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Wilbur Ross
  Commerce Secretary Ross Testifies on 2020 Census  CSPAN  March 14, 2019 4:00pm-4:36pm EDT

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"the wall street journal" about the pitfalls of counting illegal immigra immigrants, unquote. mr. secretary, did you ever talk with anybody at the department of commerce about how congressional apportionment is affected by counting all persons in the census, yes or no? >> early on in my term, as commerce secretary, hi had lots of questions about a lot of aspects of the department. >> great. that's a question. next question. i don't have much time. john gore who served as acting attorney general of the siecivi rights at the department of justice and wrote a letter requesting the citizenship question, was key podeposed as f the new york lawsuit. he said, quote, i believe i may have discussed the sttopic of apportionment with the attorney general at some point. he then refused to answer questions because that discussion was part of the discussions leading up to his decisions on requesting the citizenship question.
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mr. secretary, did you ever talk with attorney general jeff sessions about how congressional apportionment is affected by counting all persons in the census, yes or no? >> i listed jeff sessions on my supplemental memo. >> i'll take that as a yes. >> i'd like to answer the question. mr. -- >> this is my time. i'm reclaiming my time. you're not here to ask the questions. i'm here to ask and you respond. it was a yes-or-no question. on july 14th, 2017, chris cobach, secretary of state of kansas, e-mailed you. he said, "as you may recall, as you may recall, we talked about the fact that the u.s. census does not currently ask respondents their citizenship." mr. toback also said not asking a citizenship question, "leads to the problem of aliens who do not actually reside in the united states are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes."
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mr. secretary, did you ever talk with mr. kobach about how it's affected by counting all persons in the census, yes or no? >> my conversation with kobach was fundamentally about the question that he wanted asked. >> correct. i reclaim my time. reclaim my time. i'll take that as -- i reclaim my time. >> mr. chairman -- >> the citizenship question, mr. secretary, did you ever talk with anybody at the white house about how congressional apportionment is affected by counting all people -- >> mr. chairman, he keeps interrupting my answers. >> yes or no?
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>> thank you, mr. chairman. he asked so many many questions, i don't even remember all of them. so i need to have them repeated. >> yeah, i like how the secretary has crisp yes/no answers when the republicans are asking him but when the democrats are asking, that's not the kind of answers he gives. hold on. that wasn't a question. let's move on. >> i was going to say -- >> secretary ross, you have portrayed your decision to add the citizenship question as a response to doj's request in december of 2017. but the evidence shows that you and your staff had been trying to for months define an agency. any agency willing to make this request. on september 8th, 2017, a senior official at the department of commerce named earl, again, girl comstock, wrote you a memo on his efforts to find a federal agency to request the citizenship question. he wrote that he first reached out to doj in early may, but
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after several conversations he was told, justice staff did not want to raise the question given the difficulties justice was encountering in the press at that time. so here's -- here's the problem. here is the problem with everything you said. because you're trying to say, tell us, you're trying to tell us that it was a doj request. it was doj that initiated the process. right? but then we find out that you were shopping around the fact that you wanted somebody to ask that question. or at least propose it. you went to the department of homeland security. i don't know what the department of homeland security has to do with the census, but you went there. you went -- but they also said no. so you went back to the doj. a few days later, september 13th, you get an e-mail that also says, "gore asked to speak about the doj doc issue. he later connects her with the justice department official daniela cotrona who writes in an e-mail, from what john told me,
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it sounds like we can do whatever you all need us to do and the delay was due to miscommunication. the a.g. is eager to assist." why is he assisting you? is it, like, why is he assisting you and not the other way around? right? that is why this whole -- this whole sha racharade, right, doe make sense. it doesn't pass the smell test. if you were to explain this to a little kid, you really start thinking about it, it doesn't make sense. >> gentleman's time has expired. >> no, that wasn't a question. all right? so i don't know if you were trained but one of the things i want to know -- one of the things i know that mnuchin later testified today in ways and means and he said he was not there to answer questions. so i think you're playing by the same playbook of mr. mnuchin. i know you're not here to answer questions, you're just here to dodge and delay and to, you know, hide the truth. >> now would you like to respond? >> i don't think there's any need to respond, sir. >> very well.
