Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
President Trump to Announce His Plan for Citizenship on Census; Speaker Nancy Pelosi Meets and Tried to Unify the House Democratic Party; in a Closed Door Meeting About Rift; House Judiciary Committee Authorizes Subpoenas for Trump Former Officials; Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) is Asked About the Census Issue, ICE Raids, Mueller Testifying and the Rift on the Democratic Party. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 11, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- it was hotter in Anchorage than Key West on the 4th of July. It's a non-partisan issue there.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Thanks so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper. Tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, census questions. We're standing by for an announcement from President Trump. Sources say he'll back off from the court fight to get a question about citizenship on next year's census forms. But he has another strategy to get information on who's a citizen and who isn't. How will the president do it?
Nationwide raids. Sources say federal immigration agents will begin arresting and deporting thousands of undocumented immigrants with raids in 10 major U.S. cities starting Sunday. The roundup was announced and then delayed weeks ago. Will it happen this time or is it just a threat to keep the president's voters happy?
Democratic divide. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tries to tamp down a bitter public rift within her own party. One of the most progressive new members of Congress, New York representative, Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, accuses the speaker of targeting, and I'm quoting her now, "newly elected women of color." Can the speaker bridge the divide?
And bracing for Barry. Tonight, millions of people are on alert for possible flooding as Tropical Storm Barry gains strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Where's the storm heading? The National Hurricane Center just issued an updated forecast. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in "The Situation Room."
We're following breaking news. We're expecting to see President Trump any moment now for an announcement over at the White House. Sources tell CNN the president is backing away from a court fight over inserting a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
According to two sources, he's expected to take some kind of executive action to get the information through other means. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the Intelligence Committee, is standing by to take our questions. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of all the
day's top stories. But let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, we're expected to see the president now any moment.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're expecting to see the president in the Rose Garden in just a few moments to talk about this census question that has been looming over this city for several weeks now.
The president, according to our sources is expected to pivot away from this idea of inserting a citizenship question into the upcoming 2020 census and instead order the Commerce Department to try to come up with that information on citizenship in the United States through other means.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump appears to be looking for an off-ramp in his drive to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. After the president tweeted he would have an announcement on the issue, officials say Mr. Trump is now expected to ask the Commerce Department to seek the citizenship data through other means.
Democrats were fearful the president would instead try to defy a recent Supreme Court decision against the administration's push to add the question to the census.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: This will be a real test of John Roberts and the Supreme Court, whether they stand for rule of law or are always looking for an excuse to move the country rightward. We'll see.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Earlier in the week, top administration officials were hinting the president was gearing up for a battle over the citizenship question.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think over the next day or two you'll see what approach we're taking. It does provide a pathway for getting the question on the census.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The Trump administration's crackdown on the undocumented is also expected to play out this weekend as ICE Agents are preparing to conduct raids in 10 U.S. cities, starting as soon as Sunday. The operation is expected to target families, striking fear in immigrant communities across the country.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Families belong together. Every person in America has rights. These families are hard- working members of our community and our country. This brutal action will terrorize children and tear families apart.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Department of Homeland Security officials are suggesting they are looking to cast a wide net.
KEN CUCCINELLI, USCIS ACTING DIRECTOR: They're absolutely going to happen. There are approximately $1 million people in this country with removal orders. And of course, that isn't what ICE will go after in this, but that's the pool of people who have been all the way through the due process chain.
ACOSTA (voice-over): An echo of what the president told reporters at the G20 summit in Japan.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only problem is that they have to come in through a process. They have to come in legally. But, yeah, we will be removing large numbers of people.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Despite the potential for harrowing images of families being separated by ICE Agents, Republicans are backing the president's roundup.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I don't know the day that it takes place, but if you are to come to this position, you've been here years, have gone through a court system, have been found that you have to be deported, you have to follow the rule of law.
[17:04:59] ACOSTA: Getting back to the state of play of the embattled labor secretary, Alex Acosta, sources are now telling CNN that the labor secretary may not be on as firm ground as he was yesterday.
I talked to a senior White House official just in the last several minutes, Wolf, who said that the labor secretary, Alex Acosta, appeared to have stabilized things yesterday after his news conference yesterday here in Washington.
But that now West Wing aides and even top officials including the president are now looking to see how legal analysts are weighing in on Alex Acosta's performance. And in the words of this one White House official who I just spoke with a few moments ago, Alex Acosta is not out of the woods yet by any stretch.
