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'We are not backing down,' says Trump, backing down on census question

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Attorney General William Barr

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. Photo Credit: Bloomberg/Al Drago

White flag hoisted

There's always a tweet. This one is from July 3:

"The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question."

You can click on that tweet, print it and pin it to the wall Donald Trump hasn't built. There will be no citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Instead, Trump announced Thursday, he will order every federal agency, including the Homeland Security Department and the Social Security Administration, to share its records on the numbers of citizens and noncitizens with the Commerce Department.

"We are not backing down," Trump said. But as it happens, the interagency data-sharing is just the method the Census Bureau recommended to the Commerce Department last year. The bureau said the citizenship question "harms the quality of the census count" and would be "substantially less accurate." The Trump administration insisted on including it.

Its motive, critics charged, was to intimidate immigrant communities from participating and to help Republicans. The justification offered by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — that it would help enforcement of the Voting Rights Act — was laughed out of the Supreme Court as ludicrous fiction by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and a 5-4 majority.

Attorney General William Barr conceded Thursday as he appeared with the president that there was no way to keep up the legal fight as Trump instructed him to do last week "without jeopardizing our ability to carry out the census." Barr tried to spin Trump's retreat as a sound move. "Congratulations again, Mr. President, on taking this effective action," he said. For more, see Tom Brune's story for Newsday.

Trump's troll bridge

Trump used a White House "social media summit" Thursday to applaud far-right social media provocateurs even as he conceded they can be extreme.

“Some of you are extraordinary. The crap you think of is unbelievable,” Trump said. He contended some people are being banned from social media for no reason, but then added: "In all fairness, some of you I can almost understand. I mean, some of you guys are out there … I mean, it's genius, but it's bad."

Trump aired his own grievances, accusing Twitter — without evidence — of suppressing his own count of followers, which stands at 62 million. "I used to watch it: it'd be like a rocket ship when I put out a beauty," Trump said, but he no longer sees the numbers spike the same way. He chose to insinuate bias by Twitter rather than the possibility that most Twitter users who want to follow him already do.

Janison: Paranoia with a purpose

Crackpot theories that defy common sense play a practical and helpful role in Trump's governance, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. It's a method of trying to explain away inconvenient truths.

Remember how an imaginary campaign of massive ballot fraud supposedly cost the winning 2016 candidate the popular vote? But don't think too hard and move on to the next logical question: Why didn't this cabal go all the way and deliver the Electoral College, too, to Hillary Clinton? It would have taken fewer than 100,000 more votes.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's report becomes a whiteboard that says whatever Trump and his partisans want it to say in a given moment. It was "a plot from the very beginning to frame Trump," as Rudy Giuliani said again this week. But it also was a "total vindication" of Trump, according to the president's inaccurate summary of the report's findings.

And so it went at Trump's social media summit, where Trump told fellow conspiracy-mongers that tech companies were aiming to suppress them and "we will not let them get away with it much longer."

Trump's faith in evangelicals

Trump wins over evangelicals with policy, not piety, and that's fine with both sides, according to a new book, "American Carnage" by Tim Alberta, that chronicles how Republicans have bent to Trump's will.

Alberta writes how Trump happily bragged to stunned GOP leaders about his support from "those (expletive) Evangelicals." Speaking to a group of religious leaders, Trump said of Christianity: "I owe so much to it in so many ways." Because it guided his life or shaped his world view? Nope. "Because the Evangelical vote was mostly gotten by me," Trump told them. The Washington Post published excerpts from the book.

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan told Alberta that he made the calculation while still in office that it was better to stay on Trump's good side. "I told myself I gotta have a relationship with this guy to help him get his mind right” because "he didn't know anything about government," Ryan said.

The former speaker said he and others who were around Trump "helped him make much better decisions, which were contrary to kind of what his knee-jerk reaction was. Now I think he’s making some of these knee-jerk reactions."

Needs a new drug plan

Trump is pulling the plug on a plan to ease out-of-pocket costs for pricey drugs used by people on Medicare by letting them receive rebates that drugmakers now pay to insurers and middlemen.

White House enthusiasm for the idea waned after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the plan would have little impact on manufacturer prices, but would cost Medicare $177 billion over 10 years because it would lead to higher taxpayer-subsidized premiums.

Trump suffered another setback on his promise to lower drug prices earlier this week when a federal judge threw out a new requirement that drug companies disclose their prices in television ads.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the administration is setting its sights on bipartisan legislation advancing in Congress to address the issue.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Trump's Thursday morning tweetstorm was a Category 4 for strange. After ripping several of the Democratic contenders, he blew a wet kiss to himself as "so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!"

Trying to repeat his joke about Pete Buttigieg purportedly resembling Mad magazine character Alfred E. Neuman, he mistakenly tagged an account belonging to a retired Chicago-area teacher with that name. "It did give me more followers. So much for a stable genius," said the misidentified Neuman.

A nostalgic reference to when he "came down the escalator" said that was in November 2016. No, that was his entrance for his campaign-launch announcement at Trump Tower in June 2015.

What else is happening:

  • In his first major foreign policy speech as a 2020 candidate, Joe Biden pledged to lead America on the world stage "based on clear goals driven by sound strategies, not by Twitter tantrums," reports Newsday's Emily Ngo. He urged an end to "America alone" and a return to multilateralism to combat threats such as nuclear proliferation, climate change and China's economic dominance.
  • Biden's Senate records, donated eight years ago to the University of Delaware, were supposed to be made public as early as this year. They could have helped answer questions that have emerged during the campaign about his record. But the university is now keeping them sealed until after Biden "retires from public life," The Washington Post reported.
  • A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Biden holding first place in the race for the Democratic 2020 nomination with 26%, followed by 19% for Elizabeth Warren, 13% each for Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and 7% for Buttigieg.
  • A coalition of immigrant rights groups sued the Trump administration Thursday in Manhattan federal court over its planned mass deportation raids due to start Sunday. The suit seeks individual hearings for thousands of families that are facing removal because they didn’t show up in immigration court, Newsday's John Riley reports.
  • Labor Secretary Alex Acosta likely was hoping Trump would express renewed confidence in him, following his Wednesday news conference about his 2008 no-prosecution deal with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. As of Thursday night, Acosta was still waiting. "He's not out of the woods yet," a White House official told CNN.
  • House Democrats set a vote for next Tuesday on criminal contempt charges against Barr and Ross for failing to comply with a subpoena over the 2020 census. Its value for Democrats will be symbolic, as it's unlikely the head of the Justice Department will follow up with a prosecution.
  • House Judiciary Committee Democrats voted Thursday to authorize subpoenas to a dozen individuals, including former top Trump officials, for probes related to Mueller's Russia investigation report and for documents on the family-separation policy at the border, Newsday's Brune reports.

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