July 20, 2022
Today, documents released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee confirmed that the Trump administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census was a strategy to skew population data to benefit Republicans. Trump had refused to turn over the documents, but the Biden administration agreed to allow the House committee to see them.
U.S. censuses, which are required every 10 years under our Constitution, have always counted “persons,” and both voting and public monies are proportioned according to those numbers. Under Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration wanted to include a question about citizenship, and administration officials first suggested that they would count citizens, rather than legal residents and undocumented immigrants, for purposes of representation, and then said they needed citizenship information to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Opponents claimed the proposed new question was designed to scare immigrants, who tend to vote Democratic, away from being counted, which would have shifted representation and government monies toward Republicans.
A district court said Secretary Ross’s action was “arbitrary and capricious, based on a pretextual rationale, and violated certain provisions of the Census Act,” and the Supreme Court added that the administration’s claim to need citizenship information to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act was “contrived.” It blocked the administration from including that question on the census.
Now, we have documents showing that Ross and other Trump administration officials actively sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census in the hope that their erasure would also make legal immigrants avoid being counted, and thus cut representation for and funding to Democratic districts. One handwritten note suggests using the Voting Rights Act as cover.
This is a stark example of the dangers of turning our government over to an authoritarian leader who will use our fundamental governmental systems to draw power to himself. This census question had the potential to affect our governmental system profoundly. Even without the census question, the U.S. Census Bureau in March 2022 said a quality check revealed that Black Americans, Indigenous Americans, and Hispanic or Latino Americans were undercounted in 2020, while white inhabitants and Asian inhabitants were overcounted.
This is just the latest example of Trump and his allies trying to use our government to cement their power, among others that reached from Trump’s attempt to weaponize funds approved by Congress for Ukraine to fight off Russian incursions so as to damage likely Democratic opponent Joe Biden, to the January 6 attempt to stop Biden's certification as president-elect.
These attempts appear to have reached deep into the Secret Service as well, and today we learned that the Department of Homeland Security itself might have played along. Carol D. Leonnig and Maria Sacchetti of the Washington Post today reported that whistleblowers have revealed that DHS inspector general Joseph Cuffari, a Trump appointee, learned in February that nearly all text messages from around the time of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol had been deleted from Secret Service agents’ cell phones but elected to keep that information from Congress. The inspector general’s office also declined to tell Congress that the Secret Service was refusing to turn over records from that period.
And yet, for all the efforts of officials in the Trump administration to seize power by compromising our national systems, a Trump-era White House aide who testified before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol claimed that it is he and his colleagues who are victims of a strong state. In a webcast after his testimony, Garrett Ziegler, an aide to trade advisor Peter Navarro who appears to have been the person who admitted Trump allies to the White House for the shocking meeting of December 18 where they discussed martial law, continued to claim that the 2020 election was stolen.
As for the January 6 committee: “They’re Bolsheviks,” he said, in an echo of Republican rhetoric calling all opponents communists, “so, they probably do hate the American Founders and most White people in general. This is a Bolshevistic anti-White campaign. If you can’t see that, your eyes are freaking closed. And so, they see me as a young Christian who they can try to basically scare, right?” He attacked the women who have cooperated with the committee with offensive language.
Meanwhile, the January 6 committee continues to bear down on the Trump administration. Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, and Paul Kane of the Washington Post reported tonight that at tomorrow night’s public hearing, the committee is planning to show outtakes from Trump’s reluctant video of January 7, when there was talk of removing him from office.
While the struggle between the Trump team and those trying to bring them to justice continues, President Biden is trying to move the country forward to address the existential crisis of climate change. Europe is suffering under a terrible heat wave; Britain has declared a climate emergency and, with airstrips softened by extreme heat, grounded the Royal Air Force; and 100 million Americans are under emergency heat warnings.
On Monday, the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, warned world leaders gathered at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, where they are gathered to advance multilateral climate negotiations: “Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction…. What troubles me most is that, in facing this global crisis, we are failing to work together as a multilateral community. Nations continue to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our collective future. We cannot continue this way,” he said. “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”
In the U.S., the recent West Virginia v. EPA decision of the Supreme Court, weakening the ability of the government to shift the country toward clean energy by regulating carbon dioxide emissions, has limited the government’s ability to address climate change. So, too, has the insistence of Republican senators, as well as Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, that short-term economic interests outweigh the imperatives of climate change. Days ago, Manchin said he would not support new investment in clean energy out of concern over inflation. Without him, the Democrats' plans for addressing climate change through legislation can't move forward, since no Republicans are on board.
So President Biden is working around them. Today, he traveled to Somerset, Massachusetts, to reiterate that climate change is an emergency and to illustrate that combating it offers us a new, innovative economy. As National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy explained to reporters, until 2017, Somerset was the site of one of the biggest and oldest coal-fired power plants in New England. Now that plant will be making cable to anchor offshore wind turbines.
Hoping to bring that innovation to the nation more widely, Biden noted that extreme weather events—wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and floods—cost the U.S. $145 billion last year alone. They damage our economy and our national security. “As President, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger,” he said today. “And that’s what climate change is about. It is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger.”
Biden is planning to invest more than $2 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $385 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help people cool their homes. In early June, Biden used the Defense Production Act to speed up the domestic manufacture of solar equipment. The bipartisan infrastructure law has added $3.1 billion to the mix to weatherize homes and make them more energy efficient, and the American Rescue Plan provided $16 billion to clean up methane leaking from capped oil wells, abandoned when they stopped making money.
Biden vowed that addressing the climate crisis would provide good manufacturing jobs, repair supply chains, and clean up the environment. He promised to use the power of the presidency to do what Congress currently is not. “[I]n the coming weeks, I’m going to use the power I have as President to turn these words into formal, official government actions through the appropriate proclamations, executive orders, and regulatory power that a President possesses,” he said.
“[W]hen it comes to fighting…climate change, I will not take no for an answer. I will do everything in my power to clean our air and water, protect our people’s health, to win the clean energy future,” he said. “We have an opportunity here.”