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U.S. to pursue citizenship question on census, but path unclear

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday stepped up its effort to place a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, after the president said he was mulling an executive order to deal with the impasse and Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge they were still looking for a legal way forward.

The Supreme Court has called the administration’s rationale for the question “contrived” and said the government could not go forward without a solid justification. On Friday, President Donald Trump and a key official mentioned other possible reasons for adding the query in statements that added to a weeklong swirl of contradictions that could make the administration’s legal case even more difficult.

Government lawyers said in a filing Friday that the Justice and Commerce departments had been “instructed to examine whether there is a path forward” for the question and that if one was found they would file a motion in the Supreme Court to try to get the question on the survey to be sent to every U.S. household.

Their filing came in a case before U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland that poses the issue of whether the addition of the citizenship question would violate equal-protection guarantees and whether it is part of a conspiracy to drive down the count of minorities. He scheduled information gathering to begin immediately and conclude by Aug. 19, with any witnesses to testify in early September.

The government has begun printing the census forms without the question, and that process will continue, administration officials said.

Confusion

Statements Friday from Trump and his acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Ken Cuccinelli, seemed to add confusion to why the government wants the addition.

The administration had said in multiple legal battles that the question was needed to get a better sense of the voting population to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Opponents countered that the question could result in a severe undercount of immigrant communities.

But speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday morning, Trump said the question was needed “for many reasons.”

“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for districting,” he said. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”

Trump’s statement could give additional heft to evidence discovered in May suggesting the administration worked with a Republican redistricting strategist who saw the question as a way to give Republicans and non-Hispanic whites an electoral advantage. Government officials had previously denied that adding the question had anything to do with the strategist or his analysis.

Appearing on Fox Business Network on Friday, Cuccinelli listed other justifications for the question: “Frankly, as part of the ongoing debate over how we deal financially and legally with the burden of those who are not here legally. That is a relevant issue.”

Trump had raised the possibility that some kind of addendum could be printed separately after further litigation of the issue.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “We could start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision. So we’re working on a lot of things, including an executive order.”

Whether an executive order or an addendum is feasible at this stage was not clear, and any shift almost certainly would carry extra costs.

Were Trump to issue an executive order, it is hard to predict what might happen: Much would depend on what it said, when it took effect and what the Justice Department did to request court permission to deviate from its current course.

But it is likely those suing would return to the federal judges who have already blocked the citizenship question and either ask them to clarify that their injunctions apply to Trump’s new executive order, or ask for new injunctions to yield the same effect.

If judges agreed, the administration once again would be stymied and forced to take the battle to higher courts. In the meantime, the administration will also have to work through discovery in the existing cases, potentially having to reveal more unflattering details about their handling of the citizenship question.

Thomas Wolf, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, said there is “no path” forward for the government to add the question at this point.

“The court vacated the Voting Rights Act rationale as a contrived pretext,” he said. “What they’re trying to do now is the textbook definition of a pretext — telling the court, ‘We plan to do this but we don’t know why yet.’ ”

Tacking on the citizenship question through an addendum is also fraught with legal and practical risks.

Census experts say that, among other concerns, an addendum would likely violate the bureau’s strict rules on testing a question, which include considering how the placement of a question on the form affects respondents’ likelihood of filling it out.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee, said such a proposal is “neither operationally feasible nor scientifically sound, and it could not, at any rate, be pulled off in time for the 2020 Census. The complexity of a census is as fine-grained as the weight of the packet that is mailed to households and the automated readability of forms. And the instructions for the original form would need to be revised to reference an ‘extra’ question on a separate page. The idea is little more than fantasy in the context of the current census.”

In litigation earlier this year, the government stressed that forms needed to go to the printer by July 1, prompting the Supreme Court to expedite its consideration of the question.

Legal path

Trump’s comments about finding an alternate route came as government lawyers scrambled to find a legal path to carry out the president’s wishes despite their conclusions in recent days that no such avenue exists, according to people familiar with the matter.

“It’s kind of shocking that they still don’t know what they’re doing,” Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said. MALDEF is representing some of the plaintiffs in the case in Maryland. “We’re in this posture because they don’t know what the real plan is.”

Saenz derided the idea that an executive order could brush aside the 15 months of litigation that culminated in the high court’s ruling.

“Executive orders do not override decisions of the Supreme Court,” Saenz said. “Separation of powers remains, as it has been for over 200 years, a critical part of our constitutional scheme.”

