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Just Three Senators Quiz Census Nominee

Updated: 2:47 p.m.

Despite earlier controversy surrounding the oversight of the 2010 Census, President Barack Obama’s pick to lead next year’s national head count coasted through an uneventful confirmation hearing on Friday.

Robert Groves, a Michigan native nominated to lead the Census Bureau within the Department of Commerce, enjoyed a cozy reception attended by just three members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

While the focus of the hearing was on the drawing of Congressional districts, those three Members — Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) — represent states that together constitute just five of the nation’s 435 Congressional districts. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who sits on the committee, made a brief appearance to introduce Groves but did not stay for the nominee’s testimony or questioning.

“Coming from a state with just one district, we don’t have too much to worry about,— Carper quipped.

Collins expressed the concern of many in the Republican Party that next year’s Census could become a politicized project that unfairly favors Democrats, and sought assurances from Groves that he would oversee a neutral head count.

“I believe transparency is a very powerful antidote to the threat of partisan influences,— Groves said.

“I’m very satisfied with your answer on the questions that I posed,— Collins responded, closing the door on the only contentious topic that surfaced during the 90-minute hearing.

Obama indicated earlier this year that the census director would report directly to the White House. But the president backed off after Republicans charged the move would instantly politicize the process.

Still, the GOP is keeping an eye on a future fight.

“There is no place for these political shenanigans in the 2010 Census,— Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele warned in a statement Friday. “Robert Groves has stated that as Census Director he would not politicize the 2010 Census. For now, Republicans have to take him at his word, but we will follow President Reagan’s wise counsel to trust, but verify.—

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that while he apprecated Groves’ testimony, he still has concerns about the process being politicized. He said that if Groves is confirmed, “I look forward to regular reports from him to illustrate that the Census is free of partisan interference and manipulation.”