President Donald Trump has dropped his effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — a sudden backtrack on one of his administration's biggest legal battles and a swift course reversal after a week of insisting he would fight till the end.
Instead, the president will issue an executive order directing various agencies to obtain citizenship data by tapping existing databases and documents.
"We will leave no stone unturned," Trump declared from the Rose Garden.
The move caps more than a week of conflicting messages from the White House over how it would proceed on the issue after the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from including the citizenship question on the decennial form. Even as of this morning, the path forward was still in flux, White House officials said. Ultimately, though, administration officials felt their hands were tied on the issue, they said, despite Trump's unyielding desire to add the question.
The decision will, at least temporarily, turn down the temperature on a divisive issue that has pitted Trump against civil rights groups, and state and city officials, who warned that the question would decrease participation among immigrant communities, diminishing their political power and jeopardizing federal funding in mostly Democratic-leaning areas. The census results are used to determine the disbursement of federal aid as well as to draw congressional districts.
It's unclear what legal challenges, if any, Trump's new approach will invite, although the concept of centralizing personal information into large government databases has occasionally proven controversial in the past. And civil rights groups quickly signaled that they would closely review Trump's order.
Even in retreat, Trump struck a defiant tone, proclaiming, “We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population.”
And he mocked his opponents who have fought the changes to the census.
“Are you a citizen of the United States of America? Oh, gee, I'm sorry, I just can't answer that question,” Trump asked dryly as he launched into his prepared remarks. “There used to be a time when you could answer questions like that very easily.”