Trump says ‘absolutely moving forward’ with census citizenship question

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters about Iran and Mexico on June 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday branded as “fake” news reports that the Commerce Department would drop its plans to ask people if they are U.S. citizens on the 2020 census — despite the fact that officials in his own administration had said the question will not be asked. 

Trump’s claim came a day after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and a Justice Department lawyer said that the Census Bureau is in the process of printing the census questionnaire without the citizenship question.

That move came on the heels of a Supreme Court decision last week that effectively blocked the question being added to the 2020 census questionnaire.

The high court ordered the case challenging the question to be reconsidered by a lower court, leaving the Commerce Department with little or no time to have the dispute settled legally before this past Monday’s deadline for printing the questionnaires.

But Trump, in a tweet Wednesday, said, “The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!”

“We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s use of the word “quest” echoed its use by The New York Times on Tuesday in its lead paragraph of a story that said the Trump administration, “in a dramatic about-face, abandoned its question to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.”

The White House, the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Census Bureau did not immediately return CNBC’s requests for comment.

The Trump administration’s plan to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census had been controversial since it was first announced in March 2018. In addition to that question, the Census Bureau at the time said that respondents would be asked how many people live in their residences, and those persons’ ages, sexes, Hispanic origin, race, relationship and homeownership status.

Critics of the citizenship question say it would reduce the census’s accuracy, and undercount minority populations, including immigrants.

An undercount of those groups in turn could affect the allocation of billions of dollars worth of federal funds, whose distribution often is related to census data. An undercount also could affect how district seats in the House of Representatives are drawn.

A citizenship question has not been posed to all U.S. households in decades.

On Tuesday, Ross, in a statement had said, “I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.”

“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question. My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census,” Ross said.

Also Tuesday, a Department of Justice lawyer, in an email to legal challengers of the citizenship question, wrote, “”We can confirm that the decision has been made to print the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire without a citizenship question, and that the printer has been instructed to begin the printing process.”

Democrats had celebrated that day the Trump administration’s apparent decision to abandon the controversial question for the upcoming census.

“Today’s decision is a welcome development for our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at the time.

“House Democrats will be vigilant to ensure a full, fair and accurate Census.”

A spokesman for Pelosi did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for a statement on Trump’s tweet

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. on Wednesday cited the Justice Department lawyer’s statement in a tart response to Trump’s new tweet.

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