WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday retreated from his plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, effectively conceding defeat in a battle he had revived last week and promised to continue despite recent legal defeats.
Instead, Trump said he is ordering every federal agency to give the Commerce Department records on numbers of citizens and noncitizens, including databases from the Homeland Security Department and the Social Security Administration.
“I’m proud to be a citizen, you’re proud to be a citizen; the only people that are not proud to be citizens are the ones who are fighting us all the way about the word citizen,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden.
The move comes after administration officials spent days exploring the possibility of including the question on the census despite a Supreme Court ruling last month that the government could not do so without a solid justification, calling the administration’s original rationale for the addition “contrived.”
In the wake of that ruling, the Commerce Department announced last week that it would drop the question, saying it needed to begin printing the survey. But an angry Trump reversed that decision the next day, saying he was not giving up on the issue.
“We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question,” he tweeted on July 3.
On Thursday, however, Trump scrapped that plan and said he would instead instruct agencies to provide the Commerce Department with records that could be used to compile data about the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.
“It will be, we think, far more accurate,” Trump said.
Attorney General William Barr, who attended the Rose Garden event along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, defended the administration’s effort to add the question to the census, but he said the effort had to be abandoned because a protracted legal fight would impede the administration’s ability to carry out the 2020 survey.
“We’re not going to jeopardize our ability to carry out the census,” Barr said. “So as a practical matter, the Supreme Court’s decision closed all paths,” adding that it was a “logistical” impediment, not a legal one.
Critics of the administration contend that it wanted to add the citizenship question to intimidate immigrant communities from participating in a survey that helps determine congressional districts and the disbursement of some federal funding.
Barr argued that the data is needed regardless of how it is collected.
The “information will be used for countless purposes,” he said. “For example, there is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes.”
The political tensions over Trump’s effort to collect citizenship data are certain to continue.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Thursday that the Democratic-led chamber will vote Tuesday to hold Ross and Barr in contempt of Congress for not complying with subpoenas related to the administration’s decision to include the citizenship question.
The White House has asserted executive privilege over the information. A House committee voted last month to approve the contempt resolution against Ross and Barr.