Relying on existing federal data sources could provide a clearer picture of how many people living in the United States are citizens without distorting census participation. But some Democrats complained on Thursday that the public debate itself might have sown fear among immigrants in the country and could taint their view of the census, even if it does not include a citizenship question.
Following Mr. Trump to the Rose Garden podium, his attorney general, William P. Barr, said that any administration move to modify the census would have survived legal review, but only after a lengthy process that would have jeopardized the administration’s ability to conduct the census in a timely manner.
“Put simply, the impediment was a logistical impediment, not a legal one,” Mr. Barr said. “We simply cannot complete the litigation in time to carry out the census.”
Thursday’s announcement was an anticlimactic end to a showdown that Mr. Trump escalated, in seeming defiance of the Supreme Court’s June ruling on the census question, with a July 3 post on Twitter announcing that his administration was “absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”
Even as he waved a white flag on substance, Mr. Trump was still firing angry rhetorical shots.
“As shocking as it may be, far-left Democrats in our country are determined to conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst,” he said. “They probably know the number is far greater, much higher than anyone would have ever believed before. Maybe that’s why they fight so hard. This is part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen and is very unfair to our country.”
But Mr. Trump’s critics relished the moment as an example of punctured hubris. Dale Ho, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s “attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper.”
“He lost in the Supreme Court, which saw through his lie about needing the question for the Voting Rights Act,” said Mr. Ho, who argued the Supreme Court case. “It is clear he simply wanted to sow fear in immigrant communities and turbocharge Republican gerrymandering efforts by diluting the political influence of Latino communities.”