Former president Donald Trump made no secret of his interest in meddling with the 2020 Census. But newly released documents show the extraordinary measures his political appointees took to alter the outcome—and the strong pushback they encountered from Census Bureau career staff.
With the 2020 election fast approaching and a pandemic making it even more difficult to complete, the Trump administration began pressuring Census officials to wrap up their counting early—a decision that could have potentially benefited the GOP and Trump if the final count failed to capture certain harder-to-measure demographics like immigrants.
Specifically, the memo circulated by Census officials—compiled as part of a plan to approach Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (who oversaw the Census)—complains that there had been an “unusually high degree of engagement in technical matters, which is unprecedented.” Or, put more simply, administration officials were meddling in the most fundamental inner workings of a complex and finely tuned process in ways that had never been seen before. Political appointees tried to influence the way the Census Bureau counted people, processed the data, avoided disclosing private information, counted citizens, and calculated undocumented populations. Basically everything the Census Bureau undertakes.
MSNBC's Ali Velshi laid out the bigger picture on his show the Sunday:
New reporting from The New York Times sheds light on the Trump administration's relentless attempts to politicize the Census Bureau.
“A newly disclosed memorandum citing unprecedented meddling by the Trump administration in the 2020 census and circulated among top Census Bureau officials indicates how strongly they sought to resist efforts by the administration to manipulate the count for Republican political gain.”
“The issues involved include crucial technical aspects of the count, including the privacy of census respondents, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals quickly and political pressure on a crash program that was seeking to identify and count undocumented immigrants.”
Most of the issues affected the population estimates used for reapportionment, which has a big impact on the balance of power in Congress. The Census Bureau's population count every 10 years, as you know, affects how congressional districts are drawn up.
That's a process that's often contested because redrawing maps allows the party in control to redistribute power. And it happens every time. It's happening right now.
In fact, on Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court threw out a gerrymandered map that was drawn out by Republicans state officials and according to the Brennan Center for Justice “As of January 5, 2022, a total of 34 cases are pending challenging congressional and legislative maps in 12 states as racially discriminatory and/or partisan gerrymanders.”
This is another reminder of how Donald Trump upturned the norms of government and overstepped his bounds. He and his cronies tried to gain an upper hand any way they could, and we continue to talk about it, because crucially, they're still at it.
Last night, Trump appeared at a rally in Florence, Arizona to continue his national gaslighting campaign. He predicatively repeated the same baseless, debunked lies that he's been spreading for 14 months. He was joined by the way, by a supporting cast of other election deniers, some of whom he's endorsed to serve in public office.
Trump loves playing kingmaker, particularly if it will benefit him down the line, and so far, he's endorsed 59 Republican candidates who support the big lie.
And that's really what this is all about. It's a power grab by any means necessary. That's the through line of Donald Trump's life and career. His bullying of opponents and allies alike, his meddling in elections, his meddling with the Census Bureau, the shameless continuation of the big lie.
And that unrestrained yearning for power is exactly why we need safeguards to protect our democracy.