White House said to be close on transgender military ban

Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

President Donald Trump announced his intention to ban transgender service members in a tweet last month — with scant details. | Chris Kleponis/Getty Images

The White House is in the “final stage” of writing guidelines for a ban on transgender people serving in the military, although the policy could still change and there is uncertainty about when it will be completed, according to a senior White House official.

The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reported Wednesday that the White House had finished its rules and would issue a guidance to the Pentagon in coming days on implementing the ban.

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The Journal reported that the new policy would give Defense Sec. Jim Mattis latitude to kick out existing service members under the new policy. Its sources said he was expected to focus on “deployability” in weighing removal, a term that encompasses the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises and live aboard a ship for long periods.

The senior White House official cautioned that the policy could yet be tweaked, but said the new guidelines for the Pentagon were expected soon. However, the broad outline, including giving Mattis six months to implement the policy, rings true, the senior White House official said.

News that final rules could be coming soon was met with immediate condemnation by opponents of the policy shift.

The American Military Partner Association, a group that represents LGBT military spouses, called the the new proposal a “vicious assault on transgender service members.”

“Despite the overwhelming bipartisan condemnation of his reckless tweets, President Trump is still pushing forward with his vicious assault on transgender service members,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, the group’s president. “His foolhardy assertion that transgender service members are not able to deploy is simply not rooted in fact. Transgender service members are just as deployable as any other service member.”

Trump announced his intention to ban transgender service members in a tweet last month — with scant details. He made the decision against the advice of his lawyers, who were surprised by the announcement.

Some conservatives have expressed support for the policy, with the administration receiving a number of letters urging the president to implement the policy.

Trump’s decision was made in part to quell a congressional budget fight. A group of conservative Republicans vowed to keep taxpayer money from paying for gender transition and hormone therapies.


The Media Is Trump’s Lifeline


Alex Brandon/AP


For most Republicans, what matters most about Donald Trump is that he’s demonstrated resolve against the enemy — not the Islamic State or the Taliban, but the media.

The media has become for the right what the Soviet Union was during the Cold War — a common, unifying adversary of overwhelming importance. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, religious conservatives and libertarians could agree that, whatever their
other differences, godless communism had to be resisted. This commitment was the glue of the GOP coalition, and the basic price of admission to conservatism.

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Now, a policy of containment, preferably rollback, of the mainstream media occupies that central role. Trump may not know how to get anything done, may not have a well-developed philosophy, may not be delivering on his agenda, may not be an admirable person, but he’s a righteous, unyielding warrior against the media. And this is the one non-negotiable. To put it in terms of the famous Isiah Berlin essay, the fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one thing — CNN sucks.

The right’s hostility toward the media is longstanding. It has always represented the liberal establishment and the coastal elite and, therefore, an obstacle to be diminished and worked around. In fact, over the past 50 years, no one has improved on what Spiro Agnew said in a famous speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in November 1969, or even really said anything new.

The media is biased. Agnew complained that on TV after President Richard Nixon gave a speech on Vietnam, “his words and policies were subjected to instant analysis and querulous criticism.”

The media is too powerful. Agnew rued how “a raised eyebrow, an inflection of the voice, a caustic remark dropped in the middle of a broadcast can raise doubts in a million minds about the veracity of a public official or the wisdom of a government policy.”

The media is in a bubble. “To a man, these commentators and producers live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, D.C., or New York City,” and “talk constantly to one another.”

The media is due for a fall. It’s time to question why such power is “in the hands of a small and unelected elite.”

Anti-media politics isn’t hard to pull off. Even the courtly George H. W. Bush got it right in a contentious exchange with Dan Rather during the 1988 campaign. According to The New York Times, afterward the offices of CBS and the Bush campaign were swamped with calls “overwhelmingly supportive of the vice president and negative toward CBS.”

More recently, Newt Gingrich demonstrated the transformative potential of theatrical attacks on the moderators in his show-stopping performances in two debates before the South Carolina primary in 2012. He wouldn’t have won the state without them.

