WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump abandoned his controversial bid to inject a citizenship question into next year’s census Thursday, instead directing federal agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.
He insisted he was “not backing down,” declaring in a Rose Garden announcement that the goal was simple and reasonable: “a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and non-citizens that make up the United States population.”
But the decision was clearly a reversal, after the Supreme Court blocked his effort by disputing his administration’s rationale for demanding that census respondents declare whether or not they were citizens. Trump had said last week that he was “very seriously” considering an executive order to try to force the question. But the government has already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it, and such a move would surely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.
Instead, Trump said Thursday that he would be signing an executive order directing every federal department and agency to provide the Commerce Department with all records pertaining to the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.
Trump’s efforts to add the question on the decennial census had drawn fury and backlash from critics who complained that it was political, meant to discourage participation, not only by people living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating would expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, and the lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case, celebrated Thursday’s announcement by the president, saying: “Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper.”
Trump said his order would apply to every agency, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The Census Bureau already has access to Social Security, food stamp and federal prison records, all of which contain citizenship information.
Trump, citing Census Bureau projections, predicted that using previously available records, the administration could determine the citizenship of 90 percent of the population “or more.”
“Ultimately this will allow us to have a more complete count of citizens than through asking the single question alone,” he contended.
But it is still unclear what Trump intends to do with the citizenship information. Federal law prohibits the use of census information to identify individuals, though that restriction has been breached in the past.
At one point, Trump suggested it could help states that “may want to draw state and local legislative districts based upon the voter-eligible population.” That would mark a change from how districts are drawn currently, based on the entire population, and could increase Republican political power.
Civil rights groups said the president’s efforts had already sown fear and discord in vulnerable communities, making the task of an accurate count even harder.
“The damage has already been done,” said Lizette Escobedo of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
The Census Bureau had stressed repeatedly that it could produce better citizenship data without adding the question.
In fact, the bureau had recommended combining information from the annual American Community Survey with records held by other federal agencies that already include citizenship records.
“This would result in higher quality data produced at lower cost,” deputy Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin had written in a December 2017 email to a Justice Department official.
But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, ultimately rejected that approach and ordered the citizenship question be added to the census.
The American Community Survey, which polls 3.5 million U.S. households every year, already includes questions about respondents’ citizenship.
“It’s a retreat back to what he should have done from the beginning,” said Kenneth Prewitt, a former Census Bureau director.
Trump’s administration had faced numerous roadblocks to adding the question, beginning with the ruling by the Supreme Court temporarily barring its inclusion on the grounds that the government’s justification was insufficient. Two federal judges also rejected the Justice Department’s plan to replace the legal team fighting for inclusion.
But Trump insisted his administration was pushing forward anyway, publicly contradicting government lawyers and his commerce secretary, who had previously conceded the case was closed, as well as the Census Bureau, which had started the process of printing the 2020 questionnaire without the controversial query after the Supreme Court decision.
As he has many times before, Trump exploded the situation with a tweet, calling reports that the fight was over “FAKE!”
A week of speculation about the administration’s plans and renewed court battles ensued as Trump threw out ideas, including suggesting last week that officials might be able to add an addendum to the questionnaire with the question after it was printed. And he toyed with the idea of halting the constitutionally mandated survey entirely while the court battle played out.
Attorney General William Barr, however, said that the government had no interest in delaying the count and that, while he was confident the census question would have eventually survived legal review, the process would have taken too long to work its way through the courts.
Trump had offered multiple explanations for why he believed the question was necessary to include in the once-a-decade population count that determines the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years and the distribution of some $675 billion in federal spending.
“You need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons,” he told reporters last week, despite the fact that congressional districts are based on total population, regardless of residents’ national origin or immigration status.
If immigrants are undercounted, Democrats fear that would pull money and political power away from Democratic-led cities where immigrants tend to cluster, and shift it to whiter, rural areas where Republicans do well.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday accused Trump of pushing the question “to intimidate minorities, particularly Latinos, from answering the census so that it undercounts those communities and Republicans can redraw congressional districts to their advantage.”
He later called Trump’s move a “retreat” that “was long overdue and is a significant victory for democracy and fair representation.”
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking and Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
A medical clinic on wheels will soon be going into East Texas towns that don’t have enough health care providers.
During a Thursday morning news conference at the University of Texas at Tyler, dozens gathered for the unveiling of the INTUNE Mobile Health Care Clinic, created as part of a collaboration between the university and Special Health Resources for Texas.
The mobile primary-care clinic, which has two rooms where patients can be examined, will make health care more accessible to those who live in areas where there are few, if any, doctors, speakers said.
State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who was projected on a big screen as she spoke from her home, said the unit will address the growing problem of lack of medical care in rural and poor areas.
“Texas has lost more rural hospitals than any other state,” said Klick, who also is a medical consultant. “I hope this will become a model to the rest of the state.”