So it sounds as though even though he stabilized things yesterday with that news conference, Wolf, officials over here at the White House are still assessing the fate of the embattled labor secretary. Wolf?
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Jim. I know you're going to head over to the Rose Garden. The president is getting ready to speak any moment now. Jim Acosta, over at the White House. Let's go to Capitol Hill right now, where feuding among House Democrats has taken the spotlight off their efforts to try to investigate the Trump administration.
Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is keeping track of it all. Phil, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, she's facing serious questions about a growing rift within her own caucus. What's the latest?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after more than a week of rising tensions over a vote over a Democratic plan related to border funding in which four progressive freshman Democrats voted against the proposal, it played out in public interviews. It played on twitter. It played out from some Democratic staffers and members going after one another on social media.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday, in a closed-door meeting, tried to unify the caucus. Tell everybody to keep it in-house. That did not necessarily have the desired effect, with at least one member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democrat from New York, saying in a "Washington Post" interview that she felt that Pelosi was singling she and three of her colleagues out.
That it was a persistent, almost targeting of sorts and that it was directed at four women of color. What she said was something that unsettled a lot of Democrats here on Capitol Hill, but she stuck by the remarks. Take a listen to what she told my colleague, Manu Raju.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Well, I think it's really just pointing out a pattern, right? We're not talking about just progressives. It's singling out four individuals. And knowing the media environment that we're operating in, knowing the amount of death threats that we get, knowing the amount of concentration of attention, I think it's just -- it's just worth asking why.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think she has a racial animus? Is she racist?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: No, no. Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, Ocasio-Cortez trying to clear up the racial component which has raised the most concern here among some Democrats I'm talking to. Now, Speaker Pelosi was asked about those comments earlier today. She said her remarks inside the closed-door meeting, they stand for themselves. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: I said what I'm going to say in the caucus. They took offense because I addressed -- requested my members, an offensive tweet that came out of one of the member's offices that referenced our blue dogs and our new dems essentially as segregationists. Our members took offense at that. I addressed that. How they're interpreting and carrying it to another place is up to them. But I'm not going to be discussing it any further.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Wolf, the speaker may not be discussing it, but the rank and file members certainly are including several members of the Congressional Black Caucus who took issue with how Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez described what she believed was a targeted effort by Speaker Pelosi.
The reality is this. The caucus is obviously ideologically diverse and obviously these freshman Democrats led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have huge outside followings. But Democrats, particularly senior Democrats led by Pelosi trying to bring everything back.
There are some meetings that should be scheduled or are expected to be scheduled in the days ahead, trying to tamp things down. There is obviously some major issues the Democratic caucus is going to have to deal with, budget, spending, minimum wage in the weeks ahead. They're trying to keep this in-house. The question is, will it actually stay in house, Wolf?
BLITZER: Also tonight, Phil, the House Judiciary Committee has voted to authorize a wave of new subpoenas involving current and former members of the Trump administration. Tell us about that.
MATTINGLY: Yes, that's exactly right. The investigation by the Judiciary Committee, obviously, it's been ongoing for months. And keep in mind, at the early stages of this Congress, Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee, sending out requests for information related to a potential obstruction of justice investigation into President Trump to 81 individuals.
Now, 12 more of the individuals that were on that list, that Chairman Nadler have the authorization to subpoena those individuals for information. Now, those individuals get as close to President Trump has anyone has gotten up to this point.
They include his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, obviously, a senior adviser to the White House. His former chief of staff, John Kelly, the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, former deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
But it also includes individuals who did not work in the White House. And why that is important, Wolf, as we've seen over the course of several months, the White House is using executive privilege grounds to block pretty much every request, subpoena or otherwise, coming from Capitol Hill.
[17:09:59] Those efforts won't necessarily work with people like Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager who never worked in the White House, David pecker, the head of American Media Inc., the "National Enquirer" parent company, who also never worked in the White House.
Democrats are trying to find any means they possibly can to gather information in the face of the White House saying no to everything. We'll see if Chairman Nadler decides to use that subpoena power he's now authorized to utilize. But as the past has shown, Wolf, generally when he has the ability to send out subpoenas, he tends to use it.
BLITZER: That's a good point. Phil Mattingly, up on Capitol Hill. Thank you very much.
We're joined now by Congressman Jim Himes, he's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Good evening, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, we're expecting President Trump to back down any moment now in his effort to include a citizen question on the 2020 census, but he's apparently going to take another path to try to compile existing data on citizenship. What does that tell you?
