Buttigieg: Trump census reversal a 'face-saving' recognition that 'he's been on the wrong side'

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegCalifornia poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Buttigieg unveils disaster response plan focused on communities Poll: Biden holds five-point lead over Warren among New York Democrats MORE on Thursday lambasted President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE's reversal on previous plans to push for a citizenship question on the 2020 census, calling the move a "face-saving way to recognize that he's been on the wrong side."

Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said in an interview with CNN that Trump's decision earlier Thursday to drop his administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census shows that the president is "recognizing reality and backing down."

"It sounds like a face-saving way to recognize that he's been on the wrong side of the law throughout," he said. "There are any number of ways to do research on issues like immigration, but tinkering with the census was clearly racially and politically motivated."

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"It's why it was held to be unlawful by the courts," Buttigieg added.  "And it sounds — although he changes his mind from day to day, so you don't really know for sure but — it sounds like he was at least at last recognizing reality and backing down."

Trump said Thursday that he would issue an executive order requiring federal agencies to provide the Commerce Department information on citizens and noncitizens in the United States. The move came after the Supreme Court ruled late last month that a citizenship question could not be added to the 2020 census because the administration’s reasoning — that the question was necessary to help enforce the Voting Rights Act — was "contrived."

Trump's plan had faced intense scrutiny from those who warned that the question could lead to an undercount by discouraging participation among immigrants and citizens who fear they could expose undocumented family members. Possible undercounts, critics warned, may cause certain areas to lose out on federal funding and have their congressional districts unfavorably redrawn.

The proposal faced further scrutiny after evidence showed that a Republican redistricting strategist played a significant role in the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the census, undercutting the administration’s argument that the question is needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Kamala Harris calls for new investigation into Kavanaugh allegations MORE (D-Mass.), a fellow 2020 contender, also took aim at Trump's reversal on Thursday, quipping, "Wow, he’s going to follow the law?" 

"This is not about trying to find out real information about citizenship and non-citizenship in America. This is just about trying to stir up more hate. To try to get some more people excited," she added.