In a characteristically pouting, unfocused and rambling Thursday afternoon press conference, Donald Trump put his best bluster on a full retreat from administration efforts to place a question demanding the citizenship status of every U.S. resident in the 2020 census. That question had been blocked by the Supreme Court in a recent ruling after it was revealed that the administration had lied, brazenly, about the origins and intent of their efforts.
Flanked by his attorney general Bob Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trump started off snarling and snippy, with sides about the Pledge of Allegiance and multiple ominous warnings of the supposed unpatriotic and dangerous left. “We are not backing down” on the efforts to count citizens and non-citizens separately, he insisted. Instead, Trump announced a new “executive order” that would order every federal department and agency to provide “all requested records” on the number of citizens and non-citizens in this country. “We will leave no stone unturned,” he snipped.
Despite Trump’s bluster, this is a “full cave” by Trump and Barr. Trump’s paperwork-ordering “executive order” is similar to the plan Census Bureau officials themselves had proposed to Wilbur Ross, rather than inserting the question on the census itself; Trump’s order simply retreats to that prior plan.
After Trump spoke, Barr delivered a helping of (embarrassing) groveling praise for Trump, insisting that while the Supreme Court recognized the administration’s perfect right to add such a question, there was simply not enough time left to wade through the court challenges to any new attempt that were, thanks to the administration’s scheming opponents, sure to follow. And that was that. Trump has retreated from the census question in every respect, but will now write a memo directing federal agencies to look up any already-held estimated numbers of citizens and non-citizens and pass them on.