HIMES: Yes, Wolf, that's baloney. The president has no interest in real data about citizenship. The president and his people understood that if they threatened a citizenship question on the census that would create fear in immigrant communities.
Fortunately of course, the courts have turned that effort back. And look, that's not my words, right. The Supreme Court said in legal language that the administration was lying about why they wanted the citizenship question.
So, the good news it's not going to happen. The bad news is of course, it's been out there long enough that at least part of the president's objective has been achieved. There is concern out there in immigrant communities, which sometimes are communities that don't have access to as much information as other communities.
And so there's already a fair amount of fear out there. But make no mistake. This was not about gathering data on U.S. citizens. This was yet another along, by the way, a piece with threatened raids this weekend, another way to scare our immigrant communities.
BLITZER: Well, on that point, do you think it's safe for immigrants here in the United States to participate in the census?
HIMES: Of course it's safe for immigrants to participate in the census. By law, census staff are forbidden from sharing information with any other agency of the United States government. That is a law.
And by the Constitution of the United States, not even law, but by the Constitution of the United States, a census must count every single person, not citizen, not green card holder, not immigrant, but every single person in the United States so, no.
And I want to say this again because it's so important. The census people, the staff at every level are by law forbidden from sharing information with any other agency or department of the United States government.
BLITZER: All of this is coming, congressman, as the administration is gearing up to conduct formal and extensive deportation raids in 10 cities as early as this Sunday. Are you concerned with how this operation is going to be carried out? We've got a list of those 10 cities. There you see them right there, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Miami, Houston, Denver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
HIMES: Yeah, of course I'm concerned, Wolf. You know, and again, it's kind of my previous answer. This has very little to do with the rule of law. We are a country of laws. Rule of law is important. But make no mistake, this is about creating fear just like the citizenship question is about creating fear.
And, you know, some day maybe we get to have a good conversation about the difference between somebody who is here on an undocumented basis, let's call it a dreamer -- somebody who is brought here as an infant who knows no other country and how we deal with that person versus somebody who just snuck across the border with the intent to deal drugs on the other end of the extreme.
If we're a good country, if we're truly a rule of law country, we'll make a distinction between those two people and handle them differently. But of course, what the president is doing is just saying, you know, we're sending men with guns into our city. That's not about policy. That's about creating fear in the immigrant community which is the hallmark of this president's administration.
BLITZER: On a different subject, Congressman, your committee, the House Intelligence Committee is going to hear directly from the former Special Counsel Robert Mueller next week. But you say we shouldn't expect any big headlines. Are you purposefully trying to lower our expectations?
HIMES: Well, yes, I'm purposefully trying to lower your expectations, but boy, do I ever believe that I'm right when I say that. I know Bob Mueller. Bob Mueller is more than anybody else within 100 square miles of the capital.
A very serious individual, very disciplined. He says what he means and means what he says. And so though there will be all sorts of attempts to get him to say new things and to make news, it just ain't going to happen.
Now, he is I think going to be asked and probably will go through elements of his report, which I think is really important, right? This report has very detailed information, including pictures of the social media, for example, that the Russians used to influence our election.
And it's really worth the American people spending some time with that so that they can come to understand how the Russians attacked our elections and hopefully be better armed in the next couple of elections to what might actually be the efforts of a foreign country.
[17:15:00] So I think it's valuable. But no, I stand by what I've been saying all along, which is nobody should expect any bombshells from Bob Mueller.
BLITZER: But at the same time, Congressman, as you know, most Americans certainly have not read the full 450-page Mueller report. Won't it be newsworthy, won't it be significant for the American public to hear the special counsel in his own words?
HIMES: Well, for two reasons. The one I just gave, which is that Americans really need to be familiar. Look, whatever you think of, you know, whether Don, Jr. should have met with Russians, whatever you think of the president's obstruction of justice or no obstruction of justice, I understand those are very partisan, very angry questions.
What should be of interest to every single American is understanding how the Russians manipulated us in the 2016 elections -- how they used racial fissures, how they used religious groups, how they created fake rallies.
Americans need to understand that so that next time around, when they see social media, and let's face it, we're in a world where people live on social media, they may be say to themselves, whoa, this may not be appear what it appears to be. This may be Russia or North Korea or Iran or China trying to manipulate me as a U.S. citizen. I think that's really important.
