Trump drops bid to add citizenship question to 2020 census

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE said Thursday he is dropping his administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a reversal that comes days after he demanded his team push forward after the Supreme Court blocked the move. 

Trump said that he would instead issue an executive order requiring federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department information on citizens and noncitizens in the United States, a process he said would provide a more accurate count.

“Today, I am here to say we are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” Trump said during remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House, flanked by Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Space race is on: US can't afford congressional inaction in this critical economic sector Trump escalates fight over tax on tech giants MORE and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrHolder rips into William Barr: 'He is unfit to lead the Justice Department' Five takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE.

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“I'm proud to be a citizen,” Trump continued. “You're proud to be a citizen. The only people that are not proud to be citizens are the ones who are fighting us all the way about the word ‘citizen.’ "

The Justice Department confirmed that it will no longer pursue the question’s addition in court. Spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement the executive order “represents an alternative path to collecting the best citizenship data now available” and the department would tell the courts the administration “will not include a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census.”

Census materials — without a citizenship question — were already being printed amid the back-and-forth at the White House.

The decision caps off months of intense legal and political fights that touched on issues of race, immigration status and voting rights. 

The legal battle was fought across three different federal courts before making it to the Supreme Court, which ruled late last month that the question could not be added to the 2020 census because the administration’s reasoning was "contrived." The administration had argued that the question was necessary to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The Commerce Department responded last week by saying it would drop the effort and print census materials without the question. 

But a frustrated Trump tweeted the next day that he was not giving up the fight and later said he was “seriously” considering an executive order to force its inclusion, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Administration officials spent the past week exploring options to add the question to the census. Trump said they concluded that providing another rationale for the question’s addition, as the justices said the government could do, would take too long and result in additional legal challenges.

“The case is already in three federal district courts that have been, to be totally honest, extremely unfriendly to us,” Trump said. “These delays would have prevented us from completing the census on time.”

Democratic leaders, state governments and activist groups that challenged the question declared victory on Thursday.

“The president’s retreat on adding the misguided citizen question to the census was long overdue and is a significant victory for democracy and fair representation,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, blasting Trump's “ham-handed” push to add the question to the census despite court rulings. 

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Critics argued that the question would have resulted in an undercount on the census by discouraging participation among both immigrants and citizens who fear they could expose family members living illegally in the U.S. That may have resulted in certain areas losing federal funding and having their congressional districts unfavorably redrawn — both of which depend on the census.

“Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.

California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraSecond federal judge blocks Trump from using military funds for border wall California recovers M from auto parts makers' in bid rigging settlement Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings MORE (D), who also fought the citizenship question in federal court, said that Trump’s concession “is a victory for all Americans, no matter how he tries to frame it.”

“The bottom line remains: everyone must count in our nation and no one should be pushed into the shadows,” he said in a statement.

Trump nonetheless defended the effort, saying “it is essential we have a clear breakdown” of the citizen and non citizen population as something that is “vital to formulating sound public policy” on health care, civil rights, education and immigration.

An administration official told The Hill earlier Thursday that Trump would announce an executive action related to the citizenship question. But Barr insisted during Thursday’s remarks that an executive order forcing the question onto the census “has never been under consideration.”

Legal experts had warned against any potential attempts by Trump to add the citizenship question to the census in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling. They were highly skeptical that any presidential directives in favor of the question’s addition would hold up in court.

The Census Bureau has repeatedly said it could collect better citizenship data without adding the question to the census, where it has not appeared since 1950. The agency itself released studies that showed the question would ultimately lead to an inaccurate count of the population.

The American Community Survey, which surveys a fraction of the population each year, includes a citizenship question and the bureau believed it could combine those results with other federal records to create a better count.

But Ross rejected use of federal records for determining the number of citizens in the U.S. in his original memo announcing the citizenship question, arguing that it “would provide an incomplete picture.”

Outside the Supreme Court, the Trump administration faced additional legal roadblocks toward adding the question in federal court proceedings in New York and Maryland.

Judge Jesse Furman, an Obama appointee in New York, is weighing whether officials involved in the matter should be sanctioned for allegedly making inaccurate representations about the question’s orchestration.

And Judge George Hazel, an Obama appointee in Maryland, had been tasked with determining whether there was a discriminatory intent behind the question’s addition.

It’s unclear as to whether those cases will continue in light of the question being dropped from the 2020 census.

Hazel on Wednesday blocked the Justice Department’s attempt to replace the legal team fighting for the question’s inclusion, one day after Furman made a similar ruling. The shakeup of the legal team was seen by some as a sign of internal strife within the administration over the fight.

The issue continues to reverberate on Capitol Hill, where the House will vote next week on whether to hold Ross and Barr in contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas in congressional investigation of the citizenship question.

Updated 7:10 p.m.