Trump’s insight was basically, “What if every day were like that?” After witnessing the fate of two candidates who got savage coverage in the general election, despite being a media darling in the case of John McCain and being an earnest, well-meaning man in the case of Mitt Romney, Republican voters were ready for harsher stuff. The famous George H. W. Bush bumper sticker from 1992 was, “Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush.” In 2016, it became in effect, “Drive the Media Out of Its Ever-Loving Minds: Vote Trump: Elect Trump.”

Trump had long had his own problems with the media, not that it was too liberal, but that it wasn’t nearly favorable enough to Donald Trump. With his talents as a showman, his knack for branding (“fake news”), his taste for combat, his instinct for what energizes an audience, and his high tolerance for controversy, he was ideally suited to transfer his long-developed personal sensitivity to slights from reporters to the ideological realm of Republican presidential politics. Almost as much as anything else, he rode his mutual enmity with the media to the White House.

It remains a lifeline. Most commentators saw Trump angrily saying indefensible things about Charlottesville at the news conference last week; most Republicans saw him gamely standing his ground in front a group of braying reporters. At his rally in Phoenix, Trump upped the rhetorical ante against the media and used its lack of credibility to try to undermine the critique of his Charlottesville remarks.

He’s pushing against an open door with his audience because the media is, indeed, worse than ever before. As the media environment has fractured, organizations feel less obligation to try to cultivate a broader audience. And as politics becomes more culturally charged, the divide between the heartland and the coasts where the media lives and works becomes even more stark and important. Then, there’s the reaction to Trump himself. Since he is genuinely outrageous, especially to coastal sensibilities, the media feels justified in its unremittingly harsh coverage, perhaps even believing that if it is breathlessly hysterical enough, it can drive him from office.

Some in the media are happy to play along with the role Trump allots them, as long as it serves the twin goals of self-referentiality and ratings. CNN at times appears to be a network devoted to covering things that the president says about the network. Prior to Trump’s rally in Phoenix, CNN relentlessly promoted the event. Then it took the whole thing, and devoted the rest of the night to blow-out coverage of commentators pronouncing themselves outraged and dismayed. At the end of the end of the day, what had really happened? Nothing much, but at least something entertaining had filled the air.

Trump might well have been hate-watching much of it, pleased somewhere beneath his anger and disgust that he had, once again, proved to have the right enemy.

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review and a contributing editor with Politico Magazine.


Pence: U.S. to use ‘economic and diplomatic power’ to restore democracy in Venezuela

Vice President Mike Pence is pictured. | AP Photo

Vice President Mike Pence steered clear of Trump’s talk of ‘military options’ on Wednesday afternoon. | AP Photo

DORAL, Fla. — Vice President Mike Pence made a quick trip Wednesday afternoon to this Miami suburb, home to the nation’s largest Venezuelan community, to reinforce and reiterate the Trump administration’s commitment and support for those fighting against the authoritarian government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

“The U.S will continue to bring the full measure of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela,” Pence told a cheering crowd of hundreds of people at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “The collapse of Venezuela will endanger all who call the Western Hemisphere home. We cannot and will not let that happen.”

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Pence’s visit comes a little more than a week after President Donald Trump, speaking from his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, told reporters a “military operation, a military option, is certainly something we could pursue” in Venezuela.

Pence steered clear of uttering “military operation” or “military options” in South Florida, speaking only of “economic and diplomatic powers” in dealing with the Maduro government. His comments echoed what he said last week during a tour of Latin American nations, where he spoke of a “peaceable” solution for Venezuela in a sharp departure of Trump’s declaration.

“As the president mentioned a few days ago, the United States has, in his words, many options for Venezuela,” Pence said at an Aug. 15 press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “But the president and I remain confident that, working with all our allies across Latin America, we will achieve a peaceable solution to the crisis facing the Venezuelan people.”

Venezuela and its 32 million people are in the throes of a worsening political and economic crisis that has spawned a food shortage, rampant inflation and a scarcity in basic medical supplies and medicines.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest against Maduro in violent clashes since April that have left more than 120 people dead.

Pence blamed the South American nation’s troubles on Maduro, saying he has taken the oil-rich country on a path from “prosperity to poverty.”

“The Venezuelan people have been brought to this point by the brutality and barbarism of the Maduro regime,” Pence said. “This is not the fate the Venezuelan people have chosen. No free people has ever chosen to walk the path from prosperity to poverty.”