Barbara Chapman, a UT Tyler clinical specialist who will work in the unit, said she is looking forward to helping others.
“I am deeply passionate about this,” she said in noting that patients will include those who are going without care.
Pat Evans, chief strategy officer with Special Health Resources for Texas, said collaboration “is at the heart of what we are trying to accomplish. ... There is a real need to make health resources available. This will allow us to help communities.”
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration awarded the university a grant that funded the clinic, according to information from the university.
Dr. Yong “Tai” Wang, dean of the UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said that by working in the clinic, nursing students will receive needed experience.
The students also will help connect patients to additional health and mental health services, he said.
The clinic will be put into service later this month in New Summerfield, one of the communities identified as underserved, he said.
UT Tyler President Dr. Michael Tidwell said the clinic is part of the university’s ongoing 100 Communities initiative.
The university launched the initiative last year to find ways to improve life in the region.
“We care deeply about the 2 million people who reside in East Texas,” Tidwell said.
He said the university’s leaders are “literally getting on the road” to solve community problems.
Many who have been involved in the project attended the news conference held under a tent in front of the clinic.
Those in attendance also had a chance to tour the clinic on wheels.
Since its inception some 12 years ago, the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation has raised more than $6.5 million and a big part of that fundraising has been provided by the Hall family of Tyler, chairman Dick Goetz said on Thursday.
Retired Senior PGA Tour pro Goetz, who along with retired Navy Lt. Commander Ron Nash founded the organization in 2007, honored the Halls — Gerry, Pam and Monte — and announced plans for the 12th Annual Tyler event in September, during a luncheon at The Cascades Golf & Country Club.
Hall Buick GMC of Tyler hosted Texas Wounded Warrior Month in May for the ninth consecutive year and Hall Chevrolet Buick GMC of Canton joined this year. For each vehicle sold, the Halls donate a portion of the sale to the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation. Mrs. Hall presented a check to Goetz for $13,000.
Goetz honored the Halls with a plaque noting their service to the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation. The plaque was adorned with the emblems of each service branch as the Halls have family members who have served in each branch.
The Halls’ donations have been instrumental in purchasing three passenger vans — one in Tyler and two in the Horseshoe Bay area — that “help the wounded warriors back-and-forth to medical appointments,” Goetz said.
“As we approach our 12th annual Texas Wounded Warrior Tyler Pro-Am event, the board of directors is once again humbled by the task of providing a unique respite for the mind and soul of some of our nation’s greatest heroes,” Goetz said. “Each year in late September or early October, the Tyler community embraces those that have sacrificed so much in the name of our great country by hosting a weekend of celebration of golf, food, entertainment and fun to honor our Wounded Warriors.”
Goetz said this year’s Tyler pro-am weekend is scheduled for Sept. 28-30. He said Harry Leatherwood is scheduled to host an event for the veterans and their wives at Rio Neches Ranch, followed by entertainment at Liberty Hall with comedian/magician Michael Finney. Other activities are planned as well.
The morning of Sept. 30, the wounded warriors will be saluted at an All Saints Episcopal School assembly. The pro-am is scheduled to start around noon at The Cascades Golf & Country Club.
“It is such a thrill for the wounded warriors to enter Brookshire Gym at All Saints with those children chanting ‘USA! USA!’ and holding flags,” Goetz said. “It amazes me how these 6-7-8-year-olds all learn and sing the service medley.”
Other details for the weekend will be announced later, Goetz said.
“Without the generosity and patriotic spirit of giving within our community, the incredible sustained success of our organization would simply not be possible,” Goetz said. “Since the inaugural Pro-Am in Tyler in 2008, the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation has raised over $6 million, and assisted no less than 700 unique Wounded Warriors and their families with direct aid and financial support. Perhaps most importantly, of every dollar donated by our amazing fellow Texans, approximately 88% of that money goes directly to our Warriors.”
The Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation sponsors pro-ams, golf outings/instruction, weekend retreats, and hunting and fishings trips in and near Amarillo, Burnet, Houston, Prosper, Horseshoe Bay and San Antonio.
“I’m often asked why our organization is necessary since our government is supposed to take care of its wounded military,” Goetz said. “Our mission is to help provide critical assistance when veterans’ benefits are slow in getting started or do not meet the full scope of basic needs for warriors and their families.”
The organization also works with agencies to provide needed services such as upgrading housing and transportation to make them accessible for people with disabilities.
Joining Goetz and Nash on the board of directors are Bob Burnett, Chris Hudson, Kerrie Covert, Toni Davis, Larue Decker, Laura Trotter, Steven Braley, Thomas Gros, Jack Goetz, Matthew Cohen, Lily Garst and Krista Rosebury, along with honorary members Bob Goetz and Kurt Kosmatka.
For more information about the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation or to advertise in this year’s program, participate in the Pro-Am tournament, and/or a donation to the foundation, go to www.txwoundedwarrior.com.