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Justice Department Still Looking For A Way To Add Census Citizenship Question


You may recall we told you yesterday that the drama over whether the 2020 census would include a citizenship question, that this drama was over, that the Supreme Court had ruled to keep the question off census forms temporarily. And then yesterday, the Justice Department said those forms were going to the printer without a question asking whether respondents are citizens. Well, it turns out we are not done yet. President Trump has instructed the Justice Department to find a way. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is here to fill us in. Hey, Ayesha.


KELLY: So what happened? What did the Justice Department say today in court?

RASCOE: Today, Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt told the court the Justice Department had been instructed to look at whether there is a path forward that would be, quote, "consistent" with the Supreme Court's decision and that would basically allow the administration to somehow include this citizenship question on the 2020 census. Now, this is key because the administration had argued that they were facing this hard deadline, that they had to start printing these questionnaires by the start of July or they would not be able to start the census on time. And remember; this is 1.5 billion print pieces of census materials that have to be printed. So it's not a small amount. And the count is supposed to officially start in January.

But when the Supreme Court blocked the addition of the question, it seemed like it was putting off the issue at least for 2020. But what the Justice Department is saying is that they think there may be some type of path to comply with the Supreme Court and still get the question added. It's not clear what that path is.

KELLY: Well, I was just going to say, do we have any idea how much wiggle room there is here given the timing, given the forms are already under way being printed?

RASCOE: Well, we don't know how much wiggle room they have. They had been saying that they really had to get this done. And it's not clear. And especially since they're already printing the forms, it's not clear whether they will, like, pull back the forms. They could do something supplemental, try to add in the question later. The logistics of that and whether that's actually feasible is not - it seemed like the questions about whether that was feasible is why they were saying yesterday that they would drop this issue. And remember; the Constitution and federal law does require the census to be carried out every 10 years. That's a requirement.

KELLY: Do we know, Ayesha, to what extent the president is single-handedly driving this? He weighed in on this again today via Twitter, said his administration is absolutely moving forward with the question. Did that put all of today's events into motion?

RASCOE: I think it's safe to say that the president is completely influencing this. Just yesterday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, he conceded that the fight was basically over, saying that he respected the Supreme Court, but he strongly disagreed and that he would - but he was going to move forward with printing these questionnaires and that the focus would be to make sure that this process was complete and accurate. But Trump sent out a tweet this morning and the direction of the administration changed.

KELLY: And set off a little July Fourth scramble. Just very quickly, Ayesha, I suppose one question is whether, given all the controversy so far, however this is resolved, whether some people will be discouraged from completing the census, from wanting to go anywhere near it.

RASCOE: I think that is the concern that groups are saying, that some people just hearing about this may not want to fill out the census form regardless if the question is on there.

KELLY: All right, lots to watch there. That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks for your time.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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