“Venezuela has gone in the opposite direction — toward dictatorship, not democracy, toward oppression, not freedom,” he said.

Joining Pence at the church in the city nicknamed Doral-zuela because of the burgeoning number of Venezuelan nationals who dominate the community were U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).

In prepared remarks in English and Spanish before Pence’s speech, Diaz-Balart praised the Trump administration’s moves to back the opposition in Venezuela in its battle against Maduro.

“Let it be clear that the Trump administration — I repeat, the Trump administration — and the U.S. Congress stand with the Venezuelan people, including its courageous activists, opposition leaders, political prisoners and their families, the doctors and nurses who have demanded access to basic medicines for their patients, and others who have risked everything to achieve a democratic Venezuela,” Diaz-Balart said.

He mentioned several people — including Wuilly Arteaga, a young violinist and popular activist — who had been imprisoned in Venezuela for speaking out against Maduro and his “thugs.”

“Wuilly has been beaten and arrested simply for his musical protests against the Maduro regime,” Diaz-Balart said. “With his defiant renditions of Venezuela’s national anthem, ringing out in the midst of brutality perpetrated by Maduro’s thugs, Wuilly has become one more symbol of the protest movement which persists despite Maduro’s escalating repression.”

The 23-year-old Arteaga was released from government custody last week after being detained for about three weeks.

Diaz-Balart specifically applauded the Trump administration for imposing sanctions on more than a dozen top Venezuelan leaders, including Maduro.

The U.S. Treasury Department earlier this month targeted Maduro with the sanctions in accusing him of widespread human rights abuses. All of Maduro’s assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction were frozen, and U.S. persons were prohibited from dealing with him.

Pence said Wednesday that the administration is preparing more sanctions against Venezuelan government officials.

“At President Trump’s direction, the United States has already issued three rounds of targeted sanctions against Maduro and his inner circle — and there’s more to come,” Pence told the applauding crowd. “And we’ll continue to act until the Maduro regime holds free and fair elections, releases all political prisoners, and ends the repression of the Venezuelan people.”

Read the White House transcript of Pence’s speech here.


Justice Dept. fights suit over Trump religious liberty order

Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building is pictured. | AP

The Justice Department is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation filed in federal court in Wisconsin in May | Andrew Harnik/AP

The Justice Department is fighting a lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s religious liberty executive order by claiming the directive doesn’t actually do what critics allege: allow churches and other religious groups to take part in political activities most charities cannot.

“The Order does not exempt religious organization from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations,” government lawyers wrote in a court filing Tuesday. “Rather, the Order directs the Government not to take adverse action against religious organizations that it would not take against other organizations in the enforcement of these restrictions.”

The Justice Department is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation filed in federal court in Wisconsin in May, just after Trump signed the executive order. The group alleges that the Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty gives preference to “religion over nonreligion.”

“Among many faults, the EO requires the IRS to selectively and preferentially discontinue enforcement of the electioneering restrictions of the tax code against churches and religious organizations,” the lawsuit said. “President Trump also made clear in his remarks that this EO is only meant to benefit religious groups, and, specifically, churches.”

But Trump and the other defendants argued in the new filing that the organization simply misunderstood the executive order, which was watered down before its signing to remove provisions seen as allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians by religious charities carrying out government programs.

The foundation’s Dan Baker said if the government’s claims about the limited impact of the order are true, the organization would consider the litigation a success and drop the suit.

“It looks like they’re saying that Trump’s executive order really doesn’t do anything,” Baker said, though he still plans to talk with the organization’s legal team before pursuing actions. “We’ve got nine attorneys, and they all have their own opinions — I just heard them in the hallways saying it looks like the executive order doesn’t do anything, which is actually great if that’s true.”

Diamond Naga Siu


California Democrats lead attack over Trump’s mental health

SAN FRANCISCO — California Democrats are stoking a debate over Donald Trump’s mental health and fitness for office, opening a new front in the resistance to the president but raising fears that the line of criticism could backfire.

