Full Steam Ahead! Why Trump’s Census Cave Isn’t A Cave At All

President Donald Trump makes a statement with Attorney General William Barr in the Rose Garden of the White House on July 11, 2019. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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The citizenship question will not be on the 2020 census, President Trump said Thursday, in Rose Garden remarks where he appeared downcast and aggrieved.

But in the same remarks he and Attorney General Bill Barr made clear that they were doubling down on a central goal of putting the question on the census: to erase immigrant communities from the count to determine political power in the United States.

His comments — read mostly from prepared remarks and delivered grumpily — took shots at the groups that fought the question in court and the judges who blocked the question, as he threw some anti-immigrant red meat for his base.

Trump is ordering the Commerce Department to collect citizenship data from other government agencies, and his administration intends to use that data to try to reshape the structure of American democracy in away that will boost Republicans to the detriment of Democratic-leaning immigrant communities.

Trump said specifically that the data will be useful for states that want to draw legislative districts based on a citizen-based metric, rather than total population, as is nearly universally done now.

That means in red states like Texas, where the immigration population is growing, Republican lawmakers will be able to decrease the number of representatives those communities — many of them urban and Democratic-leaning — get, while increasing seats given to the white and more rural parts of the states.

In announcing the move, Trump essentially confirmed what was long believed to be a key endgame of the census citizenship question.

But Attorney General Bill Barr went even farther. After Trump said that the data the Commerce Department would produce would include the number of “illegal aliens” in the United States (something the proposed citizenship question would not have asked), Barr said data on undocumented immigrants could be useful for the purpose of deciding how many U.S. congressional seats each state gets, in the process known as apportionment.

Currently, like redistricting, apportionment is done using total population. In fact the Constitution mandates that apportionment be done based on all people.

However, Barr described there being a “dispute” over counting undocumented immigrants in apportionment, and said the data the administration is now collecting could be useful once that so-called dispute is resolved.

This too would have major implications for a shift in political power from diverse, more urban areas of the country, to white, more rural — and more Republican — states.

Even as Trump and his attorney general laid out their plan to solidify the Republican Party’s longterm electoral advantage, the President complained about the “unfriendly” courts and the “far left Democrats” who were trying to “conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst.”

He accused his foes of “trying to erase the very existence of a very important word and a very important thing, citizenship.”

I’m proud to be a citizen. You’re proud to be a citizen,” he said. “The only people who are not proud to be citizens are the ones who are fighting us all the way about the word  ‘citizen.'”

He cited the threat of litigation — and how it would have delayed administration of the census — as the reason he was not trying to get it re-added.

The legal fight over the question has carried on for well over a year, in several different court houses. His administration was met with defeat after defeat, culminating with last month’s Supreme Court ruling that found the original justification put forward for the question to be pretextual.

The stakes went beyond just the electoral consequence of getting citizenship data to use for redistricting. The question stood to discourage immigrant communities from participating on the survey altogether, skewing not just political representation but also federal resources from those populations.

The two weeks since the Supreme Court ruling were chaotic, and embarrassing for Trump’s Justice Department. After the administration said early last week it would not try to re-add the question to the 2020 census, the Department of Justice had to reverse that position, having been instructed — presumably by the President — to find a new way to include it.

The Department also sought to replace the career DOJ attorneys who had been litigating with a new team of lawyers, prompting speculation that the original lawyers where not comfortable with where things were headed. That shake-up was blocked by judges who asked for more information about the attorneys’ departures.

Presumably, after Trump’s move Thursday, the Justice Department will no long have to offer that explanation.

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