Politics

Trump Backs Off Citizenship Question On Census, Will Obtain Information Through Other Means

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Amber Athey White House Correspondent

President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he will drop a fight to put a citizenship question on the U.S. Census and instead signed an executive order directing the Department of Commerce to obtain the information through other means.

Trump teased action on the Census in a tweet Thursday morning, writing, “We will all go to the beautiful Rose Garden for a News Conference on the Census and Citizenship.” An administration official later confirmed to the Daily Caller that the president intended to take executive action related to the issue. (RELATED: Trump To Take Executive Action On Census Citizenship Question)

However, instead of issuing an order or memorandum adding the question to the Census — and potentially opening up further legal challenges — the president opted for a different route entirely.

“We are pursuing a new option to ensure a complete and timely count of the non-citizen population. Today, I will be issuing an executive order to put this very plan into effect immediately,” Trump said during an event in the White House Rose Garden. “I’m hereby ordering every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in our country.”

Ultimately, this will allow us to have an even more complete count of citizens than through asking the single question alone. It will be, we think, far more accurate. The Census Bureau can use this information along with information collected through the questionnaire to create the official census. In other words, as a result of today’s executive order, we will be able to ensure the 2020 Census generates an accurate account of how many citizens, non-citizens, and illegal aliens are in the United States of America. Not too much to ask.”

Attorney General Bill Barr reiterated that the data collected through the executive order could potentially be used for redistricting purposes, assuaging the concerns of some Republicans who believe illegal immigrants and/or non-citizens should not be counted in congressional representation.

The course the president has chosen today will bring unprecedented resources to bear on determining how many citizens and non-citizens are in our country and will build the best data the government has had on citizenship in many decades. That information will be used for countless purposes, as the president explained in his remarks today. For example, there is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes. Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may be relevant to those considerations.”

While the executive order appears to accomplish most of the administration’s goals, it’s notable that plaintiffs in the court challenge to the Census citizenship question asked the administration to pursue this route from the beginning.

The move comes after the Supreme Court ruled last month that the administration did not provide a sufficient explanation as to why they wanted to add a citizenship question. Activist groups accused the administration of trying to discourage minority and immigrant responses to the Census for the purpose of ensuring Republicans have better results in congressional redistricting.

The court, however, offered the administration another opportunity to clarify their reasoning for adding the question.

The Supreme Court ultimately affirmed our right to ask the citizenship question and very strongly it was affirmed. But the Supreme Court also ruled that we must provide further explanation that would have produced even more litigation and considerable time delays,” the president said on Thursday. “These delays would have stopped us from completing the Census on time.”

Initially, the Department of Commerce said they would skirt the legal battle and print the 2020 Census forms without the citizenship question. However, Trump insisted on Twitter that the administration continue to fight the issue in the courts.

“The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question,” Trump wrote.

Barr added that it is “reasonable” to want to know how many citizens reside in the U.S., but noted that it would be impossible to obtain relief from Supreme Court injunctions before the 2020 Census without “jeopardizing our ability to carry out the Census.”

“So as a practical matter, the Supreme Court’s decision closed all paths to adding the question to the 2020 Census. Put simply, the impediment was not — was a logistical impediment, not a legal one. We simply cannot complete the litigation in time to carry out the census,” Barr argued.