Census head wasn't told about Trump district drawing order

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Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham wears a mask with the words "2020 Census" as he arrives to testify before a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testified Wednesday that he wasn’t informed ahead of time about President Donald Trump's order seeking to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the process of redrawing congressional districts.

Dillingham testified during an emergency congressional hearing that he was unaware of anyone from the Census Bureau playing a role in the order that civil rights groups have called unconstitutional. The bureau is collecting the head count data that will be used to redraw the districts.

The Democratic-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Reform held the hearing after Trump issued a memorandum last week seeking to exclude people in the country illegally from being included during the district redrawing process. Civil rights group have filed multiple lawsuits challenging the memorandum as unconstitutional and an attempt to limit the power of Latinos and immigrants of color.

Democratic lawmakers expressed both dismay and sympathy with Dillingham, a Trump appointee, for being kept out of the loop on such a vital decision involving the bureau.

Opponents of Trump's order say it could discourage immigrants and noncitizens from participating in the once-a-decade head count used for deciding how many congressional seats each states gets in a process known as apportionment. A Pew Research Center analysis shows that the order, if it stands up to challenges, could cost California, Florida and Texas congressional seats.

“That is unbelievable to me that you are the director of the Census and that you didn't hear anything about this before," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schutz, a Democrat from Florida.

Democratic lawmakers also expressed frustration over their inability to pin Dillingham down on whether the Census Bureau was moving ahead with a request to extend the deadline for turning over the apportionment data past Dec. 31. Sticking to the end-of-the-year deadline would keep the data processing for apportionment under Trump's watch should he lose the November election, even though Census Bureau officials have said they need extra time to make up for pandemic-related delays.

“We have, for planning purposes, made assessments and continue to do so,” Dillingham said after repeatedly being asked about the deadline extension.