The other reason it's really important is, I mean, let's face it. When the Mueller report -- before the Mueller report came out, the attorney general came out with a memorandum, which it would be overly kind to call it spin.
This attorney general basically came out and said a bunch of things that were not in the report so much so by the way that Bob Mueller had to contradict him. So, I think it is important to revisit that and say, here's what this report really said and didn't say, because it didn't say that the president was exonerated of obstruction of justice, very much the contrary. And people need to understand that from the guy who actually investigated and wrote the report.
BLITZER: Earlier today, the house speaker, Nancy Pelosi tried to quash this growing dispute with some of the freshman Democrats, including Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, who accused Nancy Pelosi of singling out the newly elected women of color -- her words. Why has this become so contentious?
HIMES: Well, I kind of wish that was not the language that my colleague from New York had used. Nancy Pelosi is not in any way, shape, or form racist and I think you had tape earlier of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez acknowledging that.
Here's what's happening, Wolf, it is not some news-worthy gulf within the Democratic Party. We are a huge and diverse party. We have people from all over the country, gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white, immigrant, not immigrant, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, yes, it's a little bit of a management problem. And there are some growing pans in this majority.
One of the things we are working on figuring out for people who spend a lot of time talking in public, we need to learn that we share our disagreements and should do so with vibrancy and we should disagree and argue and everything else. But like a family on the outside, we have to be united.
We need to keep our disagreements to ourselves. We need to not use tweets and Facebook to criticize each other. That is how we're going to win as a party going forward and we're still figuring that out.
BLITZER: What's the impact -- what's going to be the impact of all of this on the Democrats' ability to unify going into the elections in 2020?
HIMES: Well, you know, look, every episode like this is an opportunity and I said this actually -- I've said this in a number of groups of Democrats ever since we had the episode, which is that look, we should have a vibrant conversation.
We should criticize each other's policy ideas. We should compare and debate. We should never attack each other's motives. You know, we should never say that you're corrupt or you're a segregationist or anything else. We shouldn't say that, period. We sure as heck shouldn't say that publicly.
So, I mean, my counsel to my caucus is, let's keep the arguments focused on policy. Let's compare policies and for God's sake, let's not get personal and let's certainly not get personal on social media and, you know, outside the walls of the family, if you will.
BLITZER: Because it did get pretty personal over the past few days. Congressman Jim Himes, thank you so much for joining us.
HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stay with us. We're standing by for President Trump's announcement over at the White House. We expect him to back down, yes, for the president to back down in the fight to put his citizenship question on the U.S. census.
And later, all eyes are on the levees in New Orleans as floodwaters rise ahead of Tropical Storm Barry, which is gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Will the city suffer a direct hit?
[17:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: One again, we're standing by for President Trump's announcement about the census. Take a look. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the Rose Garden. Fairly soon, we're told, the president will walk over to the microphone, make his statement.
Sources say he'll back down, yes, he'll back down from the court fight to put a citizenship question on next year's census forms and instead direct the Commerce Department to gather citizenship data through other means. We have a lot to ask our political and legal experts. And Susan Hennessey, is this a complete capitulation on the part of the president?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think if the reporting is accurate, then yes. That's the only way to understand this, that this is a total and complete legal capitulation. The litigants in the census case have been arguing from the beginning that the government had other ways to produce citizenship data using existing records.
[17:24:58] That's why they said that they believed that the citizenship question was only being added to the census to suppress Latino responses because they said you could get this information from elsewhere and it would be better data from the outset.
So what this really looks like is the Census Bureau has already committed to producing information of what's called an administrative records match. This looks a lot like President Trump might be coming out to basically order the government to do something it was already doing, calling it a victory, slapping his name on it.
But this really is, you know, a complete victory for the ACLU litigants. And keep in mind that the president completely undercut DOJ before the court, devastating blow to DOJ institutional credibility, which the attorney general had no problem with. And now it looks as though that was all for naught.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and when they were told that you couldn't switch legal teams that was a huge problem for the Department of Justice.
BLITZER: By a federal court.
BORGER: By a federal court. It seems to me that the president very often is more interested in announcing big policy changes than implementing them. You announce it and then it goes away so okay, we're going to build a wall, well, that didn't happen. I can blame that on the Democrats.
