President Trump departs his press conference on the Census with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Top figures in the conservative legal community are stunned and depressed by President Trump's cave in his fight for a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

The state of play: Sources say Leonard Leo and other Federalist Society stalwarts were shocked and floored by how weak the decision was. "What was the dance ... all about if this was going to be the end result?" a conservative leader asked.

  • "A total waste of everyone’s time. ... It’s certainly going to give people pause the next time one has to decide how far to stick one’s neck out."
  • One GOP strategist called it a "punch in the gut."

A week after insisting that he was "absolutely moving forward," Trump said in the Rose Garden that he instead was directing federal agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases. (AP)

  • Trump said: "There used to be a time when you could proudly declare, 'I am a citizen of the United States.'"
  • Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, cheered.

A senior administration official summed up the internal frustration at the opposition to the fight from key Justice Department lawyers:

  • "What's sad is the President has been right on this since Day 1, but he’s being told it's too hard and too long a road legally. Washington lawyers too often bow to the courts and treat them like a higher branch, when this is ripe for a fight, with American people in full support."

Go deeper: 2020 Census could be worst undercount of black and Latinx people since 1990

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