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miss ocasio-cortez. >> thank you, chairman. secretary ross, thank you for coming in and offering your testimony today. kansas secretary of state ychri kobach mentioned by my colleague was noted by "the new york times" as laboring long and hard in his career, notably in the areas of voter suppression and nativism. he stated last year that he encouraged president trump to add a question about citizenship to the census during the early weeks of trump's presidency. kobach said, "i raised the issue with the president shortly after he was inaugurated" and, "he was absolutely interested in this." 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 decennial census. did you speak to mr. kobach about his ideas on the citizenship question? >> as i described earlier in my
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testimony, chris kobach did have a conversation with me early on -- >> so, you -- >> i'm sorry, i'm not finished. chris kobach did have a conversation with me. he said he had a question he would like us to ask. >> thank you. and -- >> i'm not -- >> i thought here -- i'm sorry, i must reclaim my time. mr. kobach later sent an e-mail to you on july 148th writh writ lack of the citizenship question, quote, leads to the problem that aliens who do not actually reside in the united states are still counted for congressional apportionment services. of course, they do reside in the united states. out of my district. they're constituents. he then wrote, "it is essential that one simple question be added to the upcoming 2020 census." it's all there in black and white. kobach is clear about his reason for adding the citizenship question in his correspondence to you and has nothing to do with the doj, has nothing to do
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with the voting rights act. it's about congressional apportionment to immigrants. but following that e-mail and concerning contents did you cut off all contact? >> i have no recollection -- >> we do have the -- the southern district of new york identified a july 25th call between you and mr. kobach after that e-mail. did you bring up the citizenship question with anyone in the commerce department after kobach's e-mail? >> i ultimately rejected the question that kobach wanted ask. >> it does say here, judge furman in the southern district of new york, wrote that you, in fact, mentioned kobach again in a september 6th meet ing -- a
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september 6th meeting on the citizenship question. in fact, it was so concerning to your own staff that the general counsel expressed, quote, concern about your contact with kobach and recommended talking to others first. >> do you recall anything about that meeting? >> no, i don't. . you have a document, i'll be glad to look at it. >> i'd be happy to share that and additionally, do you think it would be helpful for us to speak with mr. kobach about this matter? . >> i have to idea. the committee has to make its own decisions. >> all right. one other thing, it's been stated multiple times in this hearing that the question is a reinstatement of a previous question, but the last time a citizenship question specifically around citizenship was discussed on the census was in 1950. and i pulled up the old question. here. and i know it's tough to see from far away, but i pulled up the old question that was originally on the census in 1950, and i see here that the
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question that is being proposed for 2020 is quite materially different, so it is not a reinstatement. it is not a -- to placing, again, or restoration of the original question. it is a materially different question. now, the u.s. census act of 1974 requires that if the secretary finds such a change necessary, they must send a report to congress on the proposed change, when the question is proposed. not when it is decided upon. was that legally required report to congress submitted to us? >> i can't respond to your question about the two documents you held up unless you show them to me. >> i did not ask a question about the documents. i asked if the report that was required of you was submitted to congress. >> we filed the required report on march 31st, 2017.
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we filed another required report on march 31st, 2018. >> one last thing, so what we don't have is the required report to congress. and while there's all of this debate about whether a citizenship question should be included or not included, the question i have is why are we violating the law to include any question whatsoever in the 2020 census?dy -- >> i believe -- >> please do answer the question. >> i don't have any need to respond, sir. >> you don't have a need to respond? >> i have no need to respond. >> okay. well, i'm asking. could you answer that question, please? >> would you repeat the question, please? >> we are now in violation of the u.s. census act of 1974 which requires you to submit a specific report to congress
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ahead of any changes that you find necessary. this question is not a reinstatement of the 1950 question. it's a change which means that change requires you to send a report to us while the question is proposed, not before it is decided or settled. so my question is, why are we violating the law to include this question in the 2020 census? >> the point of order, we need -- at this particular point, gentlewoman is talking about a statute that's been violated. there's been no enunciation of what that statute is. i don't even know what she's talking about. >> i'd be happy to provide it. >> yeah, i think she laid it out pretty nicely. she said is twice. i'm serious. >> in previous testimony, mr. chairman, he said that they submitted reports and -- >> and there are three reports required. they submitted the first one and
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the second one, but not the third one that is required to congress. and it is -- this is here in u.s. code 13 section 141, subsection f-3. i'd be happy to provide that to you. >> now, i noticed that all your, i guess the attorneys back there, squirming around telling you stuff. maybe they can help us with this answer. can they tell you what the answer is to that? you got a lot of people back there. >> i've been told by counsel that we have complied with all the regulations. i will take up with counsel the suggestions that have been made by the congressperson and we will get back in due course on the record. >> as a follow-up on that question, can you give me that in writing? the fact that you complied with the law? >> and mr. chair, i'd also like to note that according to our committee staff, there is not compliance with f-3. >> he's going to give me -- he said he did so he's going to
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give me a statement. he's still sworn. she's going he's going to give me a statement saying he did. i'm looking forward to that statement, counsel. all right? all right? all right. >> mr. chair? >> yes. yes. >> i've got a point of order. >> what -- >> i noted today that several members have spoken of in the witness-invoked confidentiality. and i understand this is happening in some other committees as well. and, of course, we understand that there's something called an executive privilege, like there's a priest penitent privilege, there's a spousal privilege, that congress may or may not recognize as a common law privilege. when people invoke confidentiality, there's no confidentiality privilege unless some of the lawyers here could cite a case. i don't really understand the new trend of -- >> mr. chairman, that's not a point of order.
