The Trump administration reportedly wants the government to revoke civil rights protections from transgender people

The Trump administration is weighing making its biggest attack on transgender rights yet in a maneuver that would strip federal recognition of the gender identity of some 1.4 million Americans — and require genetic testing in some cases to match a person’s gender with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Erica Green, Katie Benner, and Robert Pear of the New York Times reported on Sunday that the Department of Health and Human Services is floating a memo that would establish the legal definition of sex under Title IX — the federal civil rights law that bans discrimination in education on the basis of gender — that would render immutable the sex of a person at birth. In other words, the government would not recognize a person’s gender other than the one based on their genitalia when they’re born.

Per the Times:

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

According to the Times, it would “eradicate federal recognition” of some 1.4 million transgender Americans.

HHS is preparing to formally present the new definition to the Justice Department before the end of the year, and if the department decides the change is legal, it could be enforced across Title IX laws and government agencies, including the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor.

The effects could be far-reaching — it could impact which locker rooms and bathrooms transgender students could use as well as which sports teams students join or what happens to single-sex classes, the Times points out. If enacted, it could even require some people to produce DNA tests as part of their educational experience — an unprecedented step to enforce a biological definition of gender.

The Trump administration has been terrible on transgender rights

The Obama administration worked to advance transgender rights and loosen federal regulations to allow for more gender fluidity including defining gender identity as protected by Title IX. President Donald Trump and his administration have taken steps to reverse that.

Soon after taking office, the Trump administration sent out a letter officially revoking Obama-era guidance on protecting trans students in federally funded schools, saying it was federal overreach. Trump has sought to ban transgender people from serving in the military, rescinded a memo protecting trans workers, and stripped protections for trans prisoners. It has also worsened protections for transgender people in health care.

Trump on the campaign trail said he would embrace LGBTQ people and said he would “fight” for them while Hillary Clinton would bring in “more people that will threaten your freedoms and believes.” But as Vox’s German Lopez pointed out, he’s done quite the opposite:

As president, Trump has acted more or less how you would expect a typical anti-LGBTQ Republican to act. Maybe that reflects his own opinions. Maybe it reflects the views of the people he’s surrounded himself with in his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both of whom have very long histories of anti-LGBTQ causes.

This new assault on transgender people — and one that includes genetic testing — is just the latest chapter.

[Vox

]

Trump nixes federal pay raise

President Trump on Thursday announced that he would cancel a scheduled 2.1 percent across-the-board pay increase for federal workers, as well as locality pay increases.

“In light of our Nation’s fiscal situation, Federal employee pay must be performance-based, and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets,” Trump wrote in a letter to the Speaker of the House and the president of the Senate.

The proposal sets up a fight with Congress, which could effectively overturn the action in upcoming spending legislation. Without such intervention, the move would affect most of the 2.1 million federal employees around the nation, about 1.7 million of which live in areas outside of the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Members of the military, on the other hand, are on schedule to receive a 2.6 percent pay increase.

Last year, the Trump administration approved a 1.4 percent increase in federal pay and a 2.4 percent increase in military pay.

In the letter, Trump said he had the authority to propose an alternative pay schedule based on Title V of the U.S. Code, which allows the president to alter scheduled pay changes he deems inappropriate in light of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.”

Trump’s 2019 budget proposal sought to freeze federal pay, but the Senate Appropriations Committee included a 1.9 percent pay bump in its spending plans for 2019. The House version of the bill did not include such an increase, and sought reductions to spending on federal pension plans.

The two chambers are scheduled to meet in the coming weeks to work out the differences between their bills, negotiations which could effectively override Trump’s move to cut pay. Trump has not indicated if he would veto such a measure if it included a pay increase.

Democrats, and some Republicans, blasted the move.

“For someone who claims to be a leadership maven, President Trump certainly gives the impression through his actions that he has no idea how to run an effective organization,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

[The Hill]

Reality

Trump’s Space Force: Billions.

Pentagon budget increase: $94 billion.

Trump farm bailout: $6 billion.

Trump golf outings: $77 million.

