New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to Kris Kobach’s involvement in adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census in making the case for holding two members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet in contempt of Congress.
The House Oversight Committee met Wednesday to weigh whether to hold Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt after the Commerce and Justice Departments failed to comply with subpoenas for documents related to the Trump administration’s decision to add the question to next year’s Census.
Critics say the question will deter minorities from filling out the census form, which would affect how congressional districts are drawn and could depress representation for minority communities in Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Democrat who has emerged as a progressive firebrand on Capitol Hill, pointed to Kobach’s involvement as a red flag.
“I want to know why people like Kris Kobach with a documented history… he has a resume of voter suppression techniques in the state of Kansas, I want to know why folks like that have their fingerprints all over the most sensitive Census operations that we have as a United States government,” Ocasio-Cortez said Wednesday.
“This determines who has power in the United States of America,” she said.
Republicans have criticized the push to hold the cabinet officials in contempt ahead of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will determine the legality of the Census question.
Democrats say the congressional investigation is separate from the Supreme Court case. They contend that the issue before Congress is the motivation for adding the question, which has been obscured by Trump’s decision to assert executive privilege over some documents related to the decision.
Ross had claimed that the question was added solely at the request of the Justice Department to help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. But emails show Kobach and others advocating wanting the question for other reasons.
Kobach told The Star last year that he advised Trump on adding the question and claimed that some states, specifically California, had their representation in Congress inflated because illegal immigrants were being included in Census counts.
Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, appeared to echo this view at the contempt hearing by asking what Democrats were afraid would be revealed by a citizenship question.
Kobach championed tougher voting laws during his tenure as Kansas secretary of state, crafting a measure that required voters to provide proof of their citizenship. The law was struck down in federal court last year following a high profile trial in which Kobach served as his own attorney.
The Kansas Republican had served on Trump’s transition team and had served as vice chairman of a short-lived presidential commission tasked with investigating voter fraud.
Kobach gave closed-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee last week, but the committee’s majority Democrats released a memo alleging White House interference in his testimony.
He refused to answer 15 questions after the White House instructed him not to answer questions about conversations with the president and senior White House staff.
However, Kobach did reveal during his testimony that he first broached the topic of a citizenship question on the Census with the Trump campaign ahead of the 2016 campaign.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the committee, pointed to this revelation at the start of the contempt hearing without specifically referencing Kobach. A vote on holding Ross and Barr in contempt will take place Wednesday afternoon.