Photo: Alex Brandon (AP)

A visibly annoyed President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he would not pursue adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census and had instead issued an executive order to obtain an accurate count of who is and isn’t an American citizen by other means.

Insisting he was “not backing down,” Trump’s brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden amounted to a reversal on his previously adamant position that he would be pushing forward to add the question to the upcoming Census.

Advertisement

Rather than add the question—a move experts said would depress overall response rates and intimidate disenfranchised communities from participating entirely—Trump’s executive order shifted the focus to the departments, which are being ordered to process and provide citizenship-related data to the Commerce Department. It wasn’t immediate clear just what kind of documents the departments would be required to turn over.

In other words, by declaring his order a victory, Trump’s announcement was a tacit acknowledgement that adding the question to the Census was a wholly unnecessary method to determine the number of non-citizens living in the country in the first place.

But, not one to admit defeat outright, Trump and Attorney General William Barr instead painted their decision as a “logistical” shift, rather than an outright capitulation to the Supreme Court, which blocked the question. Insisting that the administration still had the legal right to add the question in the future—should it be able to provide adequate reasoning to the courts—Barr admitted that the legal challenges in doing so would simply have been too onerous to complete before the Census began.

Advertisement

Earlier this year, files from key Republican gerrymandering expert Dr. Thomas Hofeller showed a direct link between efforts to include a citizenship question on the Census and a broader push to create electoral maps that would be, in his own words, “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”