Mnuchin flights: $1 million+

Price flights: $1 million+

Pruitt flights & phone booth: $211k

Zinke door: $139k

Carson dining set: $31k

Trump expands federal contractors’ ability to cite religious freedom in discrimination cases

The Trump administration issued a directive earlier this month that critics argue will allow federal contractors to assert their right to a religious exemption from LGBT discrimination charges.

The Department of Labor directive, issued on Aug. 10, expands the circumstances under which federal contractors can claim they have a religious exemption when battling discrimination charges.

The directive addresses an executive order enacted in 1965 that blocks businesses that work with the federal government from discriminating against people on the basis of sex, gender identity, race, sexual orientation and other factors.

The new notice cites recent Supreme Court decisions, including a ruling in favor of a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple and the 2014 Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision that certain corporations can be exempt from regulations over religious objections.

It also cites recent executive orders by President Trump, including his order earlier this year directing federal agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech.

Critics told BuzzFeed News that the new directive would contradict a promise Trump made when he took office last year to not to touch an executive order issued by former President Obama that banned federal contractors from engaging in LGBT discrimination.

Department of Labor and White House officials told the news outlet that the Obama-era executive order remains in place, but declined to answer questions on when the religious exemption directive could be utilized by contractors.

“The purpose of Directive 2018-03 is to ensure [the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] guidance on the religious exemption is consistent with federal law related to religious freedom and religious accommodation, including recent U.S. Supreme Court precedents and Executive Orders, which OFCCP is obligated to follow,” a Labor Department official told BuzzFeed News.

The official noted that the executive order enacted in 1965 allows “religious organizations to make employment decisions on the basis of religion.”

The new directive also states that it “supersedes” a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) memo on the illegality of anti-LGBT discrimination.

“The previous FAQ did not reflect recent Supreme Court decisions regarding religious freedoms,” the Department of Labor official told BuzzFeed News.

“President Trump and his Administration are working diligently to improve the lives of all Americans, including faith-based and LGBT communities,” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told BuzzFeed News. “We will continue to ensure anti-discrimination protections are in place for all Americans.”

Advocates opposing the new directive told the news site that the policy opens the door for contractors to cite religious exemptions when discriminating against LGBT employees.

“This Administration apparently recognizes — correctly, in our view — that rescinding [Obama’s 2014] executive order outright would cause a huge public outcry,” Shannon McGowan, a former lawyer in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the current head of Lambda Legal, told BuzzFeed News. “So instead, this Administration is trying to accomplish the same end through different means.”

McGowan noted that a fifth of the federal workforce is employed through federal contractors, telling the news site that the “damage that could be done here cannot be overstated.”

[The Hill]

White House stops announcing calls with foreign leaders

The White House has suspended the practice of publishing public summaries of President Donald Trump’s phone calls with world leaders, two sources with knowledge of the situation tell CNN, bringing an end to a common exercise from Republican and Democratic administrations.

It’s unclear if the suspension is temporary or permanent. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Official descriptions of the President’s calls with foreign leaders — termed “readouts” in Washington parlance — offer administrations the chance to characterize in their own terms the diplomacy conducted at the highest levels between countries. While news is rarely contained in the rote, often dry descriptions, they do offer the only official account that a phone call took place.

Trump has had at least two calls with other leaders in the last two weeks, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House confirmed that the calls took place after they were reported by foreign media, but declined to elaborate on what was said.

Calls with world leaders are highly coordinated events that in the past have required careful planning by the President’s national security team. Leaders are typically patched through the Situation Room, and sometimes aides listen in. Once the call is over, both sides typically publish a readout of what was discussed. However, readouts have been known to differ between governments.

After Trump spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April 2017, the two sides offered vastly different accounts of what was discussed.

“President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke today. The two leaders discussed the dairy trade in Wisconsin, New York State, and various other places. It was a very amicable call,” the White House’s version read.

Canada’s readout was more descriptive.

“The prime minister and the President reaffirmed the importance of the mutually beneficial Canada-US trade relationship,” Canada’s readout said. “On the issue of softwood lumber, the prime minister refuted the baseless allegations by the US Department of Commerce and the decision to impose unfair duties.”

Tony Blinken, who served as the deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017, said there are two main reasons why issuing the readouts are important.

“One is transparency,” Blinken told CNN. “There is a public interest in knowing who he talked to and what they talked about. Secondly, these readouts help shape the narrative.

