President Donald Trump on Wednesday spoke to reporters about his administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, hours after it was announced that he would invoke executive privilege to prevent the House Oversight Committee from viewing internal communications on the matter.
Downplaying his direct involvement in exerting the executive privilege, calling it a “legal matter,” Trump used the opportunity to claim that the citizenship question was perfectly reasonable and that any concerns about it were “totally ridiculous.”
“I think when you have a census and you are not allowed to talk about whether or not somebody is a citizen or not, that doesn’t sound so good to me,” he said during a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office. “I think it is totally ridiculous we would have a census without asking, but the Supreme Court is going to be ruling on it soon.”
The House Oversight Committee previously subpoenaed a cache of unredacted documents and communications to investigate how the administration came to the decision to add the citizenship question to the census. On Wednesday, the committee planned to vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for defying those subpoenas.
Tensions between the two sides ramped up late last month, after the surfacing of tens of thousands of files that belonged to Dr. Thomas Hofeller, a deceased Republican operative, outlining his recommendations to the Trump administration about how a citizenship question “would be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
A citizenship question, Hofeller wrote, would also “provoke a high degree of resistance from Democrats and the major minority groups in the nation.”
The Trump administration has since claimed that Hofeller believed a citizenship question would in fact “maximize” representation for the “Latino community.”
Two different legal fights are unfolding over the citizenship question. While House Democrats conduct their own investigation into the matter, the Supreme Court is also weighing whether adding the question was legitimate. The Court’s conservative majority seems primed to give Trump everything he wants, despite the damning implications included in Hofeller’s files.
The Constitution calls for a count of the “whole Number of free Persons” — not citizens — in the United States. A citizenship question has not been asked since the Jim Crow era, as experts from across all political perspectives agree that the presence of that question would severely negatively impact the validity of the result. Undocumented immigrants, who should be counted as persons, may avoid the census or misreport themselves as citizens, while legal residents may similarly distrust the census’ intentions.
The Census Bureau itself calculated that adding a citizenship question would depress response rates among noncitizen households by 5.1%. A study from the Urban Institute similarly found that a citizenship question could leave as many as 4 million people uncounted, including a significant number of black and Latinx Americans. As a result, districts in which those people live would have less representation in Congress — which in turn would hurt Democrats politically. Instead of gerrymandering by drawing districts around many of these communities so they count for less, it would erase them from consideration so they don’t count at all.
During a House Oversight Committee meeting Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) objected not only to the citizenship question being added, but also to the fact that the administration significantly reduced the time and resources available to confirm the validity of the census results. She described the question as having been “magically” added once Hofeller made clear it would disadvantage specific racial groups and immigrant communities, and insisted that the House must follow through on enforcing its subpoenas to unearth the political malfeasance.
.@AOC: "This is not about whether or not I want to know who is a citizen in the United States or not… I want to know why this question was magically added after we have seen that a political operative knew and detailed an intent to intimidate racial and immigrant communities." pic.twitter.com/7ElTm2LhyZ
— The Hill (@thehill) June 12, 2019
“This is not about whether or not I want to know who is a citizen in the United States or not […],” she said. “I want to know why this question was magically added after we have seen that a political operative knew and detailed an intent to intimidate racial and immigrant communities.”