Trump to announce executive action on census citizenship question

President Trump will announce executive action related to the citizenship question on the 2020 census, senior administration officials told CBS News on Thursday. He tweeted that he’ll be making a statement on the topic Thursday afternoon.

The move comes as the president exhibits frustration over the Supreme Court decision blocking his administration from adding the question, ruling the government had failed to provide adequate justification for the question. Multiple legal battles over the question are still playing out in lower courts. 

It isn’t yet clear exactly what kind of executive action the president will take. Mr. Trump initially described his announcement as a news conference, but the updated White House schedule only described the event as remarks — meaning reporters might not have an opportunity to ask questions. Attorney General William Barr is expected to be at the president’s announcement. 

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Earlier Thursday, administration officials said Mr. Trump was planning on issuing an order to add the question to the census, but the situation did not appear set in stone. Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said the president has made a decision about what to do but “anything could change before 5 o’clock,” when the president is set to speak.

Before the president announced his impending statement on the citizenship question, administration officials inside the Justice Department expressed skepticism about the viability of an executive order to add the question to the census. A former Justice Department official told CBS News that career attorneys within the department know the executive action is unlikely to be upheld in court. And Barr initially agreed with career lawyers that it didn’t make sense to further pursue the citizenship question after losing in the Supreme Court, the official said. 

But when Mr. Trump insisted, Barr agreed to push forward, even in the absence of a clearly viable way to do so. Government attorneys are under pressure to come up with a new justification for adding the question to the census. 

The American Civil Liberties Union is already threatening to take the administration to court. 

“The Supreme Court has spoken,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “The Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census is unlawful. If President Trump takes executive action, we will take legal action.”

The administration is under a deadline to print the census, and indeed the census questionnaire has already been sent to the printer for printing. 

Mr. Trump has previously told reporters he was considering an executive order, although he also said last week his administration was exploring other possible routes. 

The House has set a date of July 16 to vote to hold Barr and Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to respond to questions about the census. 

“These documents could shed light on the real reason that the Trump Administration tried to add the citizenship question,” House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the administration is stonewalling our investigation and obstructing our efforts to get the information we need to do our jobs. We should not be forced to take these extreme actions to get the documents and information we need to conduct a thorough investigation. I urge Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross to change course and produce the documents we have subpoenaed on a bipartisan basis so the House is not forced to hold them in contempt of Congress.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the uncertainty surrounding the president’s anticipated announcement. Paula Reid contributed reporting.