President Donald Trump said Thursday that his administration is backing down from an effort to add a question inquiring about citizenship to the 2020 U.S. census.
Instead, he announced an executive order requiring federal government agencies to turn over all requested records on citizenship numbers to the Commerce Department as part of an effort to calculate the number of citizens and noncitizens.
For Sen. Ben Cardin, Trump’s executive order was a “cover” for his decision not to ask the question on the Census. Much like the president’s Fourth of July festivities, Cardin said, the order was meant to appeal to his base with little regard to taxpayer dollars.
Accumulating citizenship data will require manpower and could be costly, said Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. Plus, there’s no telling what the data will be used for, he added.
Cardin is worried that even though the question will not appear on Census surveys, the damage to participation has already been done.
“It’s already put a chilling effect on people participating with any government Census-taking,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “He’s put this fear of government not being on your side.”
For Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore, Thursday’s address revealed that the Trump administration’s previous assertions that its pursuit of the citizenship question was meant to help protect minority voting rights was a “sham.”
“The President has just admitted what his Administration has been denying for two years — that he wants citizenship data in order to gerrymander legislative districts in partisan and discriminatory ways,” Cummings said in a statement.
The Supreme Court had blocked the question, and at a Rose Garden news conference Thursday, Trump, a Republican, and his attorney general, William Barr, said there simply isn’t time for them to relitigate before conducting the census.
Activists and officials alike have expressed worries that a citizenship question would discourage census participation among immigrants. Government experts have estimated that it could spur an undercount somewhere in the millions, likely lessening Democratic representation in Congress and decreasing the flow of federal dollars to immigrant-heavy communities.
Cummings added that the administration should still turn over all the documents subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee, which he chairs, “or else the House will vote to hold Attorney General Barr and Secretary [Wilbur] Ross in criminal contempt.”
The committee issued subpoenas for justice and commerce department internal memos and emails about the citizenship question back in April.
Trump’s announcement was a welcome reprieve for Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat.