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Inside Trump’s snap decision to ban transgender troops

Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump’s sudden decision was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat, numerous congressional and White House sources said. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Defense

A congressional fight over sex reassignment surgery threatened funding for his border wall.

By RACHAEL BADE and JOSH DAWSEY

07/26/2017 02:07 PM EDT

After a week sparring with his attorney general and steaming over the Russia investigation consuming his agenda, President Donald Trump was closing in on an important win.

House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico.

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But an internal House Republican fight over transgender troops was threatening to blow up the bill. And House GOP insiders feared they might not have the votes to pass the legislation because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations — something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them.

They turned to Trump, who didn’t hesitate. In the flash of a tweet, he announced that transgender troops would be banned altogether.

Trump’s sudden decision was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat, numerous congressional and White House sources said.

The president had always planned to scale back President Barack Obama-era policies welcoming such individuals in combat and greenlighting the military to pay for their medical treatment plans. But a behind-the-scenes GOP brawl threatening to tank a Pentagon funding increase and wall construction hastened Trump’s decision.

Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and moderate Republicans who felt the proposal was blatantly discriminatory.

“There are several members of the conference who feel this really needs to be addressed,” said senior House Appropriations Committee member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) on Tuesday. “This isn’t about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget."

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That’s why House lawmakers took the matter to the Trump administration. And when Defense Secretary James Mattis refused to immediately upend the policy, they went straight to the White House. Trump — never one for political correctness — was all too happy to oblige.

“[P]lease be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in

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Ernst opposes Trump’s ban on transgender troops

Joni Ernst is pictured here.

A spokeswoman for the veteran said Sen. Joni Ernst has served with people "from all different backgrounds" and that gender is not a vital indicator of someone's military prowess. | Susan Walsh/AP

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What to know about Trump's transgender military ban

What to know about Trump's transgender military ban

A gay member of the U.S. Air Force who chooses to not be identified reads a copy of the magazine "OutServe" intended for actively serving lesbian, gay, bi and transgender U.S. military members. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that transgender Americans would no longer be able to serve in the U.S. military “in any capacity,” citing “tremendous medical costs” and the “disruption” their service would cause.

Here’s a primer on the issue, which appeared to be settled under the Obama administration but has abruptly emerged in a partisan fracas.

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How many transgender troops are there?

A 2016 RAND report estimates that there are 2,450 active-duty transgender troops and about 1,510 in the reserve. The report, however, put the range at anywhere between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender service members in the U.S. military. Military LGBT advocacy groups put the estimate much higher, however, at about 15,000 troops.

Are any serving openly?

Some are. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced June 30, 2016, that all transgender troops would be able to serve openly “effective immediately.” Some transgender troops who are serving openly speak out as advocates for a more inclusive policy for all.

What was the policy?

Prior to Carter’s announcement, transgender troops could not serve openly. Transgender troops who did serve had to wear the uniform and hair styles of their birth gender, and the military didn't not pay for hormone therapy or transition surgery.

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How did Obama change that?

The June 2016 announcement under former President Barack Obama immediately allowed transgender troops to serve openly and made it so they could no longer be kicked out for revealing their gender identity. It also required the Pentagon to come up with new regulations and provide education to commanders on how to accommodate transgender troops in their units. It required the Pentagon to begin taking in qualified transgender recruits by July 1, 2017.

Carter said the change was designed to ensure the military could recruit the best and brightest people, regardless of their sexual orientation or LGBT status.

What was the cost of providing health care to transgender troops?

The same RAND study estimated that it would cost a maximum of $8.4 million a year to cover those transgender troops who sought health treatment. This makes up less than 1 percent of annual spending on active-duty health care.

What did Defense Secretary Jim Mattis do?

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delayed the July 1 deadline to fully lift the ban by six months to Jan. 1, 2018, which he said would give the military more time to evaluate “the readiness and lethality of our forces.” It only impacted new recruits, not those currently serving.

What has Trump said previously about LGBT issues?

During the campaign, Trump was widely considered the most pro-LGBT

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GOP scrapes for bare minimum on Obamacare repeal

Forget ripping out Obamacare "root and branch": At this point Senate Republicans are just looking to get something — anything — through the chamber with a bare majority.

