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SCOTUS Says Census Count Can End Early, Siding With Trump Administration

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  • The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trump administration and allowed it to stop the 2020 census count until the Appeals Court decides whether the count should be stopped early.
  • The order is technically a temporary halt, but experts say it’s almost certainly an early end as it requires officials to start tabulating the data that many say is incomplete.
  • Many condemned the move and said ending the census early will result in incomplete, basically unusable data. Others noted that traditionally hard-to-count groups like people of color, immigrants, and low-income households will be hurt the most by the decision.
  • Some specifically blamed the Trump administration directly and said the whole effort was a move to benefit Republicans because excluding historically undercounted groups would likely give them more seats.

SCOTUS Sides With Trump

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Trump administration can end counting for the 2020 Census early, suspending a lower court’s ruling that extended the count to Oct. 31.

The move effectively ends a contentious months-long legal battle following the Census Bureau’s sudden decision in August to end all counting on Sept. 31, a full month earlier than the deadline previously set by the administration itself to account for delays caused by the pandemic.

In explaining the reasoning behind the move, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the Census Bureau needed data by then in order to meet the congressionally mandated Dec. 31 deadline for reporting census totals to the White House.

Top officials at the bureau have been warning for months that it would be impossible to meet the December deadline and still get an accurate count. In spring, the agency asked Congress to change the law and push the deadline to April 2021 — a plan that President Donald Trump himself had openly supported at the time.

The Democrat-controlled House approved the ask as part of their $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill passed in May, but the Senate did not even consider it.

Experts condemned the Trump administration’s decision to cut the count short, arguing that it would drastically skew the census data, making it basically unusable. The move, they said, would leave many people undercounted in the census data, which used not only to allocate congressional seats for the next 10 years, but also to determine how also how trillions of dollars in federal aid is given to states.

To make matters more complicated, many experts said the abrupt change would specifically result in the undercounting of historically hard-to-count communities that arguably need it the most, like people of color, immigrants, low-income households, college students, people in rural areas, and others. 

Legal Battles

The administration’s decision immediately faced numerous legal challenges from a range of advocacy groups, cities, counties, and Native American tribes who sued the administration to keep the Oct. 31 deadline.

At the end of September, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh granted those groups a preliminary injunction, effectively ordering the administration to continue the count until the end of October. 

The Trump administration asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to block the injunction while it considered the case, but the court rejected that request. The Department of Justice took the question to the Supreme Court, filing an emergency request to stop the counting last week.

The high court sided with the administration in a nearly unanimous ruling, allowing the administration to stop the count while the Appeals Court was deciding. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a lone dissent on the matter.

“Even a fraction of a percent of the Nation’s 140 million households amounts to hundreds of thousands of people left uncounted,” she wrote in her dissent. “And significantly, the percentage of nonresponses is likely much higher among marginalized populations and in hard-to-count areas, such as rural and tribal lands.”

“The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable,” she added. “And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years.”

While the order is technically temporary, the decision to stop the count two weeks before the deadline is already set to happen could be damning.

“As a practical matter, however, it almost certainly ensures an early end because the census — one of the largest government activities, involving hundreds of thousands of workers — cannot be easily restarted and little time remains before its current deadline at the end of this month,” The New York Times explained. “In fact, some census workers say, the bureau had already begun shutting down some parts of its count despite a court order to continue it.”

Blame on Trump Administration

In addition to expressing disappointment with the court ruling, many others also blamed the Trump administration directly.

Julie Menin, the director of NYC Census 2020, told reporters that the census had “been stolen by the Trump administration, which has interfered at every step of the way, and now, the census has been cut short during a global pandemic.”

Some also accused Trump and his administration of politicizing the census and intentionally making these changes to benefit Republicans.

Numerous reports have found that excluding certain people — especially in those traditionally undercounted groups — would likely give them more congressional seats.

That idea has also been bolstered by an order Trump signed in July directing the Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census totals used to allocate House seats. Studies have also extensively found that leaving noncitizens out of the count would result in more Republican seats.

Critics who alleged that the Trump administration was ending the count early as a way to help Republicans also pointed to the timing. If Trump loses the election, delaying the deadline for census totals too much beyond Dec. 31 would mean that former Vice President Joe Biden would get to make decisions about the count, not Trump.

Notably, the order excluding non-citizens from the census was rejected by a federal court last month, and while the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to overturn that decision, the highest court has not yet said if it will hear the case.

Regardless of the intent, some experts also argued that in addition to the lasting harm that will be done by undercounting, the actions the administration has taken will also shatter public confidence and trust in the census.

As Terri Ann Lowenthal, a longtime census expert and consultant told The Times, the Trump administration’s handling of the count “inevitably will undermine whatever public confidence remains in the census results.”