If we aren’t doing a readout, but the other country is, their narrative is going to prevail. ”

[CNN]

Trump imposes steel, aluminum tariffs on U.S. allies and Europe retaliates

President Trump followed through on a threat to impose steep metal tariffs on U.S. allies Thursday, a long-awaited decision that analysts said moved the country closer to a trade war.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that Canada, Mexico and the European Union would be subject to a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum beginning at midnight on Thursday. Brazil, Argentina and Australia agreed to limit steel exports to the U.S. to avoid tariffs, he said.

“The president’s overwhelming objective is to reduce our trade deficit,” Ross said.

The decision was the latest by the Trump administration to project a more protectionist stance amid ongoing trade negotiations with China and other countries. But it drew a sharp rebuke and promises of retaliation from longstanding allies.

“These tariffs are totally unacceptable,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday. “These tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States.”

European trade officials have previously threatened to respond to Trump’s move with  duties on U.S.-made motorcycles, orange juice and bourbon, among other things. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, reiterated that position Thursday, saying Europe would impose duties on “a number of imports from the U.S.”

“This is protectionism, pure and simple,” he said.

The Mexican economic ministry said it would move to place tariffs on U.S.-made pork, flat steel, apples, cheese and other products.

Trump announced the tariff and aluminum tariffs in early March but offered temporary exemptions to the European Union, Canada, Mexico and a number of other allies. He extended those exemptions in late April, noting at the time it would be the “final” delay unless the countries agreed to other concessions.

“We are awaiting their reaction,” Ross said of the other countries. “We continue to remain quite willing, indeed eager, to continue discussions.”

The move promoted criticism from a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, especially those with large agricultural industries.

“This is dumb,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “Europe, Canada and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents.”

The decision comes days after the Trump administration announced $50 billion of new tariffs on Chinese imports, after officials had earlier said it was “putting the trade war on hold” with Beijing. Ross is set to travel to China this weekend to continue trade talks.

The Trump administration has relied on a 1962 law that allows countries to impose trade restrictions for national security purposes. The president has also justified the tariffs by pointing out “shuttered plants and mills” and the decades-long slide of manufacturing.

Several analysts said they are concerned the approach will have the opposite effect.

“The initial blows in the trade wars have finally landed,” said Eswar S. Prasad, former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division and a professor at Cornell University. “It is now clear that Trump’s threats about trade sanctions are more than just bluster and are to be taken seriously.”

Prasad said the hard line approach might net Trump some short-term wins, but said “it could eventually result in the U.S. playing a diminished” role in global trade.

“He doesn’t have a strategy that’s going to lead to making American manufacturing great again,” said Robert Scott, a trade expert at the Economic Policy Institute. “There will continue to be a series of tit-for-tat battles.”

The U.S. imported 34.6 million metric tons of steel last year, a 15% increase from 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Canada was the top source of U.S. imported steel, accounting for 77%, according to the International Trade Administration. Mexican steel accounts for about 9% of U.S. imports.

The majority of that metal is used in construction, auto manufacturing and appliances.

The tariffs, as well as export controls agreed to by Brazil and others, will raise the price of steel and aluminum in the U.S., making domestic producers more competitive while adding to the price buyers of the metals must pay.

“We think that’s going to put the industry in real peril,” said Jerry Howard, president of the National Association of Home Builders. “We were very excited by the tax bill, but it turns out the tax bill giveth, and tariffs taketh away.”

Ann Wilson with the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association said its members are already paying tariffs on many of the components they import to make auto parts. Imposing additional barriers on the metals used to make those parts, she said, amounts to a “double tariff.”

“There is little doubt that the uncertainty and added costs the administration is creating will put U.S. investments and jobs at risk,” Wilson said.

Steel trade with Canada and Mexico is covered under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the president is relying on a provision of U.S. law that allows him to claim the imports represent a threat to national security.

Many observers believe the announcement Thursday is the latest effort to prod stalled negotiations over rewriting NAFTA, which Trump repeatedly promised to do during his campaign for president.

“This really is an attempt to strengthen the negotiating power of the U.S. when it comes to renegotiating NAFTA,” said Ned Hill, who teaches economic development at Ohio State University. “This is just very public, bare-knuckle negotiating.”

