Pentagon delays lifting of transgender troop ban

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved the recommendation from the services that lifting the ban be delayed. | AP Photo

The Pentagon announced Friday night that it will delay allowing openly transgender troops to join the military until Jan. 1, 2018.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved the recommendation from the services that lifting the ban be delayed to allow them time to review the impact on “the readiness and lethality of our forces,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

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The six-month delay will only impact new transgender recruits, not the estimated 15,500 already serving. It follows reports last week that the service leaders requested the delay.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the decision to allow transgender troops to serve openly on June 30, 2016, with an implementation deadline of July 1, 2017.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., said allowing transgender troops to serve openly is “ill-conceived and contrary to our goals of increasing troop readiness.”

“This delay is indicative of a policy that was rushed and never clearly thought out and I am pleased that Secretary Mattis has decided to delay the accession policy,” she said in a statement.

Hartzler introduced and then withdrew an amendment to the House’s defense authorization bill in committee this week that would repeal the policy that allows transgender troops to serve openly. While she withdrew the amendment, she said she may bring it up again during debate in the full House in July.

The move faced immediate blowback from gay-rights advocates. The American Military Partners Association called it “disappointing” that qualified transgender people can’t be open about their identity when enlisting or commissioning.

“It has been unequivocally proven that allowing qualified transgender people to serve openly strengthens our military and creates a more inclusive and diverse force. The issue has been thoroughly studied and moving forward with this new recruitment policy is imperative in order for the military to be able to recruit the best talent our nation has to offer,” the association’s president Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement.

OutServe-Service Members Legal Defense Network also issued a statement, saying that they still expect the ban on transgender service to be lifted at the end of the six-month delay.

“We reiterate that the services are prepared for transgender individuals and assert that delays beyond January 2018 will have a negative impact on military readiness—that we cannot tolerate,” the group said in a statement.

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State: Iraqi refugees who aided U.S. not categorically exempt from Trump travel ban

Donald Trump is pictured.

“Claims to bona fide relationships with U.S. entities such as these will be evaluated on a case by case basis,” said a State official. | AP Photo

The directive’s impact on those who worked for the U.S. military is uncertain.

Iraqis who provided assistance to the U.S. military, military contractors and American news outlets will not be automatically exempt from the 120-day, global halt President Donald Trump has imposed on refugee admissions through his travel ban executive order.

Asked whether individuals in the Direct Access Program for U.S.-Affiliated Iraqis would be categorically exempt from the version of the travel ban the administration began implementing Thursday, a State Department official said that such refugees will be considered on a case-by-case basis

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“Claims to bona fide relationships with U.S. entities such as these will be evaluated on a case by case basis,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

About 50,000 Iraqis have pending applications for the specially-targeted refugee program. It’s not clear whether they will have to resubmit evidence of their ties to the U.S. or whether the State Department will spontaneously review information it already has on file. Either way, an additional review seems certain to add new delays to an already lengthy process.

The Trump administration’s refusal to declare Iraqis in the special program immune from the travel ban is angering refugee advocates and seems likely to provoke a backlash from lawmakers who have intervened before on behalf of Iraqis who are under threat due to their work with U.S. forces.

“To even enter the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program through that program, you have to have an adjudication that you’re someone who has a bona fide tie to the U.S.,” said Becca Heller of the International Refugee Assistance Project. “So, either they don’t trust their own adjudications or they’re going to send 40,000 or 50,000 people back to repeat a process they’ve already gone through….It’s something of a travesty to add an additional layer of process that is largely redundant with something that already happened. It will just lead to further delays and potential loss of life.”

Lawmakers’ offices said Friday that they were largely in the dark about how the Trump administration planned to treat Iraqi refugees after the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the travel ban could be partially implemented pending high court arguments in October. The justices said Trump could carry out his ban, but they exempted people who had “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.

The high court’s ruling didn’t explicitly say that work with the U.S. military would constitute such a tie. However, refugee advocates say it would be bizarre to exempt people invited to lecture at a U.S. university, as the Supreme Court explicitly did, but leave in the lurch those facing death threats over their work with the U.S.

