Trump to sign executive order on collection of citizenship information

President Donald Trump campaigns for 2020 reelection in this file photo. (Source: MSNBC via MGN)
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By: Fin Gomez, Sara Cook, Kathryn Watson, Grace Segers | CBS News
July 11, 2019

President Trump will sign an executive order that deals with the collection of citizenship information Thursday, but the order will not involve the 2020 census, the president announced on Thursday.

"I'm hereby ordering every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in our country," Mr. Trump said in remarks Thursday afternoon.

The president lambasted "far-left Democrats" for trying to "the number of illegal aliens in our midst," baselessly claiming that the number of undocumented immigrants in the country is far higher than reported.

"We will defend the right of the American people to know the full facts about the population's size of citizens and non-citizens," Mr. Trump said at the beginning of his speech.

"We have great knowledge in many of our agencies. We will leave no stone unturned," Mr. Trump continued.

Attorney General William Barr affirmed that the 2020 census will not include a question on citizenship, saying "the problem is that any new decision would be subject to immediate challenge."

"We're not going to jeopardize our ability to carry out the census," Barr said.

He also implicitly addressed criticism by some Democrats that the administration wanted to add a citizenship question to affect congressional apportionment, as the question could discourage immigrants from answering the census, which in turn could affect the congressional seats in primarily blue states. Barr said that the question of citizenship could become relevant to congressional apportionment.

Mr. Trump tweeted earlier that he would be making a statement on the topic Thursday, and the census came up during the White House "social media summit" just before the president's formal statement on the matter.

Addressing a room filled with conservative social media personalities and bloggers, the president lamented that three "very unfriendly courts" won't allow a question about citizenship to be included in the census.

"Can you believe -- are you a citizen of the United States of America? 'Sir, you can't ask that question.' Why? Because the courts said you can't. We have three very unfriendly courts. They fight us all the way. Judges don't like us too much, I guess," Mr. Trump said, perhaps referring to a federal judge in Maryland who is allowing a case which claims that the proposed question discriminated against immigrants to move forward.

"They go through houses. They ring doorbells. They talk to people. 'How many toilets do they have? How many desks do they have? How many beds? What's their roof made of?' The only thing we can't ask is, 'are you a citizen of the United States?'" Mr. Trump continued, mimicking census officials conducting interviews.

The president has exhibited frustration over the Supreme Court decision blocking his administration from adding the question, ruling the government had failed to provide adequate justification for the question. Multiple legal battles over the question are still playing out in lower courts.

It isn't yet clear exactly what the executive order will entail, and there has been uncertainty evident in the West Wing about what Mr. Trump will be signing. Even the description by the White House of the afternoon signing event itself has shifted. It was initially described as a news conference, but the updated White House schedule only described the event as "remarks" — meaning reporters might not have an opportunity to ask questions. Attorney General William Barr is expected to be at the president's announcement.

Earlier Thursday, administration officials had said Mr. Trump was planning on issuing an order to add the question to the census, but the situation did not appear set in stone. Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said the president had made a decision about what to do but "anything could change before 5 o'clock," when the president is scheduled to speak.

Before the president announced he'd be making a statement on the citizenship question, administration officials inside the Justice Department expressed skepticism about the viability of an executive order to add the question to the census. A former Justice Department official told CBS News that career attorneys within the department know the executive action is unlikely to be upheld in court. And Barr initially agreed with career lawyers that it didn't make sense to further pursue the citizenship question after losing in the Supreme Court, the official said.

But when Mr. Trump insisted, Barr agreed to push forward, even in the absence of a clearly viable way to do so. Government attorneys are under pressure to come up with a new justification for adding the question to the census.

The American Civil Liberties Union is already threatening to take the administration to court.

"The Supreme Court has spoken," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "The Trump administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census is unlawful. If President Trump takes executive action, we will take legal action."

The administration is under a deadline to print the census, and indeed the census questionnaire has already been sent to the printer for printing.

Mr. Trump has previously told reporters he was considering an executive order, although he also said last week his administration was exploring other possible routes.

The House has set a date of July 16 to vote to hold Barr and Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to respond to questions about the census.

"These documents could shed light on the real reason that the Trump Administration tried to add the citizenship question," House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the administration is stonewalling our investigation and obstructing our efforts to get the information we need to do our jobs. We should not be forced to take these extreme actions to get the documents and information we need to conduct a thorough investigation. I urge Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross to change course and produce the documents we have subpoenaed on a bipartisan basis so the House is not forced to hold them in contempt of Congress."



 
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