Breaking: Trump to give up on including citizenship question in census?

Man, this is unexpected. As of a few hours ago, it looked like he was about to pull the trigger on executive action that would force the question onto the census whether the Supreme Court liked it or not. Then it would have been up to SCOTUS to either give in or try to stop him. If it gave in, it would be a huge blow to the Court’s prestige, an unhappy outcome for John Roberts.

But if it tried to stop him, we’d be facing a constitutional crisis.

The stars seemed to have aligned, then. Trump was set to show his fans that he fights! by issuing the order, on a day when he has hardcore Trumpers surrounding him for the White House’s social media summit. Now here comes ABC to say that the plan’s been scrapped. Trump’s going to let the census go out without the citizenship question and have the feds figure out another way to survey the public about citizenship.

President Donald Trump is expected to announce later Thursday he is backing down from his effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, and will instead take executive action that instructs the Commerce Department to survey the American public on the question through other means, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

The expected announcement will bring to a close weeks of escalating confusion within the government over his demands that the controversial question be included despite a Supreme Court order that had blocked the move. The White House declined to comment about what exactly the president plans to announce.

As recently as Thursday morning, administration officials had been repeatedly suggested the president would take executive action calling for the question be added to the census. It was not immediately clear when and why the final decision was made not to move forward with that plan.

When they say that Commerce will “survey the American public on the [citizenship] question through other means,” do they mean through an entirely separate survey? Or do they mean that Commerce will go ahead and print the census without the citizenship question but also print a supplemental page on citizenship to be included in the census if the court battle goes forward and Trump wins? That’s what Trump himself had suggested might happen, per Ed’s post this afternoon. A lot depends on the answer. It’s the census itself that matters for districting purposes; if the plan here is to exclude illegals from the count in order to shift legislative power away from immigrant-heavy blue districts then the citizenship question has to be in the census, not in a separate survey. I’m not sure what purpose the separate survey would serve except as an academic look into the size of the total illegal population.

Maybe the “separate survey” isn’t separate after all but just a supplement to the census itself. Or maybe Trump thinks the separate survey could be tacked onto the census retroactively with court approval. He’s going to speak at 3:45 ET and clear this up.

Assuming he really is planning to throw in the towel on adding citizenship to the census, why the sudden cave? I’ll give you three theories.

1. It’s just too late. The deadline for settling the citizenship issue and getting the census to the printers was supposedly June 30. Supposedly printing has already begun on a version without the citizenship question. Maybe Wilbur Ross huddled with his deputies and let Trump know that it’s not logistically feasible to change course at this point, especially with more litigation ahead.

2. The DOJ was set to revolt. POTUS’s lawyers at the Justice Department have made a giant mess of this matter because the administration can’t get its story straight about why they want the citizenship question included. Is it to enforce the Voting Rights Act? To locate illegals for deportation? To redistrict the House to exclude illegals from the count? It was such a hash that maybe the White House concluded the legal case was unwinnable at this point and that if Trump tried to include the question anyway the Supreme Court would shut him down and humiliate him.

3. Trump already won, sort of. If the idea is to exclude illegal immigrants from the count, it’s a cinch that some immigrants will be so nervous about answering the census after all the media attention to this matter that they’ll end up throwing it in the trash when they get it. That is, blue districts are destined to underreport precisely because the legal battle here will have convinced some not to take a risk by sending their census questionnaire in. Maybe Trump considered that enough of a victory that he could afford to let the dispute quietly drop.

He’s speaking in exactly one hour. Stay tuned.