February 23, 2017 at 8:02 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Spicer hammered with questions on reversal of trans protections

White House Sean Spicer was hammered with questions on reversal of the transgender student guidance. (Photo courtesy CSPAN).

White House Sean Spicer was hammered with questions on reversal of the transgender student guidance. (Photo courtesy CSPAN).

The day after the Trump administration reverse Obama-era guidance that had once assured transgender students access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was hammered Thursday with intense questioning on the issue during his routine daily news briefing.

No fewer than seven reporters from six media outlets asked questions on the topic: American Urban Radio, Fox News, Time Magazine, NBC News, FOX 5 DC and the Washington Blade.

Spicer dodged questions on whether transgender bathroom access is a civil rights’ issue, maintaining the issue belongs to the states. Denying the change was a reversal, Spicer pointed to the order from U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas enjoining enforcement of the guidance.

On that court decision, Spicer asked rhetorically: “Where were the questions in August about this?” The Blade in fact took up the issue of the impact of the order with then-White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who at the time was cagey in his responses about continued enforcement of Title IX.

In a response to a question the Blade, Spicer said the revocation of the guidance “clearly does” represent the administration position on the way the Supreme Court should rule in Gavin Grimm case, which contemplates whether Title IX compels schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Although Spicer didn’t say explicitly what the result should be, the position seems to be against Gavin based on the Trump administration’s rejection of the idea Title IX applies to transgender students.

Here’s a transcript of the trans guidance-related questions during the briefing:

AMERICAN URBAN RADIO: There was a different comment from the president about if people like Caitlyn Jenner wanted to use the bathroom in Trump Tower, she could. What’s happened?

SEAN SPICER: No, I think that’s — So, just to be clear, the president was asked at one point if Caitlyn Jenner was in Trump Tower and he said, “That’s great.” That’s consistent with everything he said. It’s a states’ rights issue. That’s entirely what he believes that if a state wants to pass a law or rule, or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state rule that’s they’re right, but it shouldn’t be the federal government getting in the way of this.

If you look at this, the law that was passed in 1972 did not contemplate or consider this issue. No. 2, the procedure for this guidance letter that was done through the Obama administration was not properly followed. There was no comment period, there was no input from parents, teachers, students or administrators. None.

If we think about how this was implemented last administration, there was zero input, there was zero comment period offered. Teachers and students never had any say in how this was implemented.

No. 3, there’s a reason that the Texas court had this matter enjoined. It’s because it didn’t follow the law and it had procedural problems. Four, as I mentioned, it’s a states’ right issue.

And then five, is I think that we do have to recognize that children do enjoy rights from anti-bullying statutes that are in almost every state, and that there’s a difference between being compassionate for individuals and children who are struggling with something, and wanting to make sure they’re protected and how it’s being done, and I think that president had a big heart, has talked about it in a lot of other issues, and there’s a big difference.

Personally, he addressed this issue when it came up with respect to one of his properties, but he also believes that that’s not a federal government issue. It’s an issue left to the states. And it’s an issue that, there’s a reason in August of last year that the court enjoined this: Because it hadn’t followed the law and it hadn’t followed the procedures, the comment period and the solicitations of opinions and ideas what wasn’t followed. It was jammed down the process, and so, we’re actually following the law on this one, and I think that’s the way is going to be done.

FOX NEWS: The Human Rights Campaign said in rescinding the guidance last night that this is not a states’ rights issue, it’s a civil rights issue, and therefore is in the purview of the federal government. Do you disagree that this is a civil rights issue?

SPICER: It’s a question of where it’s appropriately addressed, and I think there’s a reason — We got to remember, this guidance was enjoined last August by a court. It hasn’t been enforced. There was no comment period by anyone, by the Human Rights Campaign, by teachers, parents, students. Nobody had any input in this, and it seems to me a little interesting that if this was any other issue, people would be crying foul that the process wasn’t followed.

The reality is that if you look Title IX, it was enacted in 1972. The idea that this was even contemplated in that is preposterous on its face, but that doesn’t mean — the president obviously understands the issue and the challenges that especially young children face. He just believes that this is a state issue that needs to be addressed by states as he does with a lot of issues that we’ve talked about.

And so this is — we are a states’ rights party, the president on a lot of issues believes in these various issues being states’ rights. I don’t see why this would be any different, and again, if you go through it, it’s not just — it’s how the guidance was issued, it’s the legal basis on which it was ordered, it fell short on a lot of stuff. It wasn’t us that did this, it was court that stepped in and said they hadn’t followed the procedure of the law back in August of last year and enjoined the case.

FOX NEWS: Does the White House disagree that this is an issue with civil rights?

SPICER: I think it’s not a question of whether it’s civil rights, it’s a question of whether it’s appropriately addressed. As I noted, it’s appropriately addressed at the state level.

NBC NEWS’ KELLY O’DONNELL: Does the president personally believe a student who is transgender should be able to use the bathroom of their choice? His personal belief?

SPICER: I think the president believes it’s a states rights issue, and he’s not going to get into determining — I understand what you’re asking Kelly — and I think that as April pointed out, when the issue came to one of his own properties he was clear. But again, what he doesn’t want to do is force his issues or beliefs down. He believes that it’s a states’ rights issue.

NBC NEWS’ KELLY O’DONNELL: But…they want to know where the president is on this issue.

SPICER: I understand that, and I think he is very sympathetic to children who deal with that. This is up to states and schools with in a particular district to address how they want to accommodate that, and not sort of be prescriptive from Washington. That’s what the president believes.

