Trump insists he's 'moving forward' with citizenship question. But officials say the census will be printed without it.

Image: President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump listens as South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks in Seoul on June 30, 2019. Copyright Jacquelyn Martin AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Jacquelyn Martin AFP - Getty Images
By Adam Edelman with NBC News Politics
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Trump blasted reports that the Commerce Department has abandoned its efforts to add the question as "FAKE" — contradicting the agency's chief.


President Donald Trump insisted Wednesday that his administration is "moving forward" with efforts to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, sowing confusion a day after top officials from his own Justice and Commerce Departments confirmed that the survey would be printed without it.

"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.

"We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question," Trump added.

The tweets stood in contrast to statements from top administration officials who had said the exact opposite Tuesday — that the printing of the 2020 census surveys had already started and that they did not include a question about citizenship status, in compliance with a recent Supreme Court ruling that blocked Trump's administration from adding the question.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement Tuesday that the Census Bureau has started printing the decennial questionnaires without the question, saying that he "strongly" disagreed with the high court's ruling.

"My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census," Ross said Tuesday.

In addition, a Justice Department trial attorney sent an email to an opposing counsel in the citizenship case that confirmed the government was moving forward without the question.

"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," the Justice Department lawyer wrote, according to a copy of the email posted online by one of the attorneys involved.

Last week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that blocked the administration from adding the question, saying it did not provide a sufficient rationale for including it in the census. Opponents of adding the question have said it was designed as a Republican effort to depress response rates in largely Democratic immigrant communities.

In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberal justices, the court majority said the government has the right to ask a citizenship question, but needs to properly justify changing the longstanding practice of the Census Bureau. The Trump administration's justification was "contrived," Roberts wrote, and did not appear to be the genuine reason for the change. The last time the bureau asked a citizenship question on the official form was in 1950, when immigration rates had slowed and survey techniques improved in counting foreign-born residents.

In March, Ross had announced that the Census Bureau would add the question, with the administration saying it was "necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters" and enforce parts of the Voting Rights Act.

A coalition of 18 states, several of the nation's largest cities and immigrant rights groups then sued to block the Trump administration from adding the question, arguing it would make immigrants reluctant to respond to the census mailer. Three federal judges then ruled against the administration before it arrived at the Supreme Court.

Following the Supreme Court's ruling, Trump suggested that the Bureau could delay the census in order to eventually add the question, which legal scholars noted could run afoul of the constitutional mandate that a count be performed every 10 years.

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