Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) left Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross flustered on Thursday during a House Oversight Committee as she refused to accept his attempts to meddle with the U.S. census.
The freshman congresswoman showed evidence that Ross had lied to Congress multiple times when he claimed he merely wanted to add a citizenship question to the census to fulfill a Justice Department request.
Ross was called before the committee to testify about his attempt to add a question to the 2020 census reading, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"—an item that has not been included in the 10-year accounting of U.S. residents since 1950.
"You lied to Congress, you misled the American people and you are complicit in the Trump administration's intent to suppress the growing political power of the nonwhite population. You have zero credibility and you should, in my opinion, resign." —Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.)
Nearly seven hours into the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez crystallized the Democrats' central argument against the question: in addition to being discriminatory, the addition of the citizenship question was attempted illegally.
While changes to the census must be made through the U.S. Census Bureau, Ocasio-Cortez noted, Ross consulted with anti-voting rights players in the Trump administration—particularly former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was serving on President Donald Trump's election integrity commission in July 2017 when he corresponded with Ross about the question. The exchange took place at the urging of former Trump advisor and white supremacist Steve Bannon.
Kobach "encouraged President Trump to add a question about citizenship to the census in the early weeks of Trump's presidency," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Shortly thereafter, in April of 2017, Steve Bannon asked you to speak to Mr. Kobach about his, quote, ideas about including a citizenship question on the 2020 census."
"It's all there in black and white,' she said of the email exchange. “Why are we violating the law to include any question whatsoever in the 2020 census?”
— Alexander Nazaryan (@alexnazaryan) March 14, 2019
Ross's discussions with Kobach, which continued past the July 2017 email exchange, were notable because of Kobach's long history of voter suppression. During his time on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity Kobach was charged with proving Trump's false claim that "millions and millions" of undocumented immigrants had voted in the 2016 election and erecting barriers to voting as a result.
Voting and immigrant rights advocates have long railed against the proposed citizenship question because it would likely prevent Latinx and other immigrant households from filling out the census—resulting in less federal funding and redistricting that would be skewed in Republicans' favor.
The New York Immigration Coalition praised the committee and condemned Ross for his attempts to mislead Congress in order to discriminate against immigrant communities.
"Secretary Wilbur Ross spent his entire testimony deflecting questions to conceal the truth—that he engineered the citizenship question with notorious white supremacists Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, and has been caught red-handed in a web of nefarious lies," said executive director Steven Choi.
Twice during the hearing—during Ocasio-Cortez's questioning as well as that of her fellow first-term progressive congresswoman, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—Ross attempted to wriggle out of answering questions by suggesting that the representatives' time was up. That technique, which was also used recently by another Trump ally, former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, was unsuccessful as Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) assured him that he had time to answer the questions.
Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) expressed anger at Ross, urging him to step down due to his blatant attempts to mislead Congress.
"You lied to Congress, you misled the American people and you are complicit in the Trump administration's intent to suppress the growing political power of the nonwhite population," Clay said. "You have zero credibility and you should, in my opinion, resign."