The impact on the Iraqis also seems odd given that the administration made a special effort to accommodate Iraq earlier this year after the first Trump travel ban order provoked outrage from the Iraqi government as U.S.-advised Iraqi forces prepared an assault on ISIS strongholds in that country. The White House eventually backed down and took Iraq off the list of seven majority-Muslim countries targeted for a 90-day ban on visa issuance.

Heller said any additional hurdles the U.S. creates for the Iraqis, most of whom worked as interpreters for U.S. forces or contractors, will adversely impact the U.S. military’s ability to secure similar assistance elsewhere.

“We’re sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan. They’re all going to need interpreters. This is not great messaging for us,” she said. “I promise you that the interpreters in Afghanistan are watching what we do to the interpreters in Iraq. I know they are.:

Immigrant advocates can take some solace in the fact that the Trump administration’s implementation of the travel ban seems to be a work in progress. After sending out a diplomatic cable to embassies and consulates Wednesday that excluded fiances from the list of relationships that would allow a foreigner to get around the travel ban, the administration reversed course Thursday evening and added fiances to the list.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert acknowledged concerns about the Iraqis who aided the U.S., but said the process of instituting the travel ban was so rushed that it was difficult to provide clear guidance on that question or others.

“It’s a good question; it’s a valid question,” Nauert said in response to a question from Matt Lee of the Associated Press. “I know lots of Iraqis, and particularly those who have worked alongside the United States, will have questions about that. This is all very new. We were in a rush to pull this call together today with our experts so that we could get you all the answers that you want and that you deserve.”

Timing issues related to the travel ban also remain confusing.

Nauert said in a statement that the clock for the 120-day refugee halt officially began Thursday, although refugees approved to travel to the U.S. through July 6 may continue as planned. It’s still not clear precisely when State will cut off the refugee flow. The administration has said further guidance on that point is forthcoming.

However, a Justice Department spokesman said the 90-day clock for the other key part of the travel ban—a halt to issuance of U.S. visas to citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen —began running on Monday.

Trump has billed the travel ban as an anti-terrorism measure, but critics contend the refugee halt in particular has little logical connection to terrorism because there is virtually no evidence to connect refugees to terrorism in the U.S.

On Thursday, the State of Hawaii asked a federal judge in that state to rule that some aspects of the way the Trump administration is implementing the travel ban are at odds with the Supreme Court’s decision and an existing injunction. The judge could rule on that request late next week after getting additional legal briefs from both sides.

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Conservative media outlets gain seats in White House briefing room

Conservative media outlets have more official seats in a new White House briefing room seating chart released Friday.

The updated seating chart sees conservative news organizations Newsmax and One America News (OAN), as well as British newspaper The Daily Mail, with designated seats. Newsmax and the Mail have their own spots, while OAN shares a seat.

None of the organizations had a spot under the previous seating chart, adopted in 2015.

The New York Post now shares a seat with the Christian Science Monitor, both organizations that previously held their own seats. The new chart also gives a seat to Westwood One radio, which it did not previously have.

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In an email to the White House press corps announcing the seating changes, White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) president Jeff Mason said the WHCA board considered multiple factors in making changes to the previous seating chart.

“The board considered multiple criteria during this decision-making process, including regular briefing attendance and commitment to the White House beat – we did not want scarce real estate going unused,” Mason said.

“We also looked at news outlets’ audiences, both in terms of reach and in terms of preserving (or in some cases adding) diversity in the briefing room. We took stock of the changing landscape of our industry.”

The updated seating arrangement comes as members of the White House press corps continue to deal with a decreased number of on-camera press briefings from press secretary Sean Spicer and deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. A number of reporters have criticized the White House press office for the lack of on-camera briefings.

“The White House press secretary is getting to a point where he’s just kind of useless,” CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta said after a briefing earlier this month. “If they’re getting to this point where he’s not going to answer questions or go on camera or have audio, why are we even having these briefings or gaggles in the first place?”

White House Correspondents' Association

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