[USA Today]

Reality

Trump promised he would go after countries who “cheated” in trade, but we do not have a major trade imbalance with our friends and allies.

Trump working with Chinese president to help China’s ZTE ‘get back into business’

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are working to give Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp “a way to get back into business, fast.”

“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The Chinese technology company earlier this month suspended its main operations after the U.S. Commerce Department banned American supplies to its business.

As one of the world’s largest telecom equipment makers, ZTE relied on U.S. companies such as Qualcomm Inc and Intel Corp for components.

[Reuters]

ZTE is banned from selling devices in the US because they violated our own sanctions and sold equipment to Iran. Remember, just this week Trump thought sanctions on Iran are so important he left the Iran deal to impose new sanctions on the country.

Do you realize how insane this is?

The company reached a settlement in March 2017 with the Commerce Department and Treasury Department for $1.19 billion and the promise to terminate several employees and punish others.

ZTE disclosed earlier this year that while it had gotten rid of several employees, the company hadn’t properly reduced the bonuses of some workers, or issued letters of reprimand. The inaction wasn’t consistent with a progress report ZTE issued in July. It’s because of those false statements that the Commerce Department decided to act.

Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’

US President Donald Trump has tweeted that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on Saturday.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” Mr Trump said in his tweet.

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies mounting a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

In one of his tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump called the Syrian leader a “gas killing animal”.

In another, he painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

The US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

[BBC]

Trump’s push to redo $1.3T spending bill he signed sparks GOP revolt

A regretful President Donald Trump wants to roll back spending in a massive omnibus bill he signed into law, but Republicans who helped craft the legislation are in open revolt.

“My attitude is, your word is your bond,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said, in his first public comments on the Trump plan.

Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) is among more than a half-dozen appropriators who have voiced skepticism about the Trump administration’s proposal to cancel billions in spending. Nearly all said they feared that it could erode the GOP’s bargaining power in future budget talks. Their objections represented another low point in an often-tense relationship between the cost-cutting White House and GOP members of Congress who write spending bills.

The skeptics included the newly appointed Senate Appropriations chief, Richard Shelby, who met with Trump on Wednesday.

“We need to look at what we agreed on with the other side and keep our word, keep our agreements,” the Alabama Republican told POLITICO just before his one-on-one with Trump.

He added that the Senate has had little appetite for the idea in the past: “Rescissions has never been a big thing over here.”

The White House is seeking to essentially take a scalpel to last month’s $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, scratching out any funding that Trump doesn’t personally back.

Budget experts have said a rescissions package of that scale would likely be unprecedented: One party’s leaders in Congress and the White House have never before unilaterally agreed to unravel a spending deal that has already been sealed.

“I think the whole rescission effort is unrealistic and dangerous,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a longtime appropriator, told reporters. “It’s hard enough to make a bargain around here. But you can’t break your word when you do. … You’d never have another deal ever.”

Multiple lawmakers, including Cole, said they don’t believe House GOP leaders are taking the idea seriously — despite Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s own involvement in the budget scheme. They think it’s really being pushed by Trump’s belt-tightening budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Most are doubtful that the cutbacks could even land a floor vote.

“It seems like this is just an exercise in appeasing the president and the Republican ‘no’ votes on the omnibus,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told reporters.

“We could have made the original budget framework smaller. I would have been fine with that,” Dent said. But he cautioned that going back on the agreement now, months later, would have a “chilling effect” on future deals.

Republicans, particularly in the House, have little desire to revisit the unpopular spending deal, H.R. 1625 (115), in an increasingly dire midterm campaign cycle. The package included huge boosts to domestic funding, which GOP leaders worked hard to sell to their own members in the name of securing more Pentagon funding.

Ultimately, 90 House Republicans backed the spending bill, in part because they were promised cover by the White House.

But Trump’s 180-degree reversal on that deal left the Republican lawmakers who backed the omnibus feeling spurned. Trump further infuriated members of his own party after he threatened to veto the bill and accused GOP leaders of choosing to “waste money” in the bill.

Those same Republican leaders have sharply disputed Trump’s claim that there was no close scrutiny of spending. “When you put together a $1.3 trillion bill, you look into all these accounts,” Frelinghuysen said in defense of the bill.

