Donald Trump discusses the citizenship question and the 2020 census while flanked by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (left) and Attorney General William Barr, in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 11, 2019.
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty)

Forget the census, Donald Trump conceded Thursday. The administration will get the citizenship information it wants by scouring existing federal records.

That, Trump said, will be the aim of an executive order he’ll issue in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court putting the kibosh on his efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the New York Times reports.

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In a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, Trump defied expectations that he would try to add the citizenship question to the census via executive order, especially after tweeting a little over a week ago that reports his administration was giving up on the question were wrong.

Instead, Trump said he will send federal workers combing through federal records to find the citizenship information he wants and send it to the Census Bureau of the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the decennial count of every resident of the United States.

Per the Times:

[Trump] said he was issuing an executive order instructing federal departments and agencies to provide the Census Bureau with citizenship data immediately.

“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” Mr. Trump insisted.

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As the Times explains, the Supreme Court, in ruling against Trump’s desire to add a citizenship question to the census, found that the administration’s stated justification—protecting the voting rights of minorities—was “contrived.”

In his address Thursday, Trump did not provide additional justification for determining the citizenship status of all those living in the U.S., but, as Politico reports, promised: “We will leave no stone unturned.”

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Of course, having the citizenship status of everyone in the U.S. collected in some kind of database, however Trump sees fit, is sure to trigger a whole new set of lawsuits.

As Politico explains:

The decision will, at least temporarily, turn down the temperature on a divisive issue that has pitted Trump against civil rights groups, states and cities, who warned that the question would decrease participation among immigrant communities, diminishing their political power and jeopardizing federal funding in mostly Democratic-leaning areas. The census results are used to determine the disbursement of federal aid as well as to draw congressional districts.

But Trump’s latest move might simply take the fight in another direction.

“It doesn’t matter what they do, I’m sure it will get litigated,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said earlier on Thursday. “And that’s why I’ve said all along that I have no problem, that question on there is perfectly appropriate. They need to figure out a legal way to do it.”

And the concept of centralizing personal information into larger databases has proven controversial at times in the past.