wednesday's vote put lawmakers on the record on the impeachment question. A clear majority of the House's 235 Democrats — 137 — voted along with Republicans to table Green's impeachment resolution. But 95 Democrats opposed setting the measure aside. One Democrat voted present.
While a growing minority of Democrats in the House have called for launching an impeachment inquiry, Democratic leaders made clear earlier Wednesday they did not support Green's effort, at least not now.
"As I have said over and over again, with all the respect in the world for Mr. Green ... we have six committees that are working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest that the president may have engaged in. That is the serious path that we are on," Pelosi told reporters.
With files from The Associated Press