President Donald Trump may have just undermined the effort to get a citizenship question added to the 2020 census by identifying his administration’s real motives behind the effort.
Responding to reporters outside the White House on Friday, the president said the question was necessary “for many reasons.”
“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for districting,” Trump said. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”
But the reasons Trump named don’t exactly line up with his administration’s official talking points.
Since Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, moved to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census in 2018, the Trump administration has claimed the query is necessary to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Those challenging the question said there’s a partisan motive behind the effort. Congressional districts are apportioned based on total population, regardless of citizenship. But with a citizenship question added to the census, experts and activists say it could discourage people of color from participating and privilege conservative and rural areas with smaller noncitizen populations.
By its own analysis, the Census Bureau has estimated millions of people could be left out of the census count if a citizenship question is added to the survey. Republican consultant Thomas Hofeller, who ghostwrote portions of what would later become the Justice Department’s formal request to add the citizenship question to the census, wrote that adding the question would pave the way for redistricting that would increase the political power of “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” according to documents revealed in federal court in May.
Trump’s comment on Friday that the question is needed for “districting” appears to give weight to that argument.
The president’s remarks come the same day his administration missed a deadline to provide an adequate justification for adding the citizenship question.
The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the administration from adding the question, ruling last week that the Department of Commerce had not provided an adequate explanation for its decision to do so. On Wednesday, a federal judge gave the administration a deadline of 2 p.m. on Friday to provide that explanation, which it did not meet.
Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing on Friday they would continue to look for ways to add the question to the census.
“The Departments of Commerce and Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, that would allow for the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census,” the lawyers wrote.
Later on Friday, a Maryland federal judge denied the administration’s request for a delay in discovery pertaining to the claims of the plaintiffs challenging the question in court.