After managing to resurrect their repeal bid Tuesday in dramatic fashion , the GOP may have to settle for a bare bones effort that falls far short of their previous pledges to undo the law in its entirety. A vote for a full repeal of the law is expected to fail Wednesday; that comes after the Senate on Tuesday night rejected a comprehensive replacement plan that was hammered out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Now the Senate GOP is aiming for what Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price called the "lowest common denominator" as its likely end game: repealing Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates as well as its tax on medical devices.

Though the contents of that so-called "skinny repeal" could still change, those three elements may be all the Senate can pass at this point. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday called the possibility of a skeletal plan a "political punt," but it may be that that can clear the narrowly divided chamber. The South Carolina Republican says he would only vote for the slimmed-down plan if House and Senate lawmakers use it to go to conference and come up with an Obamacare replacement proposal.

"We'll see at the end of the day what's in it but overall I think I'd support it," said Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, the most vulnerable GOP incumbent. He said slashing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion or its growth rate should be a non-starter.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also indicated that he could get on board with the skinny option.

"In Arizona, you have 200,000 people who were paying the fine and can’t afford insurance," Flake told reporters. "We gotta have relief to those who, one, can’t find affordable insurance so they have to pay the fine and, two, even those that can afford to pay the premium, generally can’t afford to utilize the coverage because the deductibles are so high."

Whether Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) could support a skinny plan "depends how skinny it is," a spokesman said. But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) signaled he could live with the minimalist approach.

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“I’ve always said I will vote for any permutation of repeal. Obviously I want as much as I can get but I’ll vote for whatever the consensus can be. It’s what I’ve been saying for months: Start on what you can agree on,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in an interview on Wednesday. “Starting small and getting bigger is a good strategy.”

That would leave out the divisive issues of future cuts to Medicaid spending and efforts to create a new tax credit system for the

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On Twitter, Trump continues attacks on Sessions

On Twitter, Trump continues attacks on Sessions

In a pair of tweets this morning, President Donald Trump questioned why Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t replace Andrew McCabe as acting FBI director after the president fired James Comey. | Alain Jocard/Getty Images

By Nolan D. McCaskill

07/26/2017 10:17 AM EDT

Updated 07/26/2017 11:26 AM EDT

2017-07-26T11:26-0400

President Donald Trump continued his sustained attacks on Jeff Sessions, questioning Wednesday why the attorney general didn’t replace Andrew McCabe as acting FBI director after the president fired James Comey in May.

“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets.

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Trump has taken aim at McCabe’s impartiality over the past two days, suggesting Tuesday that it was a “problem” for McCabe to lead a Clinton probe given that his wife, Jill McCabe, accepted a donation during a 2015 Virginia state Senate race from the political action committee of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime friend of the Clintons.

PolitiFact, however, has rated similar claims Trump has made “mostly false.” Jill McCabe’s campaign ended three months before Andrew McCabe was promoted to deputy FBI director, giving him oversight of the Clinton probe, and the decision about whether to prosecute Clinton fell to Comey, who recommended DOJ not pursue charges.

Trump can also designate a wide range of officials from across the Justice Department and the entire government as acting director of the FBI, and Sessions’ approval isn’t legally required. The administration began a process of potentially replacing McCabe with an interim director but appeared to abandon that effort in favor of seeking a nominee for permanent replacement instead.

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Trump’s tweets seem to focus more on Sessions’ inaction than McCabe’s perceived wrongdoing, making Wednesday the third consecutive day the president has publicly blasted Sessions, the first U.S. senator to endorse his presidential campaign.

The two are not on speaking terms , but cameras captured Sessions at the White House carrying a binder that said “Principals Small Group Meeting” on Wednesday morning. And a DOJ spokeswoman said Sessions was at the residence for just that, a “routine principals meeting.”

The president began venting his frustration to the nation last Wednesday, when he told The New York Times that he would never have tapped Sessions to lead the Justice Department had he known the then-Alabama senator would recuse himself from the Russia probe that has dogged his administration since before inauguration.

Trump has since called Sessions “beleaguered” and “VERY weak … on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” And as White House aides have stressed the president’s frustration over Sessions’ recusal, the president himself

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