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The House on Thursday passed legislation that would make the Census Bureau more independent of the White House, a move Democrats hope will prevent a future Republican president from adding census questions on citizenship.
Lawmakers passed the Ensuring a Fair and Accurate Census Act, thanks to nearly unanimous support from Democrats who opposed former President Donald Trump’s failed bid for a citizenship issue in 2018 and still fear that another Republican tries again.
Trump’s team argued that a citizenship question was needed to determine where noncitizens live, which would help the government enforce the Voting Rights Act. But the question was removed after the Supreme Court ruled that his administration failed to properly justify the question’s inclusion.
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Still, the decision leaves open the possibility that another Republican president will try to add him, and Democrats hope the bill passed Thursday will make things much tougher.
The legislation gives more decision-making power to the director of the Census Bureau, limits the number of people appointed to the office, and requires the Secretary of Commerce to certify that new questions added to the census are fully investigated before they are included.
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It also says the Census Bureau director can only be removed from office for “inefficiency, negligence in office, or malfeasance in office,” another attempt to make it harder for the White House to pressure the director. .
Democrats supporting the bill viewed Trump’s attempt as an inappropriate use of political power over what should be an independent office. Democrats wrote in the language of the report accompanying the bill that a congressional investigation showed how “a group of political appointees sought to use the census to advance an ideological agenda and potentially exclude noncitizens from the distribution count”.
In the House this week, Democrats echoed that language and hinted that Trump’s team hoped the question would skew census results and interfere with how the government uses census data to direct funds. federal between the states.
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“The Trump administration and his partisan census office undermined this critical task in March 2018 when they planned to add a citizenship question to the census that would violate the Constitution and lower response rates, and they knew it” , said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., argued on the floor.
Republicans countered that Democrats were doing their best to ensure that a citizenship question was never offered in the census again, even if earlier versions of the census included it.
“The intent of this bill is clear,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona. “It’s to prevent a future Republican President from adding a citizenship question to the United States Census. And yet, the citizenship question was first proposed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1800, and ever since its introduction in the census from 1820 to 1950, this question has been included in every census.”
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In the committee report accompanying the legislation, Republicans argued that leaving out the question of citizenship would only “guarantee that future censuses will be unfair and inaccurate.”
Republican opposition to the bill was insufficient in the House, where Democrats hold a narrow majority, and the bill passed by a vote of 220 to 208. The passage sends the bill to the Senate, where Democrats face the difficult task of finding 10 Republican supporters in order to push the bill forward.