The Slatest

Trump Administration Admits Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach Were Involved in Adding Census Citizenship Question

Trump and Kobach with their hands on each other's shoulders, onstage at a rally.
Donald Trump and Kris Kobach in Topeka, Kansas, on Oct. 6. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

In March, the Commerce Department—which encompasses the U.S. Census Bureau—announced that the 2020 census would involve asking respondents whether they are American citizens. The move was widely believed to be intended to reduce the rate at which immigrants (including undocumented immigrants, who are supposed to be included in the count) respond to the survey, and thus to reduce the political power of immigrant-heavy (read: Democratic) areas of the country.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, however, asserted that he’d ordered the question added to help minority populations—specifically, so that the the Department of Justice could have accurate data with which to enforce voting rights. In July, a federal judge responding to a lawsuit filed by advocacy groups and Democratic attorneys general ruled that there was reason to believe the question was actually added because of anti-immigrant animus and that the plaintiffs could conduct discovery to find out more about its origins. Now, the Trump administration has admitted in a new filing that Ross in fact was asked to discuss the citizenship idea with Kris Kobach, a notoriously immigrant-phobic right-wing Kansas politician, by notoriously immigrant-phobic White House adviser Steve Bannon:


Secretary Ross recalls that Steve Bannon called Secretary Ross in Spring of 2017 to ask Secretary Ross if he would be willing to speak to then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about Kobach’s ideas about a possible citizenship question on the decimal census.

Previously released documents showed that Bannon had sent an email expressing the wish that Ross “talk to someone about the census” and that Kobach had emailed Ross directly about the issue. But the administration had not yet formally acknowledged Bannon and Kobach’s role in the process—and, as NPR notes, the acknowledgement appears to contradict Ross’ testimony before Congress about how the question came to be added:

“Has the president or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding the citizenship question?” Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., asked Ross during a House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on March 20.

“I am not aware of any such,” Ross testified.