Plaskett: I note that you have different delineations of categories for individuals. Where would individuals that were born in the District of Columbia fall under?
Ross: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question.
Plaskett: Where would individuals who were born in the District of Columbia fall under your census question, your citizenship question? They are not born in a state nor are they listed as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Marianas, or were they born abroad? Where would they check off?
Ross: I think that would require a legal decision—I’m not sure I’m qualified—
Plaskett:—Still, but that’s the question as how you have it outlined here—the different buckets that individuals could put down.
Ross’ entire shtick is to act like a doddering old man. But unlike an elderly family member who might occasionally say something a touch off-color, Wilbur Ross is the U.S. secretary of commerce. He’s either doddering and unable to remember things and should not have that job, or he’s pretending to be doddering and is simply out of touch with reality the way that most billionaires are, and shouldn’t have that job. Plaskett treats Ross the way that any self-respecting person who has all of their faculties about them should be treated, honestly. Ross wastes time by beginning an old tale about how they came up with the list Plaskett is asking about. Plaskett cuts him off:
Plaskett: I just need an answer to that. Where would they check?
Ross: I’m trying to answer your first question, if I could be permitted—
Plaskett:–But where would they check on your list?
Ross: The reason that we use the exact same question—
Plaskett: I’m not interested in why you use the question. I just want to know if someone [was] born in the District of Columbia, where would they check off on the listing that you have here?
Ross: I think the list speaks for itself, ma’am.
Plaskett: It doesn’t speak for itself.
Del. Plaskett continues to stop Ross when he begins his snail’s-pace meanderings, and as it becomes clear that Ross will not even attempt to answer the question, Rep. Jim Jordan—clearly eating snacks behind Plaskett—asks if he can have some of her time to do some of his own grandstanding.
Plaskett: No, I will not yield. I don’t have a lot of time.
The only time anyone should yield to Rep. Jim Jordan is if he’s about to apologize for ignoring the sexual assaults of young men under his watch at the Ohio State University. Plaskett changes track to pound Ross on the warning that the Census Bureau’s chief scientist gave him about hurting the integrity of the census by discouraging broader participation by adding the citizenship question, as well as the actual financial costs of doing so.
Plaskett: You said Mr. Dowd wrote to you about the effect of the cost and accuracy of the census. He estimated that the addition of a citizenship question would lower response rates by approximately 5.1 percent and would, quote, also reduce the quality of the resulting data, lower self-response rates, degrade data quality because data obtained from NRFU— non-response follow-up—have greater erroneous enumeration and whole-person imputation rates. Mr. Secretary, is that the what the memorandum stated?
Ross attempts to say he wants to provide another statement that Mr. Dowd made, but Plaskett cuts him off, saying she has read that and is asking Mr. Secretary the question she literally just asked him. Finally, with time running out, Plaskett appeals to Ross’ supposed business acumen. She asks him why, understanding the need for cost efficiency as a business man is supposedly inclined to do, he would pursue a more expensive process of creating this census by adding a question believed to degrade the results. Ross blathers in his slow bogus way, only to be cut off by Plaskett again, and leading to this wonderful finale.
Ross: May I finish my answer?
Plaskett: No you may not. Because you’re taking quite a while to answer the question and most of my questions do not require that much of a response. So I need to get to other questions in here. But the reason I’m asking that is because you testified before this committee in October that most of the census budget is spent on encouraging the last few million households to respond. Whereas it says in the scientific report of Dr. Dowd, that it will cost you 27 million additional funding to take up the inaccuracy of that, and in the court’s opinion—which is the court’s opinion, the State of New York versus the Department of Commerce, and New York Immigration versus the United States Department of Commerce—that it’s unlikely to remedy the reduction, self-response rates. Which means that hundreds of thousand, if not millions of people, will go uncounted in the census if the citizenship question is included. Why would you want to increase the costs for that question?
Plaskett’s time is up, but Chairman Elijah Cummings says Ross can answer the question.
Ross: I have nothing to say, sir.
No. No, you don’t.