The administration, she added, “could do the right thing, and allow those operations to wind down in an organized way over the next two weeks, or it could continue to push for rushed results, accuracy and quality be damned. The commerce secretary’s next steps will tell us everything we need to know. ”

Official Response

On Wednesday, Ross issued a statement applauding the SCOTUS decision.

“Yesterday’s action by the United States Supreme Court allows the 2020 Census data collection to come to an orderly end and for data processing to begin, taking an important step toward delivery of a complete and accurate count, he said.

“Unlike much of the press reporting about this case, the Supreme Court understood these facts, with only a single Justice writing in dissent, he added. This is a tremendous accomplishment and I commend everyone at the Census Bureau who helped our country meet this goal.”

Ross also referenced a press release from the Census Bureau following the SCOTUS ruling where the agency pushed back on the criticisms that the count was inaccurate or the data was skewed and claimed that as of Oct. 13, “well over 99.9% of housing units have been accounted for in the 2020 Census.”

However, experts have said that estimate likely is just a public relations stunt estimate that covers up huge gaps in the accuracy of the tally. Some pointed to the fact that census workers across the country have said they were told to cut corners and skip steps to rush and bring all states to a 99% completion rate.

But as The Time’s explains, that rate, “does not represent households that have actually filled out census forms. Rather it appears to include those checked off the list of uncounted households by any means, however inaccurate.”

The outlet also pointed to an example in San Francisco, where the gates to an apartment building with thousands of units were locked, making counting difficult. To address that, the bureau directed those workers to stop interviewing residents and just give an estimate provided by the apartment manager.

The list the manager provided, however, only included the names of people who had signed the lease but did not say if they had roommates or families.

Notably, the bureau’s press release also said that the census internet self-response will still be available until Oct. 15. If you have not filled out the census yet, you can visit My2020Census.gov to complete the short questionnaire.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)

Politics

Jan. 6 Rally Organizers Say They Met With Members of Congress and White House Officials Ahead of Insurrection

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Two sources told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of meetings with “multiple members of Congress” and top White House aides to plan the rallies that proceeded the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Rolling Stone Report

Members of Congress and White House Staffers under former President Donald Trump allegedly helped plan the Jan. 6 protests that took place outside the U.S. Capitol ahead of the insurrection, according to two sources who spoke to Rolling Stone.

According to a report the outlet published Sunday, the two people, identified only as “a rally organizer” and “a planner,” have both “begun communicating with congressional investigators.”

The two told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of planning briefings ahead of the protests and said that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”

“I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically,” the person identified as a rally organizer said. “I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs.”

The two also told Rolling Stone that a number of other Congress members were either personally involved in the conversations or had staffers join, including Representatives Paul Gosar (R-Az.), Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), Mo Brooks (R-Al.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Andy Biggs (R-Az.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.).

The outlet added that it “separately obtained documentary evidence that both sources were in contact with Gosar and Boebert on Jan. 6,” though it did not go into further detail. 

A spokesperson for Greene has denied involvement with planning the protests, but so far, no other members have responded to the report. 

Previous Allegations Against Congressmembers Named

This is not the first time allegations have surfaced concerning the involvement of some of the aforementioned congress members regarding rallies that took place ahead of the riot.

As Rolling Stone noted, Gosar, Greene, and Boebert were all listed as speakers at the “Wild Protest” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which was arranged by “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.

Additionally, Alexander said during a now-deleted live stream in January that he personally planned the rally with the help of Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.

Biggs and Brooks previously denied any involvement in planning the event, though Brooks did speak at a pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6.

Gosar, for his part, has remained quiet for months but tagged Alexander in numerous tweets involving Stop the Steal events leading up to Jan. 6, including one post that appears to be taken at a rally at the Capitol hours before the insurrection.

Notably, the organizer and the planner also told Rolling Stone that Gosar “dangled the possibility of a ‘blanket pardon’ in an unrelated ongoing investigation to encourage them to plan the protests.”

Alleged White House Involvement

Beyond members of Congress, the outlet reported that the sources “also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.”

Both reportedly described Meadows “as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests.”

The two additionally said Katrina Pierson, who worked for the Trump campaign in both 2016 and 2020, was a key liaison between the organizers of the demonstrations and the White House.

“Katrina was like our go-to girl,” the organizer told the outlet. “She was like our primary advocate.”

According to Rolling Stone, the sources have so far only had informal talks with the House committee investigating the insurrection but are expecting to testify publicly. Both reportedly said they would share “new details about the members’ specific roles” in planning the rallies with congressional investigators.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Business Insider) (Forbes)

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Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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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)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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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)

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