President Trump said Friday he is considering using an executive order to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census, as the administration faces an afternoon deadline to say whether it will proceed with its push.
“We’re thinking about doing that, it’s one of the ways, we have four or five ways to do it,” Trump told reporters when asked if he was considering an executive order.
“We can do the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision [from the Supreme Court],” he said.
“Think about it, $15-20 billion [on a census] and you’re not allowed to ask if someone’s a citizen,” he said, adding that Attorney General William Barr is working on the issue.
The court ruled last week that the reasoning provided by the administration — that it would help them enforce the Voting Rights Act — was insufficient. It sent the case back to the lower courts for further consideration, in what was seen as a significant blow to the administration.
After that rebuke, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his department would print the census without the citizenship question, seemingly indicating the administration had dropped the controversial issue.
But Trump later said that reports the administration had dropped the issue were “fake” and on Thursday said the question was “so important” and that both Justice and Commerce Departments were “working very hard on this.”
On Wednesday, a high-ranking Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge that the administration had not abandoned efforts to put the question on the census, saying that there may yet be a “legally available path” open to the administration.
The DOJ faces a 2 p.m. ET deadline to respond to a judge’s order to decide whether the administration will try again to get the question on the census.
The push for a citizenship question has been fiercely opposed by Democrats, who say that immigrants may not want to respond and be counted in the census. This would result in official population numbers that are lower than they truly are, which in turn could yield less federal funding and fewer congressional seats in districts with high immigrant populations. Those districts tend to favor Democrats.
An executive order could also face significant pushback, and could fail in the Supreme Court. One source told Axios that it may allow the administration to shift the blame for the ultimate failure of the push on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
But Trump on Friday said he had “a lot of respect” for Roberts.
“I have a lot of respect for Justice Roberts, he didn’t like it but he did say come back,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens.”
Fox News’ William Mears contributed to this report.