I wanted -- you know, I wanted to put the citizenship question on the census. I'm going to blame the courts, which he did today. He said, there were three courts that really don't like him. So we know that's California, Maryland, and New York, and maybe there could be four if he had added the Supreme Court into it.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And it could be that if the goal of this is to suppress the Latino vote, folks who wouldn't want to respond because they were afraid of somebody knocking on their door and getting their citizenship says it could be that that goal is still achieved by the attention that the president has given this, elevating this fight.
It went obviously to the Supreme Court. They seemed to back down and the president tweeted and said, no, that was fake news. We're going to try to get this some other way. You have the attorney general come out and say, oh, no, it's going to happen in some different way. So, I think in many ways, he wins even though there is a bit of a capitulation here with the method of doing this.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and an administration that is marked by and characterized by chaos and policy by tweet. This is about as chaotic as I can remember. The whiplash of -- they're going to have this citizenship question. They never mind, they're going to go to print without the citizenship question.
Then, oops, conservative media is telling the president that he was a coward and he backed down and so the president directs the justice officials to the day before 4th of July to go back to a judge and say, I've got to figure this out because the president told me to in a tweet. And then it turns out that that's not even possible to do.
I mean, the back and forth, back and forth on something that is so fundamental because the president wanted to make a political statement, was upset about the fact that he was not allowed to make a political statement, so he tried again. And you cannot -- it's a lesson, a lot of lessons, but it's one for
him, a reminder that it is very, very difficult to pretend that you're still Donald Trump, the head of the Trump Organization and you snap your fingers and things change. This is the United States government and this is something that is a constitutional must.
BORGER: Right, and he didn't get that, I don't think. And so he wanted to make this policy change as you talk about, and now they started to search for a legal rationale for it. And it went all the way to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court said, guess what, the rationale you have given is, what the court said, contrived.
HENDERSON: Also known as a lie.
BORGER: Well, right. Justice Roberts called it contrived. And that's pretty tough language. So then they had to go back. You don't have to go behind the scenes to see the chaos that Dana is describing. It's right out there, right in front of you.
HENDERSON: Yes. I think this is also a reminder of where the president wants to fight the sort of political terrain he wants to fight on. He wants to fight on identity issues, a sort of white identity issues, ideas about who really is American, who belongs in this country.
And so that's why I think, you know, he wasn't willing to back down on this. That's why he wanted to elevate it because this is where his base is, a lot of white evangelicals very much like his very hawkish approach to immigration and immigrants. And so I think it's sort of a foreshadow. It's both a replay of what we saw in 2016 with the wall and a foreshadowing of what we'll see in 2020.
BASH: And just real quick on the political point. The one thing that I will say that he has in his corner and in his favor, is that because of the chaos we all just described, he is going to be able to politically, and he's definitely going to do it, make the argument to the base, look how hard I fought.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tried.
BASH: Look how hard I tried. And I'm still trying. I'm going to figure a way around it. And that he thinks is going to pay oiff.
BORGER: And it's somebody else's fault. So, it's the court's fault this time. It's John Roberts' fault --
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We're waiting to hear directly from the president. We're told he's about to walk out in the Rose Garden, make his statement. Certainly, he is not very happy right now when you see at the bottom of the screen, our reporting that he will back down in this fight over a census citizenship question. The president certainly does not like to be described as someone who backs away from a fight. We'll be right back.
[17:29:59] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our political and legal experts. We're standing by to hear directly from the President of the United States. He's about to walk out of the Oval Office, down those stairs, over to the microphone to make an important statement on the citizenship question.
He's backing away from having that citizenship question, we're told, as part of the formal 2020 census questionnaire. But he's got another opportunity to have the Commerce Department go through existing government data to determine how many citizens are in the United States.
[17:35:08] Is there any, Susan Hennessey, legal problem with this other alternative way to determine citizenship in the United States that the President, we believe, will announce?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: No, it's something that he is saying that they should do, an administrative records match. There's nothing that presents the United States government from determining who is a citizen of the United States. They can't use census information to do that.
And people who are watching, you know, should be aware that no matter what, they can fill out the census without being concerned about the government -- about the Census Bureau sharing that with other parts, other departments of the United States government for any kind of immigration enforcement.
But, no, this is plainly within, you know, the President's executive authority to do. You know, the point is it's actually so plainly within his authority that it was already happening.
So all of this litigation that's been done on top of it was all against the backdrop of the Census Bureau saying that they were already going to perform this function, which opens the question, why is he having a press conference? The government has been doing this all along.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And you know, our Greg Wallace has reported that this is the option that the Census Bureau itself recommended to the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, in January of 2018, and said not only should you do it this way, it won't be expensive. And it's also more reliable data than you would get on a census. So here we are.
