President Trump, speaking at the White House on Thursday, announced that he would “immediately” issue an executive order to get an accurate count of non-citizens and citizens in the United States — a measure Trump said would be “far more accurate” than relying on a citizenship question in the 2020 census.
The move would make use of “vast” federal databases and free up information sharing among various federal agencies concerning who they know is in the country, Trump said.
“Today I’m here to say we are not backing down in our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” the president told reporters, after slamming Democrats he said were playing politics with national security. “We will leave no stone unturned.”
He called legal opposition to adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census “meritless.”
Speaking after Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr said the information collected via the executive order could be useful in determining the makeup of the Electoral College and congressional apportionment.
“That information will be used for countless purposes. For example, there is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes. … We will be studying this issue,” Barr said.
Census counts — which by law include illegal immigrants — are used to determine the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years, the makeup of the Electoral College and the distribution of some $675 billion in federal spending.
The Census Bureau’s own experts have said requiring information about citizenship would discourage illegal immigrants from participating and lead to a less accurate count. That, in turn, would redistribute money and political power away from many cities led by Democrats where immigrants tend to cluster.
Barr also said a Supreme Court decision last month posed insurmountable “logistical” — but not “legal” — barriers to asking the citizenship question on the census. The government already has started the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without the question.
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Trump emphasized his exasperation at the situation earlier in the day at a White House conference focused on social media censorship of conservatives.
“We spend $20 billion on a census,” Trump told attendees. “They go through houses, they go up, they ring doorbells, they talk to people. How many toilets do they have? How many desks do they have? How many beds? What’s their roof made of? The only thing we can’t ask is, are you a citizen of the United States. Isn’t it the craziest thing?”
The president had said last week that he was “very seriously” considering an executive order to try to force the citizenship question’s inclusion.
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Earlier Thursday, ABC News first reported that Trump would “back down” from his efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and instead would “take executive action that instructs the Commerce Department to obtain an estimate of U.S. citizenship through other means.”
Multiple sources confirmed that reporting to Fox News.
Trump’s administration has faced numerous roadblocks to adding the question, beginning with the ruling by the Supreme Court temporarily barring its inclusion on the grounds that the government’s justification was insufficient. The court challenged the reasoning given that the Justice Department wanted the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court’s four more liberal members in last month’s decision and was openly skeptical about that justification.
A federal judge on Wednesday also rejected the Justice Department’s plan to replace the legal team fighting for inclusion, a day after another federal judge in Manhattan issued a similar ruling, saying the government can’t replace nine lawyers so late in the dispute without satisfactorily explaining why.
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The Trump administration has given conflicting signals on the subject — initially planning to print the census forms without the citizenship question and then renewing the push to include it.
Trump has offered several explanations for why he believed the question was necessary to include in the once-a-decade population count.
“You need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons,” he told reporters last week.
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Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday called Trump’s efforts “outrageous” and accused him of pushing the question “to intimidate minorities, particularly Latinos, from answering the census so that it undercounts those communities and Republicans can redraw congressional districts to their advantage.”
“He thinks he can just issue executive orders and go around the Congress, go around established law and try to bully the courts,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. He predicted the effort would be thwarted by the courts.
Fox News’ John Roberts, Ronn Blitzer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.