Trump appears to contradict officials, says census citizenship question not abandoned

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE stirred confusion on Wednesday by saying that reports his administration is halting its effort to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census are “FAKE,” even though multiple departments have said the question is being dropped.

“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,” he tweeted.

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The Supreme Court ruled last week that the question could not be added, but said the Commerce Department, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, could try and do so later by providing a different explanation.

But the Trump administration announced on Tuesday it would not move forward with the effort, with the Commerce and Justice departments saying the decision had been made to print census materials without the citizenship question. 

“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. My focus, and that of the bureau and the entire department, is to conduct a complete and accurate census,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossUS ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out US imposes new sanctions on Cuba over human rights, Venezuela Commerce Department to develop stats on income inequality MORE said Tuesday in a statement. 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request to clarify the president's tweet. The Hill has also reached out to the Commerce and Justice departments for comment.

An email obtained by The Hill on Tuesday showed that Justice Department lawyer Kate Bailey told groups challenging the citizenship question that “the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process.”

A lawyer involved in a separate lawsuit on the citizenship question in Maryland told The Hill that the Justice Department again confirmed during a teleconference on Tuesday evening that it would not move forward with efforts to include the citizenship question on the 2020 census. 

An administration official said Tuesday that Trump had been advised of the decision. 

The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling last week found that the Trump administration's stated reason for adding the citizenship question – enforcing the Voting Rights Act – didn't match up with evidence in the case. The justices sent the matter back to the Commerce Department to provide another reason for adding the question.

Critics of the citizenship question had warned that it could cause an undercount of the population, particularly for minority groups like Hispanics who might skip the question or the census altogether.

Administration lawyers had repeatedly argued in court filings that they needed to finalize whether the question would appear on the census by June 30, in order to make a July 1 printing deadline. The administration appeared to have missed that deadline, but said on Tuesday that the printer had been instructed to move forward with forms that did not include a citizenship question.

Administering the census is an expensive endeavor, encompassing billions of dollars in federal funding. And any delay in the census would likely add to that price tag, as the printer would have to work overtime to get it out on time.

The census must start by April 2020, and completed by the end of the year. The decennial survey is mandated under the Constitution, and the data is used for a variety of purposes like drawing congressional districts and allocating federal funds to states.

A delay of the census would be all but certain to trigger its own legal challenges.

If the Trump administration were to reverse and move forward with efforts to include the citizenship question on the census, a federal judge in Maryland may still be able to block the question's inclusion on separate legal grounds.

Judge George Hazel, an Obama appointee, had been tasked with reviewing whether there was a discriminatory intent behind the question's inclusion on the survey, in light of new evidence alleging a late GOP redistricting strategist played a previously undisclosed role in adding the citizenship question to the census. That's a different legal challenge than the one presented to the Supreme Court.

--This report was updated at 11:51 a.m.