- The Trump administration said it will drop a controversial citizenship question it was pushing to add to the 2020 U.S. census after the Supreme Court put a hold on it.
- Opponents argued that the question was part of a Republican strategy to discourage both legal and illegal immigrants from participating in the census.
- They said it would cause states with high noncitizen populations to lose federal funding and seats in the House and give Republicans significant power to redraw district lines.
- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed that the question would not be on the census and said that printing had already begun, but President Trump tweeted that the reports were “fake news” and said the department was not dropping its quest to include the question.
Administration Drops Citizenship Question
Officials in the Trump administration confirmed Tuesday that they had dropped their plan to add the controversial citizenship question to the U.S. census.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that every 10 years the federal government has to count every person living in the country. For the upcoming census in 2020, the Trump administration wanted to add a question that would ask: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
The question, which was eventually brought before the Supreme Court, was incredibly contentious. Experts described it as the most debated Trump administration initiative to reach the Supreme Court since the travel ban on Muslim countries.
On Thursday, the justices blocked adding the question to the census, arguing that the reason the government wanted the information was “contrived.”
The Court did not strike it down entirely, but said the Trump administration had to come up with a better reason to add the question.
The Trump administration, however, was running out of time to print the 1.5 billion census forms before 2020, having previously said they needed a definitive answer by the end of June.
As a result, the administration decided they did not have enough time to come up with another case, and dropped it altogether.
Why Is It a Big Deal?
The Trump administration argued that adding the citizenship question to the census was necessary to get an idea of how many people were eligible to vote so that they could better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects the voting rights of minorities.
However, critics of the question argued that including it would deter both legal and illegal immigrants from participating in the census, which would significantly skew the data.
When it comes to incorrect census data, the stakes are very high.
The main purpose for the census is to count the population in the states to determine how many seats each one gets in the House of Representatives. The number of seats also sets how many votes each state gets in the electoral college.
That the data is used to decide how much federal funding each state gets, again based on how many people live there. Those funds amount to about $900 billion total, and states need that money for things like public schools, Medicaid, law enforcement, highway repairs, and more.
Due to these two factors, opponents of the question have argued that if immigrants are deterred from participating in the census and not counted properly, states that have higher noncitizen populations would lose both federal funding and seats in the House.
Experts say that could cause a massive shift in political power from states and cities where more noncitizens tend to live, to states with more rural areas.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, approved putting the question on the census in 2017.
Following that decision, more than two dozen states, cities, and organizations challenged the move in court.
They argued that the Trump administration was not being truthful about their reason for adding the question, and said that it had nothing to do with voting rights.
Instead, they claimed that it was just part of a Republican strategy to shift political boundaries to their advantage because states would use the new census data to redraw their district lines in 2021.
The federal judges who oversaw all three lawsuits ruled in favor of the argument that Ross was not telling the truth about the motives behind the question. That decision was made partly because of certain evidence that was discovered during the trial.
The evidence in question was found on hard drives in the house of a Republican strategist named Thomas Hofeller, who had pushed the administration to add the question before he died last summer.
Hofeller’s hard drives contained a report he had written in 2015 that said adding the citizenship question would give Republicans a significant advantage in the redrawing of district lines.
Another deciding factor for the federal judges was the effectiveness of asking the question. Researchers at the Census Bureau itself even recommended using records from the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.
They argued that they would be more accurate and less expensive than adding the citizenship question. The Census Bureau has also said that adding the citizenship question could lead to lower response rates for immigrants and people of color.
Census undercounts of minority groups are already a historic problem. One recent government estimate from the Census Bureau found that around 6.5 million people might not have been counted if the citizenship question had gone on the census forms.
On the other side, the Trump administration argued that asking the question would allow them to get more accurate citizenship data, which would offset any potential harms from lowering the response rate among minority groups and noncitizens.
Many experts have argued that the damage is already done and say fear brought about by the Trump administration’s immigration policies will make it hard for census workers to get accurate data in immigrant neighborhoods even without the question.
As for the census itself, it is set to start in January 2020.
Secretary Ross said in a statement that while he “strongly” disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision, the bureau had already started printing the forms without the question.
Justice Department officials have also confirmed to numerous media outlets that the question will not be on the census forms.
However, Trump seemed to contradict that in a tweet on Wednesday morning, saying, “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!”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Fox News)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.