DeVos Faced With Decision of Openly Defying President or Resigning
Discussions within the Trump administration over the language of the draft executive order expected to be issued Wednesday by President Trump, which reverses guidance on protections for transgender students, got heated in arguments between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to senior officials in the administration. The executive order would rescind the guidance issued last year by the Obama administration, which directed that transgender students be able to use the restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
A senior official confirmed to NCRM that a piece published Wednesday by the New York Times detailing the disagreement between the Education Secretary and the Attorney General was accurate.
The paper reported that three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions in the administration over the executive order said that Secretary DeVos initially resisted signing off on it, telling President Trump that "she was uncomfortable with it." Sessions, who has a long history of opposing equality rights for the LGBTQI community, fought her on the issue, pressuring her to back down and relent. According to one official, the order needed to come from both executive departments and Sessions was angry as he would be unable to move forward without Ms. DeVos' approval.
Trump backed the attorney general and DeVos was faced with a decision of either openly defying the president or resigning. The Justice Department refused to comment as did a spokesperson for the Education Secretary Wednesday morning. Though the order from Trump is expected to be signed and then released later Wednesday, sources are telling the New York Times and NCRM that the two secretaries were still disputing the final language.
According to a draft of the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, the Trump administration cites ongoing litigation and confusion over the Obama directives as a reason for telling schools to no longer obey the guidance, which was sent to public school districts in the form of a "Dear Colleague" letter last year.
"School administrators, parents and students have expressed varying views on the legal issues arising in this setting," the Trump draft says. "They have also struggled to understand and apply the statements of policy and guidance" in the Obama orders.
The draft also contains language stating that schools must protect transgender students from bullying, a provision Ms. DeVos asked be included, one person with direct knowledge of the process said. "Schools must ensure that transgender students, like all students, are able to learn in a safe environment," the letter says.
While on the campaign trail last year the president had signaled that he supported the rights of transgender people saying that they should "use the bathroom they feel is appropriate," but later flip-flopped to toe the GOP line. In Tuesday's press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that the "president has maintained for a long time that this is a states' rights issue," a stance endorsed and advocated for by the conservative Christian right movement.
The issue over transgender rights has also caused conflict on Capitol Hill as well, one congressional source telling NCRM that some prominent Republican lawmakers are actively advocating that the party move away from social issues that "are toxic," instead focusing on economic and foreign policy issues.
Sessions wants set a firm policy particularly since Thursday the Justice Department will need to lay out its legal stance in a filing deadline in the case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a transgender male Virginia high school student, Gavin Grimm. Grimm had sued the Gloucester County Virginia School Board in 2015 after the school board ruled that he was banned from using the boys' bathroom and told him he could use a separate bathroom in a converted janitors closet.
The Obama administration had rejected that decision as unacceptable and discriminatory siding with Grimm. The Times also noted that the department is eager to move quickly in laying out its legal position on transgender policy to avoid confusion in cases moving through the courts.
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