President Donald Trump said Friday that he is considering signing a executive order to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census.
"We're thinking about doing that. It's one of the ways – we have four or five ways we can do it. It's one of the ways that we're thinking about doing it very seriously," Trump told reporters outside the White House before departing for his private resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
"We can also add an addition on. So we can start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision," Trump said. "So we're working on a lot of things, including an executive order."
It's far from clear whether Trump has any leverage, let alone unilateral power, to mandate the question's inclusion in the decennial report. Under Article I of the U.S. Constitution, Congress holds power over the census, not the president.
Justice Department officials told the White House earlier this week that the case was a dead end, The Washington Post reported. Still, some legal scholars told the newspaper that the White House has a path to try again in the Supreme Court if Trump does attempt an executive order, citing a rule that allows the government file a motion for the court to reconsider a ruling within 25 days.
Taking executive action on the census would be a last-ditch attempt to the circumvent the Supreme Court's recent decision to effectively block the addition of the question. Chief Justice John Roberts called the administration's arguments in favor of the question "contrived" and a "distraction," and sent the case back to a lower court.
The Department of Justice and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had both confirmed to reporters earlier this week that the census forms would be printed without the question after the high court's decision. But Trump tweeted Wednesday that "we are absolutely moving forward, as we must" on the citizenship question — directly contradicting his own administration.
After Trump's tweet, a DOJ lawyer reportedly reversed his prior stance, telling a federal judge that the department is now looking at finding a "legally available path" to include the question. U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel set a 2 p.m. ET deadline Friday for the government to make a decision on whether to keep fighting for the citizenship question.
Critics of the citizenship question say it would reduce the accuracy of the census by chilling turnout among minority and immigrant populations, which could have major impacts on how the U.S. data affects all sorts of decisions. The Trump administration has maintained that it simply makes sense to know whether someone in the U.S. is or is not a citizen.