"You may not care how much I know, but you don't know how much I care."
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Trump administration on Wednesday night withdrew Obama-era guidance on transgender bathroom use in public schools.
The announcement is a significant victory for opponents of the Obama administration's guidelines who believe the federal government should never have gotten involved in the issue. Civil rights groups, meanwhile, decried the move as an attack on transgender children that denies them equal rights.
Last May, the departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The "Dear Colleague" letter, addressed to school districts and colleges that receive federal funding, was based on the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, to include gender identity.
In a two-page "Dear Colleague" letter to public schools, the Trump administration said the existing guidance did not "contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process."
The letter -- which does not offer new guidance but simply withdraws the Obama administration policy -- says there must be "due regard" for the role of states and local school districts in shaping education policy in schools.
The letter also makes clear that the "withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment."
"As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level," the White House said in a statement. "The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators."
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the administration has "a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment.
"This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate," the statement continued. "At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools."
DeVos, however, was not originally on board with the plan, a source told CNN Wednesday.
Supreme Court poised to consider related case
In a separate letter, the deputy solicitor general informed the Supreme Court that the guidance had been withdrawn. The court is poised to consider the case of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender male who wants to use the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity.
Last April, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Grimm, a Virginia resident, who fought the school board's new policy at Gloucester High School that denied him access to the boys' bathroom but allowed him the use of recently constructed single-stall unisex restrooms. In ruling for Grimm and against the school district, the court deferred to the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX.
In an interview with CNN last fall, Grimm said that he was just "another 17-year-old kid."
"I have 17-year-old fears and worries and I have 17-year-old motivations, which is just to get out of high school and have fun with my friends and family. There's just nothing about me that is predatory or dangerous, or warrants the kind of response I got from the community," he said.
Arguments in the case are scheduled for March 28. While the Trump administration's new guidance may not stop the case, it could give the justices an off-ramp to send the matter back to the lower court to consider the new guidance. The court could also decide to send the case back before arguments.
"Both parties will tell the court we think the court to decide the question," said James Esseks,the director of the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and HIV Project and a lawyer for Grimm.
'Not what Betsy wanted to do'
One source outside of government who said he's familiar with DeVos' thinking on the plans told CNN, "this is not what Betsy wanted to do."
She communicated that first to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the source said. She was then summoned to the White House on Tuesday for a meeting with Sessions and President Donald Trump, where she was told to agree to the plans.
"It was the President's decision," the source said.
DeVos reminded Trump that both he and she had publicly promised to protect all students.
She felt that this was not in accordance with those promises. She did ask for additional language to put in the letter that affirmed that students would still be protected and the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights would investigate issues.
Her concern was that some people may interpret it as removing protections.
"When the President tells you to do something you don't want to do, that is a hard spot to be in," the source said.
Outrage from transgender advocacy groups
The Obama administration guidance was in response to questions from school districts about how to treat transgender students, based on best practices from schools across the country that have already taken up the issue.
"A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity," the guidance read.
That guidance outraged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a charge on behalf of several states and won a nationwide injunction from a district court judge in Texas barring federal agencies from taking action against the schools that disagreed with the guidance.
Sarah Warbelow, legal director of Human Rights Campaign, said rescinding the guidance will lead to confusion among schools that look to the federal government for best practices, because the change does not affect existing federal law, only the Department of Education's interpretation of it.
And Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told reporters the decision was "simply and dangerously wrong and incorrect."
"Laws like Title IX are not state-by-state options, they are the responsibility of the federal government," she said.
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We knew it was coming and on Thursday Jeff Sessions confirmed it: the Department of Justice has officially rolled back the Obama-era progress in criminal justice reform and is moving to lengthen drug sentences so that prosecutors enforce mandatory minimums in federal law. This despite the fact that under Obama, the move toward avoiding mandatory minimums in charging low-level and nonviolent drug offenders marked the first decline of the federal prison population in over a decade. But what's the decline in the prison population matter to Jeff? Especially when it means less people of color locked up? Ol' Jeff isn't having it. Not at all. He's all for returning us back to the days when getting caught with a dime bag of marijuana could get you life in prison.
In a memo distributed to federal prosecutors nationwide Thursday, Sessions said the department default in future cases will return to a previous policy of filing the most serious charge available against a defendant under the provable facts.
"It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense," Sessions said in the directive, dated Wednesday.
Coincidentally this directive was issued around the same time that the White House was scrambling to explain its firing of FBI Director James Comey. Does anyone else find this timing extremely suspicious? As long as Sessions has the DOJ attention focused on revitalizing the war on drugs, they won't be paying attention to investigating his ties to Russian officials—or so he thinks. And he's got an incomprehensible rationale for this decision, including citing facts and trends that are made-up and inaccurate.