HENNESSEY: And one thing to keep in mind as well is there are still big, open questions about whether or not Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was honest in congressional testimony. He told Congress under oath that the Justice Department was the one who had told him that they wanted to add the census data. It appears that the record in the Supreme Court litigation contradicts that. So even if this is the end of the legal fight, this scandal might not be over for the Trump administration yet.
BLITZER: And it comes, you know, Dana, as the administration, we're also told, will begin, this Sunday, rounding up undocumented immigrants in the United States and trying to send them out of the country. This is something that the political base of the President clearly wants to see.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And has been asking for and waiting for to resume for a long time, absolutely. This is classic Donald Trump.
And you know, look, to be fair, historically, he's certainly not the only president to do -- maybe not to this extent, but to do raids. It's happened in both parties. But this is a completely different climate, and this is a completely different president who has made this promise time and time again.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And --
BLITZER: But what is unusual, Nia --
BLITZER: -- is that they're announcing --
HENDERSON: That's the thing!
BLITZER: -- in 10 cities, and --
BASH: Fair point!
BLITZER: And here comes the President right now. And we can see he's about to make his statement.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, everyone. Are you a citizen of the United States of America? Oh, gee, I'm sorry, I just can't answer that question. And that's after spending billions and billions of dollars.
There used to be a time when you could answer questions like that very easily. There used to be a time when you could proudly declare, I am a citizen of the United States.
Now, they're trying to erase the very existence of a very important word and a very important thing, citizenship. They're even coming after the pledge of allegiance in Minnesota.
I'm proud to be a citizen. You're proud to be a citizen. The only people who are not proud to be citizens are the ones who are fighting us all the way about the word "citizen."
Today, I'm here to say we are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population. I stand before you to outline new steps my administration is taking to ensure that citizenship is counted so that we know how many citizens we have in the United States. Make sense?
We will defend the right of the American people to know the full facts about the population size of citizens and noncitizens in America. It is essential that we have a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and noncitizens that make up the U.S. populations. Imperative.
Knowing this information is vital to formulating sound public policy, whether the issue is health care, education, civil rights, or immigration. We must have a reliable count of how many citizens, noncitizens, and illegal aliens are in our country.
The Department of Commerce sensibly decided to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, as has been done many, many times throughout the history of the United States. Unfortunately, this effort was delayed by meritless litigation.
[17:40:00] As shocking as it may be, far-left Democrats in our country are determined to conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst. 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. The Supreme Court ultimately affirmed our right to ask the citizenship question. And very strongly it was affirmed. But the Supreme Court also ruled that we must provide further explanation that would have produced even more litigation and considerable time delays.
The case is already in three federal district courts that have been, to be totally honest, extremely unfriendly to us. These delays would have stopped us from completing the census on time. It's deeply regrettable, but it will not stop us from collecting the needed information and, I think, even in greater detail and more accurately.
Therefore, we are pursuing a new option to ensure a complete and timely count of the noncitizen population. Today, I will be issuing an executive order to put this very plan into effect immediately.
I am hereby ordering every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and noncitizens in our country. They must furnish all legally accessible records in their possession immediately.
We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete, and accurate count of the noncitizen population, including databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. We have great knowledge in many of our agencies. We will leave no stone unturned. The Census Bureau projected that, using previously available records,
it could determine citizenship for 90 percent of our population or more. With today's executive order, which eliminates long-standing obstacles to data sharing, we're aiming to count everyone. Ultimately, this will allow us to have an even more complete count of citizens than through asking the single question alone. It will be, we think, far more accurate.
The Census Bureau can use this information, along with information collected through the questionnaire, to create the official census. In other words, as a result of today's executive order, we will be able to ensure the 2020 census generates an accurate count of how many citizens, noncitizens, and illegal aliens are in the United States of America.
Not too much to ask. This will greatly inform a wide array of public policy decisions. This information is also relevant to administering our elections. Some states may want to draw state and local legislative districts based upon the voter eligible population.
Indeed, the same day the Supreme Court handed down the census decision, it also said it would not review certain types of districting decisions, which could encourage states to make such decisions based on voter eligibility.
With today's order, we will collect all of the information we need to conduct an accurate census and to make responsible decisions about public policy, voting rights, and representation in Congress. In everything we do, we will faithfully represent the people of the United States of America.
