Updated July 11, 6:21 p.m.
WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump will not take executive action to add a question on citizenship to the country's once-a-decade census next year.
Instead, he said Thursday that he would sign an executive order asking all government agencies to provide the Commerce Department with all records it needed to determine the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court blocked Trump from adding the question to the census for the first time in 70 years, ruling 5-4 that his administration's reason for adding it - to protect voting rights - seemed "contrived."
The ruling said Trump officials could offer other reasons for adding the question, with the president subsequently saying last week he was considering doing it by executive order, among other ways.
Any Trump executive order unilaterally adding a citizenship question was likely to draw a new legal challenge, with the U.S. Constitution giving Congress, not the president, the right to conduct and oversee the decennial census.
But a Harvard-Harris Poll late last month showed that Trump, even if he were to lose a court fight on adding the question to the census, had political support for the action. The survey of registered voters showed Americans favored asking about citizenship by a 2-to-1 margin.
The U.S. head count is set to start next April, and census questionnaires, without the citizenship question, are already being printed. In the U.S., the census is an important exercise, determining the state-by-state allocation of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives based on population and the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid to the states.
But opposition Democrats and immigrant groups attacked Trump's effort to add the question. Demographers, including those at the government's Census Bureau, feared that noncitizen immigrants in the U.S. would not fill out the census forms out of fear of identifying themselves as being in the country without documentation and opening themselves up to deportation.
Democrats said that if immigrants were undercounted, seats in the House and federal aid to the states could be redistributed away from Democratic-led cities where immigrants often live to whiter communities where Republicans often reside.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, playing off Trump's political slogan of "Make America Great Again," said Trump's attempt to add the question was an effort to "Make America White Again."
There was an attempt this week to switch out all the Justice Department attorneys who have been handling the court fight over the citizenship question. Some of attorneys had balked at continuing their work on the case after the Supreme Court ruling.
But two federal judges rejected the switch in the government's legal team, saying it could not be done without a satisfactory explanation.