Without enough time to fight a protracted court battle to get a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census, President Donald Trump on Thursday abandoned that effort, instead ordering federal agencies to turn over records in a bid to have the Department of Commerce come up with an alternate count of the number of non-citizens in the United States.
"We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete and accurate count of the non-citizen population," President Trump said.
"We must have a reliable count of how many citizens, non-citizens, and illegal aliens are in our country," Mr. Trump added, as he said he was not 'backing down' on the census issue.
"It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and noncitizens that make up the US population," President Trump says pic.twitter.com/SKHZ0Xijld— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 11, 2019
But bubbling beneath the President's announcement was a distinct acknowledgment that the Trump Administration had bungled the legal rationale for adding a citizenship question, and that was the main reason it would not be on the main 2020 Census form.
"In my view, the government has ample justification to inquire about citizenship status on the Census, and could plainly provide rationales for doing so that would satisfy the Supreme Court," said Attorney General William Barr.
But Barr said there was not enough time left to make the legal changes to the arguments presented by the Commerce Department, which were called "contrived" by Chief Justice John Roberts.
"Put simply, it was a logistical impediment, not a legal one," Barr added.
The President's decision to back down - and the admission by the Attorney General that the Trump Administration had bungled the legal arguments to support a citizenship question - left some Republicans on Capitol Hill shaking their heads.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) - a former federal prosecutor, who had encouraged the President to fight on - said the 'swamp' had won with Mr. Trump's decision.
70% issue to put citizenship question on census... pick fight, make crappy arguments, court says legal but make better arguments, roll over. #SwampWins— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) July 11, 2019
"The fact is he lost. The rule of law won. He had no other choice," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA).
"Even he knew he lost this fight," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).
The citizenship question was last asked on the regular census form in 1950, as it was moved later to a longer form which was sent to about one in six households.
Starting in the mid-1990's, the long form transitioned into a Census Bureau survey known as the “American Community Survey” - and the citizenship question was included in that yearly, through the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations.
It's not clear how accurate the President's executive order option will be in determining the number of illegal immigrants in the United States - it was an option suggested by the Census Bureau back in 2017.