The government sought to hold off proceedings in the Maryland case, a request the plaintiffs said in their filing Friday, was “particularly inappropriate given Defendants’ repeated representations to this Court and other courts, including the United States Supreme Court, that timing is of the essence.”

The debate over adding the question had seemed settled after the Supreme Court ruled last week against the Trump administration. As late as Tuesday evening, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, said the administration was dropping its effort and was printing the census forms without it.

But Trump, in tweets Wednesday and Thursday, said he was not giving up.

The reversal came after Trump talked by phone with conservative allies who urged him not to give up the fight, according to a senior White House official and a Trump adviser, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Trump told reporters Friday that the White House was surprised by the Supreme Court decision and that he found it “very shocking” that the citizenship question could not be included.

Trump said he believes the rationale provided by Ross “can be expanded very simply.”

“He made a statement,” Trump said of Ross. “He wrote something out. The judge didn’t like it. I have a lot of respect for Justice Roberts. But he didn’t like it, but he did say come back. Essentially, he said come back.”


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Recent Longview High School graduate takes first at national competition

Four years ago, Payton Schaap competed in the prepared presentation category at the Technology Student Association’s national event, placing ninth.

Fast forward through four years of work, dedication and practice, and the recent Longview High School graduate is a national champion.

“Ever since (freshman year), I realized I love this event and speaking. So ever since then, I’ve kind of been chasing after this one trophy,” said Schaap, who competed recently with other LHS students at the national event in Washington, D.C. “When finally they announced ‘Payton Schaap, 1st place,’ it all finally came full circle.”

Schaap’s trophy wasn’t the only for the Longview High team in the prepared presentation category: Hyndavi Jatavallabhula, 17, won second place.

Before the competition, Jatavallabhula said she made a bet with their adviser, Charles Mosley, that if she and Schaap won first and second in the event, he would have to shave his 30-year mustache.

Mosley flew home with a clean-shaven face.

Longview High School’s Technology Student Association had 12 students qualify for the national competition. TSA is a national organization in which students compete in events related to science, technology, engineering, math, public speaking and leadership.

Schaap’s and Jatavallabhula’s event, prepared presentation, gives students 24 hours after getting a topic to write a speech and create an electronic presentation.

The topic at nationals was “Dream It, Achieve It: What Does This Mean to You?”

For her presentation, Schaap used her cello to talk about the steps needed to achieve a dream or goal. She started by playing a couple of notes on her instrument, adding more throughout her speech and ending it by playing Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1,” a goal of hers for 10 years.

“Finally being able to get this piece under my fingers, I had this realization I can achieve a dream no matter how long or challenging it may be,” she said. “I guess on another level, getting first place with this speech, something I’ve wanted since I began this competition, it really put a lot of faith in myself that I can do whatever I want to do.”

Jatavallabhula chose to speak about her experience as an immigrant, something she said she’s never spoken about publicly.

“I’ve always given speeches about my father and his struggle growing up and how hard of a worker he is, and I wanted to talk about my dreams instead of his dreams,” she said. “I talked about the American dream and how it isn’t really one person’s idea. It’s not concrete; it doesn’t belong to one person.”

In her presentation, Jatavallabhula said she wanted to address struggles of being an immigrant . She talked about not being allowed to vote and not being able to get a job she wanted at a baseball hitting academy because her parents’ visa does not allow her to work as a minor.

She used baseball as a theme in her speech, she said.

“I talked about the bases of my life — first base, second base,” she said. “America is kind of a home run for me; I enjoy everything this place has to offer, and to me, achieving that dream is just making progress toward that American dream.”

Jatavallabhula said she was concerned because her presentation so personal — the experience made her feel vulnerable.

“I wasn’t expecting to hear my name in the top 10, let alone the top three,” she said. “It was kind of validating almost because that story was very raw, so to know that people like that story was very validating.”

Carly Snyder, 17, was part of Longview High’s digital video production team, which finished in the top 10.

The theme for the videos was “mockumentary,” and the group submitted a video about finding Bigfoot along with a portfolio and essay about the film technicalities. At the competition, the team also was evaluated in an interview about the film-making process.

“(Judges) go through the portfolios and videos, and they post the top 12. The top 12 are interviewed, and at the end of the competition, they post the top 10,” Snyder said. “Some of our members actually got poison ivy filming, so it was really rewarding.”

Snyder and Jatavallabhula, who are seniors this school year, have another year of TSA, and they said they want to keep improving at nationals and in other events.

But Schaap’s TSA journey is at an end. She said she is ready to go to Baylor University and work toward becoming a dentist of orthodontist.

