Conservatives ask Barr to lay out Trump's rationale for census question

A group of House conservatives is calling on Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham Barr DOJ says surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Page lacked evidence Senators press DHS over visa approval for Pensacola naval base shooter Democrats sharpen case on second day of arguments MORE to lay out President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE’s rationale for adding a question on citizenship to the 2020 census, as lawmakers brace for Trump to issue a potential executive order on the issue.

In a letter to Barr on Wednesday led by Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyThey chose life: Why a story of hope and possibility should be one remembered this month Budget watchdogs howl over deficit-ballooning deals Democrats launch bilingual ad campaign off drug pricing bill MORE (R-Texas) and signed by 18 other Republicans, the lawmakers asked for information to be provided in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling last month against adding the citizenship question to the decennial survey.

“We are writing today to encourage you to work with President Trump to support the issuance of a memorandum or executive order appropriate under our Constitution and laws to clearly outline the President's rationale for including a citizenship question on the census,” they wrote.

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“Inclusion of such a citizenship question is clearly constitutional and lawful, and as members of Congress we can say unequivocally that we support inclusion of such a question and that it is critical that the President do so as quickly as possible as we prepare for the coming census."

The lawmakers added that "there are numerous important reasons to include the question on the census, of which the President clearly is aware.”

The push for a document laying out the president’s reasoning comes as Trump is expected to issue an order or presidential memorandum requiring the Department of Commerce to include the question on the 2020 census amid several legal setbacks on the issue in recent days.

Efforts to add the question to the census have received sharp pushback from Democrats, with critics arguing it could deter individuals from responding to the survey, which could lead to the population being undercounted. The census is used to calculate how federal funding can be allocated to different states, as well as for drawing congressional districts.

The group of conservatives argue the question is necessary for “determining appropriations levels for states and localities and having data for states to make decisions on ballot box placement, to collection of data for purposes of understanding the impact of immigration (legal and illegal) on communities, as well as obviously impacting apportionment and re-districting.”

The GOP lawmakers also pushed back on accusations the question is unconstitutional and being done for political reasons.  

“Setting aside the fact it remains an unsettled question as to whether states can, in fact, use citizenship data in redistricting, the 14th Amendment demands that we take into account citizenship in allocation of representation,” they maintained. 

“Under section 2 of the 14th Amendment - and as further amended by the 19th and 26th Amendments - in order that we be able to enforce the penalty put in place by the Amendment's authors and ratifiers for any interference with the right to vote, the administration arguably is required to capture the citizenship information.”

The members went on to say that while the Supreme Court has stopped the question for now, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that he believes the Commerce Department still has the authority to add a citizenship question to the census, albeit not for the reasons provided to the court.

“But in truth, the opinion is very clear that the administration most certainly can include a citizenship question. Even more, the Court's opinion stated that the Secretary has very good reason to choose to ask the question on the census, as opposed to relying upon the less complete community surveys and rejected the District Court's conclusion on this point,” the letter states. 

“The question should be included, a majority of Americans agree, and the President would be correct to include the question with a new rationale in light of the Supreme Court's decision,” the lawmakers continued. “We again encourage its inclusion, and for the census to be printed with it as soon as possible."

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The Department of Commerce announced the addition of the citizenship question last year, saying it would help DOJ enforce the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court shot down that reasoning in their ruling last month, while the administration has continued to push to include it in recent days.

Jacqueline Thomsen contributed.