TIME MAGAZINE: You mentioned that this order was enjoined by the court and there was criticism about the process. That exact same criticism has been levied on the administration’s first executive order on the travel ban. I mean, can you help square the circle here? Why are you relying on that same enjoined by a federal court criticism of the process for one, but not the other?

SPICER: Well, I think there’s a big difference. There’s no way that you can read Title IX from 1972 — anybody — and say that that was even contemplated back then. There’s nobody that is possibly suggesting that the law that was passed in 1972 did that.

No. 2, there was zero comment period put forward on this guidance, which is in violation of how it was executed, OK?…There is also a strong reading when you read 1182 U.S. Code that it is very clear the president does have the authority, so they are very much apples and oranges issues.

One, it’s very clear that the president is told by Congress in U.S. code that he has the authority to do what’s necessary to protect the American people, and there’s no way that anybody above a fifth grade reading level could interpret that. There is a difference between looking at a statute from 1972 and saying that something was complicated back then. Not only that, again, it’s a multi-faceted, when you look at how the guidance was issued, there was a zero comment period. Nobody was able to weigh in on that situation back then.

And so when you’re talking about forcing schools to make a huge accommodation from the federal level and schools, parents, teachers kids were not able to have any input in that decision from Washington, I think, it’s a very, very clear difference.

NBC NEWS’ KRISTEN WELKER: I want to start off by following on the transgender directive. 82 percent of transgender children report feeling unsafe at school. So, isn’t the president leaving some of these children open and vulnerable to be bulled in school?

SPICER: No, I mean, there are bullying laws and policies in place in almost every one of these schools.

WELKER: But transgender children experience not being able to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable using.

SPICER: But you’re missing the point here, Kristen. The president said literally it should be a state decision. He respects the decision of the states

WELKER: Protecting kids is a states’ right issue?

SPICER: You’re trying to make an issue out of something that doesn’t exist. It was the court who stopped this in August of last year, OK? So, where were the questions last year in August about this? It wasn’t implemented correctly, legally and the procedure wasn’t followed because the court found at the time didn’t have the authority to do that.

So, you’re asking us why we’re following the law that wasn’t followed, and the reality is —

WELKER:…reversing the directive…

SPICER: We’re not reversing it. That is a misinterpretation of the scenario. The court stopped it. It enjoined it in August of last year because it wasn’t properly drafted and it didn’t follow the procedures and there was no legal basis for it in a law that was instituted in 1972.

So for you to use those terms, frankly, doesn’t reflect what the situation actually is and how it happened. To talk about us reversing something that was stopped by the courts.

WELKER: But you’re sending a message.

SPICER: No, we’re not. We’re basically saying it’s a states’ rights issue. If a states chooses to do it, as I mentioned to April, when this circumstance came up at one of the president’s own properties, he was very clear about his position on this, so for you to turn around and say what message is president saying, where was the message when he sent it last year?

I think the message shows that he’s a guy with a heart that understands the trouble that many people go through, but he also believes that the proper legal recourse for this is with the states. He believes in a states’ ability to determine what’s right for their state versus another time.

WELKER: But what you’re saying and what the LGBTQ community was saying yesterday that what were perceiving is those are kids are not…

SPICER: There’s a difference between what people may or not feel and the legal process and the law, and the law right now doesn’t allow for it under Title IX that was passed in 1972, and the procedure wasn’t followed. The court saw this in August of last year for a reason, and all we’re doing is saying that the proper place for this is in the states.

And so, for you to suggest what message this is sending, it’s very simple that it’s a states’ rights issue and the state should enact laws that reflect the values, principles and will of the people in their particular states. That’s it plain and simple.

WASHINGTON BLADE: On the transgender guidance, the administration not only rescinded it, but sent a letter to the Supreme Court informing them about the change as it considers a related case. Does the termination of the guidance represent a position from the administration on the way the Supreme Court should rule?

SPICER: Removing the guidance clearly does. The guidance that was put forward by the Obama administration, which clearly hadn’t been done in a proper way in terms of how they solicited, or rather didn’t solicit comments. The guidance it puts forward obviously sends a signal to the court on where the administration stands on this issue.

FOX 5 DC: Jackie Evancho, she sang the National Anthem, she request a meeting with the president. Her sister is transgender. Is he going to take that meeting or meet with anyone from the transgender community during this conversation?

SPICER: Yeah. I think the president would be welcome to meet with her.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

9 Comments
  • Conservatives are always peddling the idea that individual rights are somehow up to individual states to determine. They tried to make the same arguments about marriage equality. Are we a United States of America or an individual states of America?

    People shouldn’t have to be concerned about navigating an inconsistent set of laws addressing their personal lives as they move from one state to another! They must be able to move freely knowing that their liberty and rights are recognized wherever they go within their own country! We move around for better jobs, cheaper housing, to be closer to our families or maybe for health reasons. Our individual rights then must be portable!

  • So, according to Sean Spicer on behalf of PRESIDENT Donald Trump, Leader of the Republican Party, even Civil Rights Issues should be addressed “AT THE STATE LEVEL”.

  • Ladies rooms are for ladies, chix with dix are not ladies.

  • After several times saying that Trump isn’t trying to send a message on the issue he answers the Blade’s excellent question:

    “The guidance it puts forward obviously sends a signal to the court on where the administration stands on this issue.”

    Three lies and a truth.

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