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>> but i want to know -- >> what's the rule that's been violated? >> but i want to -- >> it's not a point of order. >> well, no, as the point of order is, how are we to respond when -- >> what rule is being violated? k. >> the rule that's being violated is every witness owed truthful testimony to congress, so i want to know -- >> you want to talk about that? >> when someone invokes confidentiality, is that a rule? >> let me -- i can -- whoa, whoa, whoa. hold up. can you get, your count, you said in response to several questions certain things were confidential. is that right? >> yes. and that i'm not authorized -- >> you're not authorized -- and if there's some special privilege that we don't know about, i'd appreciate it if your counsel would let us know what that is. okay? >> i'm not a lawyer, sir. >> that's why i'm saying, you got any lawyers back there? all them people behind you? you got a whole baseball team back there.
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>> one of them, mr. chair, is a very fine former student of mine, perhaps -- >> i'm not trying to be funny. just -- no, no, wait a minute. >> mr. chair, i'm sorry, before we move on, could i seek unanimous consent to submit these documents? >> tell me what they are. tell me what they are. >> the first is the u.s. code that i referenced and the other two documents are the two original questions. >> without objection, so ordered. >> thank you very much. >> now, will you -- mr. r raskin -- >> mr. chair, all i'm asking for is some clarification from the chair or perhaps from some of the legal counsel present as to how they transmit as a private statement of confidentiality from one private person or public person to another into a privilege against testimony before the united states congress. because i'm not aware of any case that stands for that principle. if anyone can say, i'd love to tell you, but i said it would be
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confidential. >> hopefully the counsel will get us -- it's my understanding it's not a privilege, but maybe you all have some new law that was just established in the last three minutes. and i'd like to see it. all right? you got enough lawyers back there, how many of you all are lawyers? anybody? none of them are lawyers? >> no. >> wow. >> thank you, sir. i will consult with counsel. >> all right. very well. they're with you, though, right? >> i'm sorry? >> all those people behind you, the ones that keep coming up and whispering in your ear. >> i hope they're with me. >> anyway. finally, but not least, distinguished lady from massachusetts. m miss press ley. >> thank you to our distinguished chairman. members of this committee to be efficient and effective in
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pursuit of the truth. and so bearing that many mind, i'm going to try to do that in my line of questioning and move quickly here. picking up on the line of questioning from several of my colleagues earlier regarding your interaction with attorney general john gore, we have an e-mail documenting what appears to be a second call that you had with the attorney general in september 2017. on september 17th, 2017, your chief of staff e-mailed two doj officials to arrange a call with the attorney general. one staffer wrote back on september 18th, "from what john gore told me, it sounds like we can do whatever you all need us to do and the delay was due to a miscommunication. the a.g. is eager to assist," the e-mail shows you spoke to the attorney general that day on december 18th. what did you discuss with the attorney general in september? >> the -- i listed the attorney general as one of the parties with whom i had conversations
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prior to the march 26th decision memo and prior to the december 12th, 2017, letter. the content of those conversations is confidential. i'm not authorized to disclose them. and i -- >> i reclaim my time. i do not believe it is confidential. on any of your calls with the attorney general, did you ask the attorney general to send you a letter requesting the addition of a citizenship question? yes or no. >> as i have said before, the content of my conversations with the attorney general are confidential. i'm not authorized to disclose them. and i have nothing further to say on that question. >> all right. well, in the pursuit of being efficient and effective, i will move on. we can all agree on both sides of the aisle that, and i'm sure you agree as well, that it's critical that we have an accurate census count.
