President Trump abruptly declared Wednesday that his administration is continuing to fight to include a citizenship question as part of the census, despite his own Commerce secretary saying hours earlier they were moving forward without it in response to a court ruling.
“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!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”
Trump had tweeted Tuesday night that he “asked the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice to do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions, and this very important case, to a successful conclusion.” But he did not, at the time, seem to contradict the message from the department responsible for the once-a-decade national headcount.
Just hours before that tweet, Secretary Wilbur Ross had announced that his department was going ahead with printing the census without the question.
“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question,” Ross said in a statement. “My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census.”
Ross’ statement seemed to indicate they were dropping the issue.
While Trump's latest statement would appear to tell a different story, a source familiar with Trump's thinking on the issue maintained he's being consistent. According to the source, the president was indicating he intends to move forward on the matter in court as a matter of principle, even if the 2020 census ultimately will not include the citizenship question.
The Department of Commerce has not commented on Trump's latest tweet.
New York Attorney General Letitia James commented Wednesday: “Another day, another attempt to sow chaos and confusion. The Supreme Court of the United States has spoken, and Trump’s own Commerce Department has spoken. It’s time to move forward to ensure every person in the country is counted.”
Ross’ decision came in response to last week’s Supreme Court decision that blocked the citizenship question, at least for now. The opinion cited Ross’ purported reason for the question – that the Justice Department requested it to better enforce the Voting Rights Act – and said that it was really more of a “distraction” than an actual reason.
Lower court decisions had also ruled that Ross' decision to include the question was "arbitrary and capricious," in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Opponents also claimed that it violated the Enumerations Clause of the Fifth Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
Trump said over the weekend that he was looking into delaying the census, but that does not appear to be an option.
The Census Bureau already has been in the process of signing office leases and hiring specialists as part of the census project. Thousands have applied for the nearly half-million positions being created.
Further, Congress would have to change the law for the count to be delayed because Title 13 of the U.S. Code mandates that it take place on April 1, 2020, according to John Thompson, who served as Census Bureau director during Obama's second term.
Fox News' Tamara Gitt, Gregg Re, Blake Burman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.