Speaking at an opioid-abuse summit in West Virginia Thursday, Sessions conceded that problem won't be solved solely by putting more people in prison but he insisted that tougher law enforcement is an essential part of the solution.
"It is a big, critical part of it," the attorney general said. "We're on a bad trend right now. We've got too much complacency about drugs. Too much talk about recreational drugs," Sessions said, railing against what he called "the pro-drug crowd." [...]
While violent crime statistics have ticked up in the past couple of years, they remain near historic lows. There is a bipartisan consensus that certain forms of drug abuse are on the rise, particularly abuse of opioids and prescription painkillers.
He's got one thing right, putting more people in prison definitely won't solve the problem. And it's telling (but not surprising, given that he's a complete racist) how he's suddenly developed an empathy to the opioid and prescription painkiller epidemic which is ravaging largely white communities. Where was this empathy several decades ago when crack-cocaine was ravaging the largely black and brown inner cities? Where was his talk about addiction and treatment programs then? His "one-size fits all, send all the black and brown folks to prison" approach is widely ineffective and costly for dealing with drug use.
Many experts say [mandatory minimum] laws and sentencing rules led to drug offenders spending decades in prison or even receiving life behind bars, when lesser sentences would have been adequate. The laws also ballooned the prison population, leading to costs that were unsustainable for some state governments.
"The Justice Department's expected shift to prosecuting and incarcerating more offenders, including low-level and drug offenders, is an ineffective way to protect public safety," Brett Tolman, a U.S. Attorney for Utah under President George W. Bush, said in a statement anticipating the policy change. "Decades of experience shows we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of America's drug problem. Instead, we must direct resources to treatment and to specifically combatting violent crime. This will help law enforcement do our jobs better."
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is the most dangerous appointment in the Trump cabinet. Ineffective, corrupt, racist bigots have no place running the Department of Justice. And let's not forget, he not only lied about his relations with Russia, he has sat back and watched as the president of the United States has continued to participate in a secret relationship with their government. He acts more like the attorney general of Russia, not the United States. He is not to be trusted. This war on drugs is just a cover-up. He should be the next to go and if he is not fired, he needs to be removed—immediately.
On the Thursday evening before Easter, photographers staking out Palm Beach International Airport awaiting President Trump were surprised to see not one, but two Air Force planes arriving within minutes of each other.
Shortly before the president landed, Melania Trump arrived on a Boeing C-32 — a military version of a 757 — with their 11-year-old son, Barron, and other family members to spend the holiday at Mar-a-Lago. Her one-way trip from New York, where she lives separately from her husband so their son can finish the school year, cost taxpayers more than $110,000.
Nobody questions that the safety of the president and his family is of vital national interest, or that the costs of first family travel and protection have soared in the age of terrorism.
There is no standard methodology to tally travel and protection costs, but based on publicly available information reviewed by The Times, the total for Trump's first 100 days was at least $30 million. By comparison, the conservative think tank Judicial Watch found that costs for President Obama and his much smaller family averaged $12 million a year.
Congress recently allocated the Secret Service an additional $13 million to cover unanticipated overtime for its agents. It also set aside an extra $61 million to reimburse New York and Palm Beach for some of their expenses incurred since the election to protect the first family.
The jump in costs is largely due to the fact that Trump has used three separate residences — the White House, Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago. Last weekend, he added a fourth: the Bedminster, N.J., golf club where the family has traditionally spent summer weekends.
In addition to protecting the president and first lady, the Secret Service guards five children, their three spouses and eight grandchildren — 16 people in all. Since the election, Secret Service agents have accompanied the president's two adult sons on business trips to Dubai, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Ireland and Scotland. Each "protectee" — as they are called by the Secret Service — gets his or her own security detail even when traveling together.
When Melania, Barron and the president's younger daughter, Tiffany, recently visited Chelsea Piers, a sporting complex in Manhattan, 14 Secret Service vehicles waited outside.
And when Donald Trump Jr., wife Vanessa and their five children; Ivanka Trump and her three children; and Eric Trump, wife Lara and their two beagles went to Aspen, Colo., for spring break, they were accompanied by up to 100 Secret Service agents. Ski rentals for agents cost taxpayers $12,208, according to a government invoice uncovered by NBC News.
The most expensive property to protect is Trump Tower, the 58-story skyscraper in midtown Manhattan where Melania and Barron live in a penthouse and Donald Jr. and Eric have their offices.
The New York Police Department wrote in a letter to Congress that it was spending $127,000 to $146,000 a day to secure the building, in addition to the $4.5 million that the Fire Department expects to spend this year on security there. The costs are expected to decline after Melania moves to Washington this summer.
Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent who had been assigned to former First lady Michelle Obama, says the costs are justified because the security of the first lady has a direct bearing on the president's ability to function.
