March 8, 2017 at 10:08 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department holds first press briefing of Trump presidency

The Harry S. Truman Building of the State Department. (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The State Department on Tuesday held its first press briefing since President Trump took office.

Acting spokesperson Mark Toner spoke to reporters a day after Trump signed a revised executive order that removes Iraq from the list of predominantly Muslim countries from which citizens cannot enter the U.S. for 90 days.

The travel ban still applies to Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya.

The revised executive order that Trump signed maintains the suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, but it does not indefinitely ban Syrian refugees from entering the country. It also does not prioritize the resettlement of those who are fleeing persecution because of their religion.

The U.S. will allow 50,000 refugees to resettle in the country during fiscal year 2017, which is less than half of the 110,000 benchmark that the Obama administration set.

“It’s a renewed commitment to look at the procedures with how we vet both refugees incoming as well as immigrants — or rather traveling public — into this country to ensure that we’re doing the necessary to provide for the security of Americans,” Toner told reporters.

Toner also said the State Department has received “a variety of opinions from a variety of governments” about the original travel ban that Trump signed on Jan. 27 and the revised executive order. He told reporters that “not all of them” have been “negative.”

“We need to start from the premise here, which is we’re doing this, we’re undertaking this effort in order to guarantee as much as possible of the safety and security of the American people,” said Toner. “We hope that other governments, foreign governments, can appreciate that premise and take it under consideration.”

Toner also spoke about the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development by 37 percent.

“This is still very early on in the process,” he said.

LGBT and intersex issues not discussed

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was sworn in by Vice President Pence on Feb. 1.

Tillerson, who is the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, in January raised eyebrows during his confirmation hearing when he did not specifically say “gay rights are human rights” in response to a question that U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) asked. Tillerson also did not publicly speak about the State Department’s 2016 human rights report after its release last week.

Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry remains in his position within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Activists in the U.S. and around the world with whom the Blade has spoken since Trump took office remain concerned the White House will no longer support efforts to promote LGBT and intersex issues abroad.

A State Department spokesperson told the Blade last month that it “supports” El Salvador officials’ investigation into the murders of three transgender women. LGBT and intersex issues were not discussed during Tuesday’s briefing.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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