Most of the Sunday morning news shows ignored President Donald Trump’s efforts to force a question about citizenship status into the 2020 census -- despite a ruling by the Supreme Court effectively blocking the move.
The Supreme Court ruled on June 27 that the Trump administration gave “contrived reasons” for the citizenship question, demanding that the administration “offer genuine justifications” for it first. Despite the ruling, Trump tweeted that he was “absolutely moving forward” with the question, which a Justice Department attorney admitted “was the first [he] had heard of the president’s position on the issue” but added that “the 2020 census was continuing to be printed without the disputed citizenship question.” Trump has since discussed issuing an executive order to “forge a new legal avenue for the citizenship question,” according to The Washington Post. A federal judge in Maryland has also ordered proceedings to continue on whether the administration intended to use the citizenship question to discriminate against immigrants and help Republicans.
A review by Media Matters of the five major Sunday morning news shows -- Fox News Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, CBS’ Face the Nation, ABC’s This Week, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- found that Fox News Sunday, State of the Union, and This Week did not even mention the census developments, while guests on Meet the Press and Face the Nation made misleading claims about the issue.
On Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd briefly asked Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) about the Supreme Court decision and Trump’s “attempt essentially to go around the Supreme Court.” Hurd replied: “The Supreme Court has ruled. Let’s move forward.”
Later in the show, during the show’s roundtable, former National Review writer Jonah Goldberg claimed the government asked the citizenship question for “about 190 years.” (While a citizenship question was standard on the census through 1950, starting in 1960, it was omitted from all but the long-form questionnaire sent to fewer than 20% of Americans, which was dropped in 2010.)
On Face the Nation, host Margaret Brennan asked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services acting Director Ken Cuccinelli about the census developments and concerns that the citizenship questions could cause “a skewing of the results, inaccurate figures.” Cuccinnelli repeated the claim that the question was “collected many, many times in the past” and denied that the question was being used for political purposes without pushback from Brennan, even though Trump said on July 5 that the “number one” reason for adding the question was for redistricting purposes.
It is particularly notable that all of the Sunday shows ignored Trump’s admission that the citizenship question was meant for redistricting purposes. As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake discussed, a study by the late Republican redistricting advocate Thomas Hofeller found that redistricting using data derived from the citizenship question “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer explained this context when Hofeller’s remarks were made public about a month ago:
Voting districts are typically drawn using total population. A switch to using the voting-age citizen population would, Hofeller concluded in his 2015 memo, expand white political power at the expense of people of color, and thereby increase Republican advantage. But, Hofeller wrote, that shift could only occur with the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which would provide the federal government with data necessary for that switch. This argument, which reappears in Hofeller’s 2017 memo, was adopted by the Justice Department in its justification for adding the citizenship question to the census, along with the legal pretext of wanting to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.
In other words, long before Trump was even elected, Republican Party insiders were plotting to increase white political power at the expense of people of color. After Trump was elected, they implemented this plan by insisting that their actual goal was the protection of minority voting rights. As with the Voting Rights Act, there was the real reason and the stated reason, the truth and the pretext. The nationalism, and the delusion.
Trump’s DOJ had explicitly denied that this was part of the rationale for adding the question. But his admission on July 5 essentially admitted out loud that the goal of his administration was to increase the political power of white Americans.
However, most Sunday shows ignored the matter entirely, and of those that didn’t, none engaged substantively at all with Trump’s admission.
Tyler Monroe contributed research to this piece.