Why else would the new president and his staff seek to bring the Census Bureau director under Oval Office supervision?
It's hard to order a meal in Washington and not be political, but the Census would become hyper-politicized under the administration's proposal.
Consider this 2006 quote from Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel: "If you think redistricting is always partisan and political, which it is ... it's going to be on steroids this time."
The fount of political power in Washington is the Census, which helps determine such things as how many representatives each state gets, how certain funds are distributed and how political districts are drawn.
Here's how the White House, trying to calm the waters, puts it: The Census director will "work closely with White House senior management."
Even if the arrangement would be as innocent as that sounds, that begs the question: Why? What business, other than partisan politics, would all the president's men have in tinkering with the Census?
And even if the move isn't a blatant power play, it has all the earmarks of one -- and it is making the climate in Washington all the more politically charged. Wasn't Mr. Obama going to change that -- for the better, not for the worse?
Indeed, Republicans have threatened to go to court to block the White House from injecting itself into the Census process. We think the courts would seriously consider it. We don't think this is what the Framers had in mind.
The move looks all the more cynical against the backdrop of Republican Judd Gregg's nomination to head up the Commerce Department, which includes the Census Bureau.
Because of the Census maneuver, and other differences with the increasingly partisan Obama administration, Gregg withdrew his name from nomination last week.
The president has been boasting about including an unprecedented number of Republicans in his Cabinet -- but in this case, at least, he seems to want the Census director to report to him, not the Commerce secretary. Ingenious! Get all the bipartisan glory for nominating a Republican, but strip him of a key power.
We hope that's not what's at work here. The only way for the White House to prove that is to reverse course and leave the Census alone.