I would like now to introduce Attorney General Bill Barr to the podium. Thank you.
Thank you, Bill.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. Thank you, Mr. President. And congratulations on today's executive order, which will ensure that we finally have an accurate understanding of how many citizens and noncitizens live in our country.
As the Supreme Court recognized, it would be perfectly lawful for the federal government to ask on the census whether individuals are citizens of the United States, and it's entirely reasonable to want to know how many citizens and noncitizens there are in the United States. In fact, the federal government has routinely asked questions relating to citizenship ever since the 1820s.
[17:44:59] But while the Supreme Court correctly recognized that it would be entirely appropriate to include citizenship questions on the census, it nevertheless held that the Commerce Department did not adequately explain its decisions for doing so on the 2020 census. Because, as the Supreme Court recognized, the defect in the Commerce
Department's decision was curable with a better record, the President asked me to work with Secretary Ross to determine whether there remained a viable path for including a citizenship question on the census. I did so.
In my view, the government has ample justification to inquire about citizenship status on the census and could plainly provide rationales for doing so that would satisfy the Supreme Court. And therefore, there is no question that a new decision to add the question would ultimately survive legal review.
The problem is that any new decision would be subject to immediate challenge as a new claim in the three ongoing district court cases. In addition, there are injunctions currently in place that forbid adding the question.
There is simply no way to litigate these issues and obtain relief from the current injunctions in time to implement any new decision without jeopardizing our ability to carry out the census, which we're not going to do. We're not going to jeopardize our ability to carry out the census.
So as a practical matter, the Supreme Court's decision closed all paths to adding the question to the 2020 census. Put simply, the impediment was not -- was a logistical impediment, not a legal one. We simply cannot complete the litigation in time to carry out the census.
One other point on this. Some in the media have been suggesting in the hysterical mode of the day that the administration has been planning to add the citizenship question to the census by executive fiat without regard to contrary court orders or what the Supreme Court might say. This has been based on rank speculation and nothing more.
As should be obvious, there has never been under -- this has never been under consideration. We have always accepted that any new decision to add a citizenship question to the census would be subject to judicial review.
Turning to today, I applaud the President for recognizing in his executive order that including a question on the census is not the only way to obtain this vital information. The course the President has chosen today will bring unprecedented resources to bear on determining how many citizens and noncitizens are in our country and will yield the best data the government has had on citizenship in many decades.
That information will be used for countless purposes as the President explained in his remarks today. For example, there is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes. Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may be relevant to those considerations. We will be studying this issue.
Congratulations again, Mr. President, on taking this effective action. Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: All right. So there was the President and the Attorney General walking away. The statements that we just heard, the President acknowledging he is not going to be able to fight in court this battle over whether there should be a formal citizenship question on the census.
Instead, he's going to do what the Department of Commerce originally recommended, go through existing data from Social Security, IRS, U.S. citizenship and immigration services, the State Department, other aspects, elements of the U.S. government, and get this information separately from a formal question.
They wanted a formal question on the 2020 census. They're not going to get it. Dana, what do you think?
BASH: The fact that the President said explicitly, at least once, I'm not backing down, and tried to fill in the blanks on that in every way, shape, or form -- Bill Barr helped him giving the legal argument --
BLITZER: He really is backing down, though.
BASH: -- is -- masked the fact that he is backing down.
[17:49:51] He doesn't have a choice, legally. He ran up against too many brick walls with regard to judges that are -- you know, went from the federal bench underneath the Supreme Court to not just the United States Supreme Court, but the Chief Justice, writing, as you said earlier, that it was contrived, the whole notion of -- the rationale that they gave for wanting to put a citizenship on the census was contrived.
But the idea that he went into the Rose Garden, gave a very political speech, unleashed on the reasons why he wanted to do this, saying we do -- we cannot conceal the number of illegal aliens in this country spoke volumes. And he was speaking to the same people that we knew he was speaking to when he decided to go down this path in the beginning. It's just now that they're unshackled from litigation, he can be more clear how political it is.
HENDERSON: It really is an echo of his campaign announcement speech in 2015, in June of 2015, when he seized on this idea, you know, sort of long-held in, I think, conservative and right-wing sectors that illegal immigrants were here, and they were doing bad things. And they meant harm to ordinary Americans. They vote illegally. They are getting benefits. Democrats are shielding them. He essentially said that in this speech.
