Census bureau nominee avoids taking position on citizenship question

The Trump administration’s nominee to lead the Census Bureau said he will not take a public position on the most controversial question to come before the agency in years: Whether to ask all Americans about their citizenship status in 2020.

“I have no plans to voice an opinion on that question,” Steven Dillingham said at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Given the half-dozen lawsuits challenging the administration’s plans to add the question to the 2020 nationwide survey, Dillingham said, “I think it would not be advisable” to take a stance, because he is ultimately required “to administer the decennial census in accordance with that judicial decision.”

“So it would be problematic, I think, to take a public position on that question,” he said.

Multiple experts, including the former director, have voiced concerns the question would cause undocumented people to avoid replying. The census is designed to count every person living in the country, not just citizens, and is used in many consequential decisions ranging from federal infrastructure spending to the number of seats each state holds in Congress. The current acting director said in an NPR interview this summer that the question is complicating the bureau’s messaging.

Democrats point to internal documents and public statements by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as evidence Ross was interested in including the question long before the Justice Department officially asked for the question to assist enforcement of voting laws.

Dillingham pledged to resist any attempts at improper “political interference” but did not address whether he sees that in the citizenship question’s origins.

“It would be something I think as the director of the Census Bureau that I would have to carefully consider who is asking the questions or making the request and for what purpose, and to push back if I think it were improper influence,” Dillingham said.