Even so, Wackrow said: "It's an astronomical expense. You have to set up a massive security structure for the first lady to operate outside of Washington with everything that support the detail, from cars to communications."
"New York is a very complicated environment," he added. "It's not like you're working in Billings, Mont."
On a weekday afternoon, cool and drizzling with nary a protester in sight — what should pass as a quiet day at Trump Tower — the building is a veritable fortress girded by at least 30 uniformed NYPD officers and at least that many Secret Service agents in bulletproof vests inspecting bags or guarding the elevators and doors.
There also is a fleet of two dozen armored SUVs, mobile police stations, police cars and other vehicles, including a strategically placed garbage truck that blocks the private garage through which members of the Trump family enter and leave the building. More security forces are tucked away in the surrounding high-rises.
Mar-a-Lago is another big expense.
Helping provide security during Trump's visits to Mar-a-Lago since the election has cost local taxpayers about $4.5 million, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
The bulk of those expenses are for Sheriff's Office overtime and equipment. It also includes the costs of reinforcements from other South Florida law enforcement agencies, according to the Sheriff's Office.
The Palm Beach Police Department estimates that crowd control and help with Mar-a-Lago security during presidential visits have cost the department about $115,000 in personnel expenses.
Overtime for extra officers brought in during protests during Trump's visits have cost nearby the West Palm Beach Police Department about $50,000, department spokesman Sgt. David Lefont said.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who coordinates the local law enforcement response with the Secret Service, has been out of town since congressional leaders agreed to a budget deal proposed to reimburse Florida communities for presidential security costs.
In his absence, the Sheriff's Office has declined to comment on whether the proposed federal funding would be enough.
Palm Beach County leaders have been lobbying to get federal reimbursement for presidential security costs.
"Not until the check is sent will I be comfortable that Palm Beach County will be reimbursed," County Mayor Paulette Burdick said.
The county has suggested turning Mar-a-Lago into a special taxing district to recoup the money being spent on Trump.
Since taking office, Trump has spent seven weekends at the resort, each trip costing at least $1 million, with some estimates running up to $3.6 million. The biggest chunk of that is the $142,000 an hour it costs to fly Air Force One.
Melania Trump has flown separately on five occasions either to or from Palm Beach. Public accounts of her appearances show she has also made at least eight round-trip flights to Washington, D.C., since the inauguration. The Air Force said that it could not immediately provide her flight records but that each hour of flying on the Boeing C-32 — the largest and most expensive of the three planes she uses — costs $38,922.
"It is all about security," Wackrow said. "The first lady needs to be in constant communication with the president and she has no ability to do that on a nonmilitary aircraft."
More controversial is the foreign travel of Donald Jr. and Eric, who make frequent splashy trips to Trump-branded properties.
"You have people with not only heavy travel schedules, but heavy business schedules with enormous public profiles," said Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who is now active in Republican politics in Florida. "Donald Trump Jr. is like a brand in and of itself."
Fireworks lighted up the sky over Dubai in mid-February when the Trump brothers hosted a private party for 1,500 people to open the Trump International Golf Club, events that were guarded at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. The costs have not yet been made public, but a shorter trip by Eric Trump to promote a Trump Tower in Punta Del Este, Uruguay, ran up $97,830 in hotel bills for Secret Service agents, State Department personnel and local law enforcement officials, according to government records found by the Washington Post.
A former Secret Service agent said a trip of that type would have required at least 20 agents — field officers, intelligence officers, day- and night-shift agents, and drivers — and that they might have gone ahead by two weeks to prepare. Secret Service agents are reimbursed for food and lodging at the State Department daily rate, which for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is up to $553.
"You don't want a family member of the president to go unprotected, but what you really have here are ... taxpayers subsidizing Trump's business activity," said Norman Eisen, who served as ethics czar under Obama and now heads the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The cost of protecting Obama and his family during the previous administration drew the ire of Republican columnists and politicians, including Trump. "President @BarackObama's vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars — Unbelievable!" he tweeted in January 2012 while the Obama family was visiting Hawaii.
Judicial Watch frequently skewered Obama for travel and security spending, estimating that each winter vacation in Hawaii cost taxpayers about $4 million.
"The Obamas' notorious abuse of presidential travel perks wasted military resources and stressed the Secret Service," the watchdog's president, Tom Fitton, said in a press statement in December. "… President-elect Trump can immediately save taxpayers money by reforming presidential travel."
Now Fitton says his group has filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act for an exact accounting of spending under Trump and will sue agencies that fail to comply.
He defended Trump's right to visit his home on weekends, especially because the president is working. But he encouraged Trump to play golf closer to home — on the Virginia golf course he owns, for example — or to follow the lead of past presidents and make Camp David in Maryland his main retreat.
"There should be some sensitivity on his part," Fitton said. "He owns planes so he knows what it costs to fly one."