Trump Drops Census Effort, Announces New Plan To ‘Count’ Noncitizens

President Donald Trump lost a battle Thursday when he dropped his bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but by reviving the effort in dramatic fashion he amassed more ammunition for his coming reelection campaign.

During an unrelated social media forum event at the White House, Trump criticized federal judges and the Supreme Court for blocking his attempt to add the question, calling it a “left-wing” effort to erode rights. And he teased a “solution.” Once in the Rose Garden to address the citizenship matter, he declared, “we are not backing down.”

What he announced, however, was not census-related. He announced an executive order that mandates each federal department give the Commerce Department every record about noncitizens and citizens who are on U.S. soil to get “an accurate count of the noncitizen population.” He vowed to “leave no stone unturned.”

Attorney General William Barr, who spoke after Trump, called the administration’s decision a “logistical” one rather than a “legal” one. That’s because, he said, officials determined there was “no way” to finish expected court cases before the census count must begin.

Trump’s executive order parallels an option suggested by the Census Bureau before Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision last year to add a citizenship question to the census. A report from the agency’s chief scientist pointed to the possible use of Social Security and other records to identify citizens.

The Commerce Department has increased its reliance on administrative records more broadly for this census cycle, aiming to fill in information that was left out of census questionnaires.

“The 2020 re-elect is a big factor in this battle for Trump. Obviously, President Trump wants the Republican base to believe that he is fighting tooth and nail for them,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. But to say that is the only factor would be a drastic mischaracterization.

O’Connell, also an adjunct professor at George Washington University, offered some insights about Trump’s apparent strategy.

“Remember why Democrats don’t want the [citizenship] question: They don’t want people to have hard data on exactly how many illegal immigrants could possibly be in this country. This would destroy their whole narrative,” he said, contending that Democrats underestimate the number of undocumented migrants inside the United States. “Remember, this data could help Trump change public opinion about his immigration policies should he win reelection.”

Read more from John T. Bennett at Roll Call

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