Trump surrenders on identifying, counting non-citizens using 2020 census

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By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

The 2020 census questionnaire will not ask about citizenship status, President Trump announced on Thursday, retreating to Plan C after being blocked by legal challenges, admonished by the Supreme Court for a “contrived” rationale and buffeted by statutory deadlines he could not alter.

The administration will instead follow a course proposed more than a year ago to assemble available data from federal departments and agencies that may help determine the number of citizens and non-citizens living in the United States, Trump said.

“It will be, we think, far more accurate,” he added during a Rose Garden event to explain an executive order that instructs the Department of Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration and other agencies to share with the Commerce Department relevant data already in existence.

The Census Bureau has said it can collect citizenship records from many federal sources, including the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Bristling at criticism that he caved at the end of months of court challenges and confusing public remarks that a citizenship question might accompany the census survey next year, Trump insisted “we are not backing down.”

“We must have a reliable count of how many citizens, non-citizens and illegal aliens are in our country,” the president said, adding that his administration will leave “no stone unturned.”

Trump, accompanied by Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, described his focus on citizenship in starkly political terms.

“As shocking as it may be, far-left Democrats in our country are determined to conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst. They probably know the number is far greater, much higher than anyone would have ever believed before,” he said. “Maybe that’s why they fight so hard. This is part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen, and it is very unfair to our country.”

Barr twice congratulated Trump for deciding on a fallback that “will yield the best data the government has had in many decades,” arguing that the president’s census posture would have been upheld by the Supreme Court if there had been time to submit “a better record” than the initial Justice Department rationale about trying to protect voting rights, which the court described as “contrived.”

Separately, the House earlier in the day announced plans to vote next week to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with bipartisan subpoenas issued as part of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s probe of the administration’s push to use the census to glean citizenship information. The House still plans to proceed with that vote if Barr and Ross do not turn over the subpoenaed documents, Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement Thursday night.

Many demographers and analysts, including inside the Commerce Department, object to the census as a vehicle to ask about citizenship because they believe fear and confusion in some households could lead to undercounting the population, which could impact congressional districts, federal funding and benefits.

The attorney general assailed the “media” for what he said was “rank speculation” that Trump flirted with defying court orders with executive action or delaying the census, although the president did both on Twitter and in public comments.

Trump described his determination to both identify and quantify non-citizens and undocumented immigrants living in the United States against the backdrop of his reelection bid, in which his hardline border policies endear him to many supporters.

Trump has said his administration will soon deport thousands of immigrants living illegally in major U.S. cities. A multi-city purge by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is to begin on Sunday, according to The New York Times and other news outlets.

Before he ducked back into the Oval Office as skies blackened before an evening rain storm, the president averted his gaze and warded off reporters’ shouted questions with a raised arm.

The Hill: A new phase is set to open in Trump’s immigration war.

The Hill: Trump drops bid to put citizenship question on the 2020 census.

CNN: Here’s how the Census Bureau can find out who is a U.S. citizen.

Harry Litman: We just dodged a constitutional crisis with the census.

Amy Howe, SCOTUSblog: Background in courts leading up to Trump’s announcement.

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