As early talk of impeachment wanes and questions about Trump’s stability have surfaced after his volatile responses to the violence in Charlottesville — most recently by GOP Sen. Bob Corker and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — California’s Democratic House delegation has seized on an issue that until recently was limited to the Internet fever swamps.

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Rep. Zoe Lofgren last week introduced a congressional resolution urging Trump to seek a medical and psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is unfit for the office. Rep. Jackie Speier called for invoking the 25th Amendment — which empowers the vice president and Cabinet to remove a president who is incapable of serving — after a press conference from Trump Tower in which the president appeared to equate white supremacists with counter-protesters. Both followed on the heels of Rep. Ted Lieu’s push for legislation requiring a psychiatrist at the White House.

“[Trump] has demonstrated that his mental capacity and his erratic behavior are issues we need to be concerned about for our national security,” Speier told POLITICO. “And I think I’m not the first person that’s talked about it. I’m just the first person that’s been public about it.”

Yet the concentrated focus on Trump’s mental health worries many Democrats — even in the blue-state stronghold of California — who fear the party is expending too much energy obsessing over Trump at the expense of winning over voters to the party message.

“I certainly understand the effort — and the drive to do something about the national catastrophe that we’re all experiencing with Trump, from sympathizing with neo-Nazis to weakening long standing alliances. It’s clear that he’s not fit for office,” said Democratic consultant Tenoch Flores, a former California Democratic Party spokesman. “But the unfortunate reality is that until enough Republicans get their heads out of the sand, whether in the Cabinet or in office, he’s going to be sitting right where he is.’’

Lofgren, in an official statement, became the first member of the House to openly question whether Trump has “early stage dementia” — asking whether “the stress of office aggravated a mental illness crippling impulse control.”

In her resolution, the San Jose-area congresswoman argued Trump “has exhibited an alarming pattern of behavior and speech causing concern that a mental disorder may have rendered him unfit and unable to fulfill his constitutional duties.”

The measure urges Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to “quickly secure the services of medical and psychiatric professionals to examine the President.”

Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland — who has a background in clinical social work — said Tuesday she supported Lofgren’s resolution, and has also signed on to a different bill, introduced by Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, which sets the stage for the president to be removed from office if he was found mentally or physically unfit to serve.

“While we can’t talk about any diagnosis, we can look at behavior,’’ she said, adding that it was time to confront what appears to be a serious issue based on the president’s statements and actions. “We need to begin this discussion and have this debate.’’

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Online, Democrats have buzzed recently about events that have gone viral on social media — including a YouTube moment in which the president descends from the steps of Air Force One and appears not to recognize the presidential limousine parked right in front of him. He wanders away until he is shown to the car, the video shows.

Another video moment shows the president leaving a White House ceremony to sign executive orders — without signing the documents.

Some critics point to a well-publicized report that reviewed Trump’s speeches and interviews from more than a decade ago — which found that his speech patterns were more consistent, logical and compete than they are today — as evidence of a problem.

Veteran strategist Roger Salazar, who served as a spokesman for California’s Jerry Brown, President Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Al Gore, agrees that Trump’s mental state is questionable — but warns that Democrats must tread carefully.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Trump is out of his mind,’’ he said. “There’s no question he is unfit for office. But I’d rather Democrats focus our energies on beating him and his allies at the ballot box.”

While acknowledging the sentiment behind Lofgren’s resolution, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested the party needed to focus on other issues.

“What is necessary right now is for us to reach into people’s homes with a better deal. They want to know what we’re doing to make the future better for them: better paychecks, lower costs. So while the behavior of the person in the White House attracts attention, we have to focus on jobs,’’ she said at a San Francisco event to push the Democrats new “Better Deal” agenda on Women’s Equality Day.

Like Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was cool to the question when asked about the 25th Amendment at a San Francisco business forum last week.

“It’s hard for me to see that as a practical matter, based upon what we know so far,” he said.

The country could expect lengthy legal wrangling and debate over the matter, he noted, in part because “it’s not a particularly well-written amendment.’’ Schiff explained that Pence temporarily would become the acting president if Trump was removed, but the president himself could contest that decision. Congress could then vote to permanently strip the presidential powers from the president and transfer them to the vice president.

But, Schiff said, even if Democrats took back the House in 2018, “I don’t know what we would pick.”