“You don’t throw your friends under the bus who did exactly what you wanted them to do,” Cole said, calling it a “hare-brained scheme.”

Just one appropriator out of nine polled by POLITICO this week expressed interest in a rescissions package.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who oversees Agriculture spending, said he was “absolutely” open to the idea.

“We’re all just getting back, we gotta sit around the table and talk about it, but I don’t dismiss the idea at all,” said Aderholt, who is in a tight race to take over as House Appropriations chairman next year.

No lawmaker has seen any details out of the White House or GOP leadership about which programs would be cut. The Trump administration would have until mid-June to submit its request, after which it would be up to the House Appropriations Committee to turn the package into legislative language.

That work would need to be done at the same time the Appropriations panels are knee-deep in drafting bills for fiscal 2019, which begins Sept. 30.

And with an already abbreviated House calendar this year, lawmakers say there’s hardly time or interest to jump back into the previous fiscal year.

“We’ll see how that comes together. I’m not quite sure how that’s going to happen, but we’ll see if it does,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have accused the GOP of “buyer’s remorse” after the most recent spending deal. And Democrats are already cautioning that Republican efforts to walk back this year’s spending deal would be seen as an attempt to void the entire two-year budget agreement.

Without that agreement, which also delivered huge increases in defense spending, the Pentagon’s budget would actually shrink next year.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said he won’t decide whether to support a rescissions package until he sees the details. But he added that Congress’ spending panels tend to take the blame for the nation’s mounting debt — even though nondefense discretionary spending accounts for just 15 cents out of every dollar spent by the government.

“At Appropriations, we’re the most visible and easy target,” he said.

[Politico]

The Trump administration wants to let bosses keep their workers’ tips

The Trump administration has kept its promise to let companies do business with less government oversight. From the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Health and Human Services, the administration has rolled back rules on oil companies, banks, and health insurance companies.

Trump’s efforts could soon reach your neighborhood restaurant, barbershop, and nail salon. One of the administration’s major deregulation efforts is currently underway at the Department of Labor — and if implemented, it could potentially hurt millions of American workers who get tips as part of their jobs.

The agency is considering a new rule that would give employers unprecedented control over what to do with a worker’s gratuities. The rule, which the agency proposed in December, would repeal an Obama-era regulation that made official what had been the common view for decades: that tips are the sole property of the workers who earn them. It would essentially allow employers to use their workers’ tips for tip-pooling arrangements, provided their workers make the minimum wage.

If the new rule is finalized, it would be a boon to the restaurant industry, which has been fighting for years to control how servers’ tips are distributed.

“This is a major departure from how the DOL has always interpreted the law,” said Judith Conti, the federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project. “It sets policy for all tipped workers: parking attendants, car washers, airport valets, taxi drivers, hotel bellhops.”

The rule would have an immediate effect in at least six states, including Arizona and Nevada, where employers are required to pay the full minimum wage to all tipped workers. (Under federal law, the minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13; the full minimum wage is $7.25.)

But even states that don’t require the full minimum wage for tipped workers will be affected. Workers who earn the full minimum wage but still count on tips to supplement their pay — such as barbers and nail technicians — could see their take-home pay affected. (According to one estimate, there are 4.3 million tipped workers in the US.)

The rule would also create an incentive for some restaurant owners in those states to pay servers the full $7.25 hourly minimum wage. That might sound like good news for servers who make only the tipped-worker minimum wage of $2.13 per hour — but if those workers normally make enough tips to push their pay above $7.25, the new rule would allow their employers to take any tips they earn above minimum wage, effectively lowering their take-home pay. Including tips, the average hourly wage for restaurant servers in the United States was $11.73 in 2016.

The new rule would allow restaurant owners to do two things in particular. First, it would let employers collect the servers’ tips into a pool that would be shared with back-of-the-house workers — dishwashers, cooks, etc. — who have to be paid the regular minimum wage and aren’t typically tipped. Restaurant owners say that back-of-the-house workers should get a share of the tips because they contribute to a customer’s overall experience, but labor rights groups and servers argue that restaurant owners should just pay those workers better, instead of using servers’ tips to subsidize their pay.