And in many ways, this is sort of -- I know he gave his campaign launch speech, but in many ways, I think we see what he's campaign in 2020 is going to be about, all of this ideas, you know, of American identity, that people are being sort of taken advantage of, and, you know, by these illegal immigrants. Their lives are made lesser by these illegal immigrants.
And this was him essentially. I mean, he was sort of hinting that there would be sort of a government registry, almost, of illegal immigrants. And all of these problems, you know, they're voting illegally, this -- the fact that there's a registry could combat that. So I thought it was sort of a masterful speech in some ways that really, I think, tied together all of these negative ideas that exist about illegal immigrants. At least for him.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, the Attorney General, Bill Barr, explained --
BLITZER: -- in very specific legal terms --
BORGER: Well --
BLITZER: -- why the administration, why the President had no reason but to back down.
BORGER: Well, he effectively said, if we had challenged this, we would have won. Of course, we would have won because the Supreme Court didn't say we couldn't challenge this, but there just wasn't enough time. As a result -- and there was a little bit of dear leader in what the Attorney General was saying, the way he said, congratulations, Mr. President, for doing the right thing.
This is -- you know, this is what the Commerce Department suggested in January of 2018. So they've gone through all of this chaos to get back to what was suggested to them well over a year ago.
And I think that this was such a political speech from the Rose Garden. It was -- you know, the President saying the Democrats are determined to conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst, we will leave no stone unturned, and over and over again, talking about the Democrats. So he has two enemies, here's the Democrats and the illegal immigrants.
BLITZER: And you heard, you know, Susan, the Attorney General basically blamed the Commerce Department for the whole problem because they didn't do a good job explaining the rationale before the Supreme Court.
HENNESSEY: Yes, but this is --
BASH: With Wilbur Ross standing right there.
BORGER: Right, exactly.
BLITZER: With the Commerce Secretary, who didn't utter a word --
BLITZER: -- but he was standing right next to the President as well.
HENNESSEY: Well, look, this was -- this is absolute nonsense from the moment Trump started speaking to the moment that Bill Barr finished speaking, right? This is the United States government essentially standing up and admitting that their litigating position, the representations they have made to the Supreme Court that they couldn't get the data elsewhere that they needed to put on this citizenship question -- one phrase we didn't hear in that entire speech, including from the Attorney General, the Voting Rights Act.
The government has claimed that they were litigating this because they cared about enforcing the Voting Rights Act. And so this really was sort of an, you know, utter capitulation and really trying to move the goalpost in the entire framing by suggesting that somehow the question here was whether or not they were entitled to count the number of citizens.
No one ever said the United States government wasn't allowed to count the number of citizens within the country. The question was whether or not you could use the census to ask this question. And so, once again, this is Trump sort of standing up, essentially lying, right, giving sort of a fantasy view of what's happening, saying that this was the real fight, and then declaring a victory. It's -- it was pretty astonishing to see.
BORGER: Well, and the way it started with the sort of sarcastic, are you a citizen?
BORGER: Oh, gee, I can't answer -- you can't answer that. They're trying to erase the existence of the word citizenship and --
HENDERSON: They're trying to erase you, really, is what he is saying.
BORGER: That's right.
BORGER: And they are coming after the pledge of allegiance in Minnesota, and they're --
BORGER: You know, you can see the campaign refrain here.
BORGER: And it's coming right from the Rose Garden.
HENDERSON: Yes, it's -- you know, it's the culture war, right? And we --
HENDERSON: And it's based on identity, White identity, race and gender and all sorts of things. So, you know, I think this will be perfect for his base. It'll be perfect for Fox News.
BASH: And it hasn't -- it hasn't stopped since 2015.
HENDERSON: Right. Right. I think that's right.
BASH: I mean, we've been seeing this going on for four years, right.
HENDERSON: This has been what he's been doing. And this has not been --
BLITZER: And he may --
BLITZER: He may have gotten, though, part of what he wanted because there are a lot of people out there who may be reluctant to answer questions --
[17:55:05] BLITZER: -- when some individuals from the government census come forward and ask these kinds of questions.
BASH: Good point.
BLITZER: Everybody, standby. There's a lot more breaking news we're following. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Census surrender? President Trump just gave up on including the question about citizenship in the 2020 census. Tonight, he says he's using his executive powers to get the controversial information another way.
[18:00:05] Arresting thousands. Weeks after the President threatened nationwide immigration raids --