Can Donald Trump hack through the Gordian knot of two lawsuits over his attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census? It sure looks like Trump will give it a try. Earlier this morning, Trump announced a press conference on the subject as multiple news outlets reported that an executive order would be its centerpiece:
The White House will be hosting a very big and very important Social Media Summit today. Would I have become President without Social Media? Yes (probably)! At its conclusion, we will all go to the beautiful Rose Garden for a News Conference on the Census and Citizenship.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2019
CNN’s White House sources say the EO will drop at the same time, but they’re being coy as to its contents so far:
President Donald Trump is expected to announce an executive action on the census Thursday, multiple White House officials said. …
Some type of direct action by Trump has been one of several avenues explored by the administration to place the question on the decennial population survey following the late June Supreme Court ruling. But any action by the President is likely to be challenged in court.
The Washington Post got an even more ambiguous read from its own administration sources:
White House officials did not immediately confirm Thursday morning that Trump would announce an executive order at the Rose Garden event — a move he has telegraphed for days.
The Supreme Court has called the administration’s rationale for the question “contrived” and said the government could not go forward without a solid justification.
Speaking to reporters at the White House last week, Trump said the question was needed “for many reasons.”
He raised the possibility that some kind of addendum could be printed separately after further litigation of the issue.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “We could start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision. So we’re working on a lot of things, including an executive order.”
That prompts an obvious question: an EO to do what, exactly? It can’t be to order the inclusion of the question, because that’s the point being reviewed by the courts. The Supreme Court left Trump hanging by demanding a better justification for adding the question back into the census, but time had arguably run out for any changes before the printing needs to start. (Trump’s legal team had argued that July 1 was the drop-dead date for adding the question.)
The Post’s suggestion of printing a supplement might make some sense as an EO. The idea would be to get the regular printing done in a timely manner and have the supplemental form on hand if the courts give him a go-ahead. Would that require a formal EO, however? Probably not, but the formal EO would give Trump an opportunity to showcase his efforts and to rally public sentiment. The public is already behind Trump on the issue of identifying US citizens in the census, although one would hardly know it from the handwringing in the media over a question that once was rather routine in previous censuses.
It’s a smart move to hold a presser on this subject while the public remains on Trump’s side, especially after the setbacks in court this week. Trump will want to make sure everyone knows that he’s still fighting to get the question added, or more basically that he’s still fighting period. The EO itself is secondary, and it’s not likely to make a dramatic change to the course of the issue.
By the time of the 3:45 ET speech and presser, we will know more, of course. We’ll also get a sense of the outcome of the social-media summit and whether the White House will get embarrassed any further after yesterday’s pas de d’oh! with Ben Garrison. Set your Twitter follows and Facebook friending accordingly. In the meantime, be sure to read HA alum Bryan Preston’s argument as to why the question should be included in the census — and indeed was included every time until 2010. Here’s a brief excerpt:
The census is at the heart of representation in our republic. The Constitution explicitly connects the census to representation of citizens. Citizenship has been a routine part of the census for most of our national existence, and resuming capturing this data ought not be controversial. Objections to the citizenship question are speculative at best, disingenuous at worst. The citizenship question is only controversial because like nearly everything else in American life, some want to use the census to serve their own political power plays.