But the second way employers could use the tips goes even further than expanding this type of tip pooling. The rule lists examples of how else employers could use a worker’s gratuities: to renovate their restaurants, lower menu prices, or hire more workers. In other words, it allows restaurant owners to keep the tips for themselves.

The proposal immediately triggered outrage among restaurant servers and labor rights groups, who flooded the Department of Labor with thousands of comments.

The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, estimates that the rule would likely transfer about $5.8 billion in tips each year from workers to their bosses — about 16.1 percent of all their tips. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta reportedly tried to hide an internal analysis showing that the rule could take $640 million from workers (an initial analysis showed it would actually take billions of dollars), according to a Bloomberg investigation. Now the agency’s inspector general is investigating the allegations.

“It’s really, really troubling,” said Sharon Block, a law professor at Harvard who worked at the Department of Labor under the Obama administration and who helped develop the Obama-era rule clarifying that tips were the property of the workers who earned them. “This is no small thing for people who really can’t afford to be subsidizing their employers.”

Despite the backlash, the Department of Labor is still considering implementing the new rule. A spokesperson for the department said the agency is currently in the process of reviewing more than 375,000 public comments it received.

[Vox]

Trump to consider elephant trophy imports on ‘case-by-case’ basis

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last week that it will now consider all permits for importing elephant trophies from African nations on a “case-by-case basis,” breaking from President Trump’s earlier promises to maintain an Obama-era ban on the practice.

In a formal memorandum issued on Thursday, FWS said it will withdraw its 2017 Endangered Species Act (ESA) findings for trophies of African elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia, “effective immediately.”

The memo said “the findings are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies.”

In its place, FWS will instead “grant or deny permits to import a sport-hunted trophy on a case-by-case basis.”

FWS said it will still consider the information included in the ESA findings, as well as science-based risk assessments of the species’ vulnerability, when evaluating each permit request.

The service also announced it is withdrawing a number of previous ESA findings, which date back to 1995, related to trophies of African elephants, bontebok and lions from multiple African countries.

The decision to withdraw the FWS findings followed a D.C. Circuit Court decision in December that found fault with the initial Obama-era rule, which banned importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.

“In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species. We are withdrawing our countrywide enhancement findings for a range of species across several countries,” a spokesperson for FWS said in a statement. “In their place, the Service intends to make findings for trophy imports on an application-by-application basis.”

A federal appeals court ruled at the end of last year that the Obama administration did not follow the right procedures when it drafted its ban on the imports. The court also said the FWS should have gone through the extensive process of proposing a regulation, inviting public comment and making the regulation final when it made determinations in 2014 and 2015 that elephant trophies cannot be brought into the country.

The agency used the same procedures as the Obama administration for its ESA determination in 2017 that led to reopening African elephant imports to the U.S. in November.

At the time, a FWS spokesperson said the reversal “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”

Following the fall announcement to overturn the ban, the Trump administration faced immense backlash, which played a role in leading the president to denounce elephant hunting and promise to re-establish the ban.

Trump in February called the administration’s initial decision to overturn the Obama-era ban “terrible.”

In an interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, Trump said he had decided to officially turn the order around.

“I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country] and people can talk all they want about preservation and all of the things that they’re saying where money goes towards well, money was going in that case, going to a government which was probably taking the money, OK?” Trump said.

Despite the president’s tweets and interviews, however, FWS and the Interior Department remained tight-lipped as to the status of the ban. Numerous requests for information to FWS from The Hill over several months were referred to Interior and left unanswered.

“The president has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go,” the FWS spokesperson said of the new memorandum. “Unfortunately, since aspects of the import permitting program for trophies are the focus of ongoing litigation, the Department is unable to comment about specific next steps at this time.”

Nine days before FWS added the reversal to the Federal Register, the Interior Department announced that it was establishing an International Wildlife Conservation Council to “advise the Secretary of the Interior on the benefits that international recreational hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation.”

Interior Department Spokeswoman Heather Swift said Tuesday that Zinke and the President’s positions remain unchanged.

“The recent FWS posting on the website does not break any promises. In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species,” she said.

The council will hold its first meeting next week on March 16.

[The Hill]

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