WASHINGTON — Reversing himself, President Donald Trump is now expected to drop efforts to get a citizenship question on the 2020 census, telling supporters Thursday the Supreme Court would not let him do it and suggesting he will seek citizenship information by other means.
“I think we have a solution that will be very good for a lot of people,” Trump said while hosting a social media summit at the White House.
Hours earlier, administration officials told reporters Trump was planning to announce an executive order that would authorize a citizenship question on the census.
“We will all go to the beautiful Rose Garden for a News Conference on the Census and Citizenship,” Trump said in a morning tweet promoting the social media summit.
But by Thursday afternoon, officials said he might not go that far after all, citing a “fluid” discussion among the president and his aides.
Trump did not tip his hand during the social media summit, but did criticize the recent Supreme Court decision blocking the citizenship question. He said census takers can ask about all sorts of information in households, but not ask if the people living there are U.S. citizens.
“It’s the craziest thing,” Trump said. “Pretty amazing.”
ABC News reported that Trump is expected to announce “he is backing down from his effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” and will instead take executive action to instruct the government “to obtain an estimate of U.S. citizenship through other means.”
Administration officials denied he was backing down, saying he still plans to obtain citizenship information.
Trump is scheduled to make an announcement at 5 p.m. ET.
Any executive action to include a citizenship question would likely be challenged in court by organizations who say the administration is deliberately trying to undercount minorities, making it easier to draw Republican-friendly congressional districts.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has described Trump’s citizenship question as effort to “make America white again,” said the government is already printing census forms. She predicted that judges would block Trump’s new efforts to get a citizenship count in light of the Supreme Court decision.
“He has to get around that injunction,” Pelosi said. “In the meantime, we’re printing the forms.”
Trump is expected to sign some kind of document on citizenship, but will comply with legal precedent, two administration officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in deference to the president’s announcement.
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In its June 27 ruling, the Supreme Court said the administration had not justified its support for a citizenship question, and it sent the matter back to the Commerce Department. The administration could come up with a new justification and re-litigate the issue, but that could take months.
Adding a citizenship question to the census would affect some 22 million noncitizens. Even if only a small percentage of them refused to return the questionnaire, it would alter the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives and about $650 billion in federal funds.
Trump and aides have said the U.S. is entitled to know how many citizens are in the country.
“The president wants to know who is in the country legally and lawfully,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley. “The American people have a right to know.”
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In a case decided by a 5-4 vote, Chief Justice John Roberts said he did not find the administration’s justification for the question to be credible. The administration had said it needed citizenship data to help prepare for voting rights cases, even though Trump’s team has yet to engage in that kind of litigation.
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Contributing: Richard Wolf, Kevin Johnson