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do you agree, yes or no? >> we are trying our best to -- >> yes or no. reclaiming my time. do you agree that it's critically important that we have an accurate census count? >> i have to answer the question as best i can. >> okay. reclaiming my time. moving on. in order for us to have an accurate census count, we need to have the appropriate funding and staffing levels in order to administer the census. yes or no? >> i have increased the budget by $3.2 billion or so in order to make sure that we are not underfunded in the context of the 2020 census. that's roughly a 25% increase over -- >> i'm sorry, reclaiming my time. >> -- over the obama administration. >> it was it your testimony earlier that mr. trump prepared a budget that did not include your input for what would be required? was that your testimony earlier? that the budget was prepared without your input and that you had also not read it.
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was that your statement on the record earlier? >> i'm sorry, there's a whole lot of questions. which one would you like me to answer? >> okay. i'm going to move on. actually, just going back on attorney general gore, it is -- it may be confidential, but it's not privileged. so, again, one more time. could you disclose what was the nature of your phone call with the attorney general if at any point you asked him to include the immigration question in the census. the citizenship question. >> my answer is the same as what i gave you before. >> okay. all right. let me get back to staffing levels. the gao's high-risk report says the census bureau office responsible for managing the i.t. integration contract is severely understaffed. the report states, "as of november 2018, 21 of 44 positions in this office were vacant." that means practically half of these positions meant to oversee i.t. government contractors were vacant as of a few months ago.
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does the census bureau have a plan to fill these vacancies? >> does the census bureau have a plan to what? >> fill these vacancies. as you well know, the census is moving online and this i.t. integration is critical to ensure that there is an accurate count. i already have great concerns about a digital divide since roughly three in ten adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year don't even own a smartpho smartphone. so how does the census bureau have a plan to fill these vacancies within the i.t. integration contract? >> well, we just recently filled by finally having the senate confirm after a very long wait our new permanent director of the census bureau. >> i'm sorry, reclaiming my time. 21 of 44 positions were vacant. is that still true? you just named one. so -- >> i don't recall the exact number. >> okay. reclaiming my time. one of the biggest risks of the census if this contract does not
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have adequate oversight? >> i believe you're out of time, ma'am. >> that's at the discretion of the chair. >> you can answer the question. >> secretary ross, what are the biggest risks to the census if the contracts don't have adequate oversight? >> i believe the contracts do have adequate oversight. we have instituted weekly reporting on the status of every single contract. i meet weekly with the deputy secretary. i meet monthly with a larger group of the census. and as to the matters you're referring to, they tell me we are on time and on budget. >> very well. >> thank you. >> i want to thank you very much. i will now recognize mr. meadows for unanimous consent request. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i ask unanimous consent that
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the -- from 2005 until the current time that the american community survey be entered into the record where it shows that the exact citizenship question on the vast majority of these is precisely the same question that's being proposed here. i ask unanimous consent. >> without objection. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i ask unanimous consent that the application for personal firearms eligibility check application from california, which actually has a citizenship question on it, be entered into the record as well. >> without objection, so ordered. >> last one, i ask unanimous consent that the newest proposal -- or the newest letter from the gao showing the substantial improvement of the department of commerce in terms of the high-risk nature of the census be entered into the record. >> without objection. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i yield back. >> i now recognize the ranking member, mr. jordan, for a
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unanimous consent request and his closing statement. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i ask unanimous consent, study from the heritage foundation which finds that strict i.d. laws have no significant negative effect on registration or voter turnout. >> without objection, so ordered. >> i thank you. look, i'll be brief. i want to thank you, secretary ross,. 6 hours and 20 minutes, you've come here, answered all kinds of questions. appreciate your service to our country and your leadership at the commerce department. but 6 hours and 20 minutes for basically one question which is why don't the democrats want to know? why don't they want to know how many people in this country are sip citiz citizens of the united states? i mean, i find that almost astounding. but thank you for doing it. thank you for your service. and with that, mr. chairman, i yield back. >> thank you very much. first of all, i want to thank all of our members for sticking
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around. the ones who have. i really appreciate it. it's so very important to our democracy that we do this. to you, secretary ross, i want to thank you. i know -- i know we had to postpone this and we worked with you as best we could, but you got here and you've answered or questions. i wrote you a letter last week and i was very reasonable. i accommodated your requests to limit the scope of today's hearing. but in return, i made it clear that we expected you to answer all our questions. i explicitly wrote in my letter that the supreme court does not recognize your claim that you can withhold documents from congress based on the argument that there is separate ongoing litigati litigation. you wrote a letter back to me and you agreed to come here and answer our questions.