“(Winning nationals) ended my TSA career with the legacy I wanted,” she said. “It was the one dream I’ve chased after this entire time.”


US adds solid 224,000 jobs, making Fed rate cut less certain

WASHINGTON — U.S. employers sharply stepped up their hiring in June, adding a robust 224,000 jobs, an indication of the economy’s durability after more than a decade of expansion.

The strength of the jobs report the government issued Friday could complicate a decision for the Federal Reserve late this month on whether to cut interest rates to help support the economy. Most investors have anticipated a rate cut in July and perhaps one or two additional Fed cuts later in the year. That scenario may be less likely now.

Stocks sold off early Friday before paring their losses later. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down a modest 43 points. But the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note climbed to 2.04% from just under 2% before the jobs report was released, reflecting a view that the Fed might now be less inclined to cut rates multiple times.

June’s solid job growth followed a tepid gain of 72,000 jobs in May, a result that had fueled concerns about the economy’s health. But with June’s pace of hiring, employers have now added, on average, a solid 186,000 jobs for the past three months. Last month’s burst of hiring suggests that many employers have shrugged off concerns about weaker growth, President Donald Trump’s trade wars and the waning benefits from U.S. tax cuts.

“Although there are drags on the economy in 2019, the expansion should continue through this year,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “The doom and gloom was overblown.”

The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% in June from 3.6% for the previous two months, reflecting an influx of people seeking jobs who were initially counted as unemployed. Average hourly wages rose 3.1% from a year ago.

Trump responded to Friday’s jobs report by tweeting, “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” But the strong hiring gains have lessened the case, at least for now, for the Fed to slash rates as Trump has repeatedly and aggressively pressed the central bank to do.

“If we had a Fed that would lower interest rates, we’d be like a rocket ship,” the president asserted to reporters in an appearance Friday. “But we’re paying a lot of interest, and it’s unnecessary. But we don’t have a Fed that knows what they’re doing.”

Last year, Fed officials raised rates four times, in part to stave off the risk of high inflation and in part to try to ensure that they would have room to cut rates if the economy stumbled.

On Friday, the Fed reiterated that it would act as necessary sustain the economic expansion, while noting that most Fed officials have lowered their expectations for the course of rates. The Fed’s statement came in its semiannual report on monetary policy.

In Friday’s jobs report for June, the hiring gains were broad. Construction companies added 21,000 workers after having increased their payrolls by only 5,000 in May. Manufacturers hired 17,000, up from just 3,000 in May. Health care and social assistance added 50,500 jobs. Hiring by transportation and warehousing companies increased 23,900.

The government sector was a major source of hiring, adding 33,000 jobs in June. Nearly all those gains were at the local level.

For Todd Leff, CEO of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, the resilience of the U.S. job market has provided both an opportunity and a challenge. With more Americans earning steady paychecks, demand for massages and facials has increased, and the company plans to add 60 locations this year and roughly 1,800 jobs. But the low unemployment rate has also made it hard to find and retain workers.

“We could hire 1,000 more employees today — if they were available,” said Leff, whose company has about 430 locations and is based in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

Investors have been turning their attention to the Fed, which has expressed concern about threats to the economy, especially the uncertainties from Trump’s trade wars, and about inflation remaining persistently below its 2% target level. A Fed rate cut, whenever it happens, would be its first in more than a decade.

Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist for the consultancy MFR, said the likelihood of a Fed rate cut late this month is now slightly lower, though he still estimates that the federal funds rate — what banks charge each other — will be sharply lower by the end of next year.

Ryan Wang, U.S. economist at HSBC Bank, suggested the solid jobs report might create a communications challenge for Fed Chairman Jerome Powell when he testifies Wednesday and Thursday to congressional committees.

The financial markets still foresee a rate cut of 25 points this month, Wang said, adding, “It will be important to see if Chair Powell lays out on a strong case for near-term monetary easing in his testimony next week.”

The sluggish pace of hiring in May had signaled that employers might have grown more cautious because of global economic weakness and, perhaps, some difficulty in finding enough qualified workers at the wages that companies are willing to pay.

The pace of the overall economy is widely thought to be slowing from annual growth that neared a healthy 3% last year. Consumer spending has solidified. Home sales are rebounding. But America’s manufacturing sector is weakening along with construction spending. Growth in the services sector, which includes such varied industries as restaurants, finance and recreation, slowed in June.

Overall, though, employers have been adding jobs faster than new workers are flowing into the economy. That suggests that the unemployment rate will remain near its five-decade low and that the economy will keep growing, even if only modestly.