WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Wednesday that the Commerce Department is “absolutely moving forward” with plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, contradicting statements made by his Department of Justice and Wilbur Ross, the Commerce secretary, and calling reports based on them “fake.”
It was the second time in two days that Mr. Trump said he was directing the Commerce Department to defy a decision made by the Supreme Court last week that blocked the plan, which critics contend is part of an administration effort to skew the census results in favor of Republicans. On Tuesday, the Justice Department said that the census was being printed without the citizenship question and Mr. Ross said that he was heeding the court’s ruling.
But the president is not letting the matter go.
“The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!” Mr. Trump wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”
Mr. Trump’s statements notwithstanding, both the Justice Department and the Commerce Department have stated in writing that the next census will not include a question on citizenship.
Mr. Ross said in a statement on Tuesday that “the Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question.” And in a teleconference on Tuesday conducted by the federal judge overseeing two Maryland lawsuits on the issue, Justice Department lawyers confirmed that the government would take no further legal steps to add the citizenship question to the questionnaire.
Regulatory and legal experts largely agree that administration’s chances of retaining the question were exceedingly dim in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to block it.
The administration itself had argued to the justices only this month that legal challenges to the question had to be resolved because the printing of census forms could not be delayed past early July. But the only avenue the court left open to restoring the question — producing and winning approval of a new explanation justifying it — would have taken weeks, if not months to complete.
Census results are used to determine House of Representatives seats and for drawing political maps at all levels of government across the country. They are also used to allot federal funding for social services. Adding the citizenship question could lead to an undercounting in areas with large numbers of immigrants, who tend to vote Democratic, potentially costing Democrats representation and government funding.
A Commerce Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.