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but today, when i heard your testimony, i felt like you were trying to pull a fast one on me. i got to be honest with you, man. you went back to the old argument about ongoing litigation. that's a little disappointing. you refeused to answer question about conversations with attorney general sessions and others about the citizenship question. and i must tell you that i was not convinced, the jeff sessions that i know, i don't recall him being that concerned about voting rights, i'll be honest with you, and i'd be lying to you if i said anything different. and let me make this clear, so there will be absolutely no doubt, mr. secretary, this committee does not accept the argument that you can withhold documents or testimony from us
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because you have other separate litigation. that is not a valid basis to withhold information from the congress of the united states of america. representative raskin provided you with the legal citations today. he is a distinguished law professor and particularly in the area of constitutional law. he also provided a sense of precedence from both republican and democratic chairmen of this committee who conducted numerous investigations for decades during ongoing outside litigation. so, here's what i'm going to do. i'm going to give you until tuesday, and that should give you enough time to consult with your lawyers. then i would like for you to produce all the priority
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documents this committee has requested. you keep telling me you're going to meet with your staff. i ask you when it's going to be, and basically, you are saying that could be forever. well guess what, i don't have forever, nor do you and nor do the american people. so we will not accept any argument that you are withholding documents due to ongoing litigation. now, if you don't agree with this, you will basically be forcing us to consider a subpoena. i don't want to do that. i've been very careful with subpoenas, and i do not want to get into that. i just want the committee to have the documents so that we can do our job pursuant to the constitution of the united states. but if you refuse, you will leave me with no choice.
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we may have to start conducting transcribed interviews with staff from the department of commerce and the department of justice who are involved in adding the citizenship question. and it does alarm me, and i got to tell you, i've listened to you very carefully, and for the life of me, you know, i've been thinking about how were you going to get around some of the issues that have been raised with regard to whether your testimony was consistent and whether this came from doj or this came, originated with you. i've listened to you, mr. secretary, and i tell you, i'm not totally convinced that this did not come directly from mr. bannon and it did not come from the very beginning -- i mean, may have had it in mind from the very beginning. but you've testified under oath, i accept that.
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and if we do not -- by the way, if we don't get the documents and the answers to our questions, we may need to bring you back. now, a number of members have said a lot of things about wanting to make sure that the census is done properly. wanted to make sure that the funding's there, make sure the personnel's there, i.t., all that. we will continue to bring you back. i'll never forget when i first became chairman, the first thing that "the new york times" asked me was what is your number-one priority? i told them, the census because it affects so much and so, again, i hope that we don't have to bring you back, but we will. >> mr. chairman, could i ask a question? yeah. just a question. you gave the commerce secretary five days for certain documents that have been brought up in the course of this hearing and two weeks ago, we had a witness who indicated he had all kinds of audio recordings of his clients and folks that he had
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conversations with. and you said, sitting right there, you want those audiotapes. you said, we definitely want those audiotapes. but you didn't give him any timeframe. i want to know, you have those, and if not, are you going to set a deadline for mr. cohen to turn over what you said you wanted two weeks ago in that hearing? >> let me be abundantly clear. i run this committee. >> i know. that's why i'm asking. that's why i'm asking. >> sir, i have the floor. >> is up y understand you do. i have a question. you gave the commerce secretary five days to comply. >> i have the floor. okay. will you answer the question? >> i will decide. i've, again, i want to thank you very much for being here. with regard to any tapes and things of that nature. believe me, i'm on top of it. i am a man of my word. and you -- >> i'm just asking. >> i -- no, no, no, i will let you know. >> i look forward to that.
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>> yeah, i will. i'm a man of my word and i will continue to be that. again, i want to thank members of this committee. and this -- and, again, mr. secretary, thank you so much. thank you for working with us. i really appreciate it. >> thank you for your courtesy, mr. chairman. >> hearing's adjourned.
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the senate today voted to termination president trump's national emergency declaration. the house has already passed the resolution. it now heads to the president's desk. and he says he will veto it. watch "american history tv" live on saturday starting at 9:00 eastern from historic fords theater in washington, d.c. for the 2 2nd annual abraham lincol symposium. hosted by the abraham lincoln institute and ford society brings together lincoln scholars to highlight the 16th president's life, career and legacy. speakers include james tackach on lincoln and the natural environment. richard carwadine on lincoln's sense of humor. nina silber on how lincoln was remembered in "new deal america." david blight.