ESTRICH: Census questions matter for allocation of resources

Every day is its own cable news show.

I’m not talking about MSNBC or Fox News. I’m talking about the White House network: the place where the anchor in chief watches television every day and then spends the time he is not watching television tweeting, reacting and giving Sean Hannity his topic for the night.

Yesterday, the topic was the census.

A normal person might ask: What could Donald Trump say about the U.S. census that could possibly give Hannity a show?

I might have asked that myself, before this week. Now I know: Get the census involved in the immigration debate. Why not? Another day, another chance to try dividing and conquering by dinner, right? Once again, Trump’s dividing the country for no good reason — actually, for a very bad reason.

The census is supposed to count the number of people in America, not the number of citizens. Trump isn’t proposing to change this; he couldn’t, because of that pesky Constitution. What the administration is proposing to do, though, is as close as it can get to that: to have the 2020 U.S. Census ask Americans which members of their households are U.S. citizens.

That’s surely the way to get people to welcome those census takers!

Actually, it’s the way to ensure that the census is deeply flawed, that it will undercount both legal and illegal immigrants, with the result that states with the largest immigrant populations will find themselves shortchanged in every allocation of resources, support, federal aid and, not to mention, apportionment of Congress.

And why? This is the best (meaning the worst) part. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, a woman who should win an Academy Award just for getting out some of the things she has to say, literally invoked the Voting Rights Act. She actually said that the reason to ask about immigration status was to better enforce the requirements of an act designed to ensure that minorities are adequately represented in legislative bodies, an act that President Trump, breaking traditions among Republican and Democratic presidents, has stoutly opposed.

That’s why the Trump administration needs census data about citizenship status? The Voting Rights Act? Are they hoping to create fewer districts in which minorities have a fair chance of representation?

To read how this president spends his time is both enlightening and terrifying. Unlike our children, whose TV time we limited, our president spends all day watching television. Forget briefing books and the details of foreign policy, for which you might recall he has no need because, as he explained, he is so smart. Smart people don’t need briefing books when they can watch Fox News.

According to the newspaper reporters that Trump castigates but can’t resist talking to, the president spends a good chunk of his day watching Fox News. Then he reacts to what he sees. Then he watches how his reactions get covered. And often, he picks up the phone to call the various anchors who agree with him to discuss issues of national importance.

It sounds a lot like the days of my former client and longtime friend, the late Roger Ailes, who built Fox News. He watched TV all day, too, and reacted to what he saw, and picked up the phone to call his anchors. Even so, as I used to joke with him, when he needed a lawyer, he didn’t call a television lawyer (he called them actors and actresses); he called my firm, Quinn Emanuel.

But there’s a difference between running a news network and running America, even if it sometimes seems that this president is far more suited to the former than the latter. To be sure, President Trump has had difficulty finding a lawyer or firm to represent him. Maybe that’s why he’s watching so much television: He’s looking for one. Will Judge Jeanine be joining the team next? In the meantime, injecting immigration politics into the next census may make for good television, but it is no way to run the country.