Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have reportedly butted heads over a draft guidance that would rescind an Obama-era instruction for public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity instead of their birth sex.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that a letter would be sent to public school districts nationwide on Wednesday from the Departments of Education and Justice that explains both agencies have rescinded a joint guidance issued last year by the Obama administration that tells schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their perceived gender.
The Post's report came after The Washington Blade reported that it was likely President Trump's administration would officially rescind the guidance issued last May by the Departments of Justice and Education on Tuesday. In addition, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a press briefing later in the day that "further guidance" would be coming.
As Wednesday has come and the reported letter has not yet been issued, it has now been alleged that DeVos, who became head of the Education Department after making a name for herself as a conservative school choice advocate, voiced her discomfort with the draft guidance circulating through the two agencies.
Considering it would require both Sessions and DeVos to sign off in order to rescind the Obama-era guidance, three unnamed Republicans with direct knowledge of the discussions between the two departments told The New York Times that DeVos initially resisted signing her name to the guidance letter.
"Mr. Sessions, who strongly opposes expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, fought Ms. DeVos on the issue and pressed her to relent because he could not go forward without her consent," according to the Times.
Trump, the Times reports, sided with Sessions on the issue and even told DeVos in a Tuesday meeting at the White House that she needed to drop her objections. DeVos was reportedly faced with the choice of resigning from her post, defying the president's wishes or going along with the president's agenda. DeVos reportedly agreed to cooperate.
Even though the letter was expected to be issued on Wednesday, The Times reports that Sessions and DeVos are still disputing the final language of the document.
In a Wednesday press briefing, Spicer denied the claims that there was disagreement between DeVos and Sessions and explained that the only differences they had were over the timing and wording of the document. He insisted that there was consensus to rescind the Obama-era guidance.
"There's no daylight between anybody — between the president, between any of the secretaries," Spicer contended. "I think there's been some discussions between the timing of the issuance and recommendations — or between the exact wording. But as far as the conclusions go, I've made this clear and the president's made it clear throughout the campaign that he is a firm believer of states' rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level."
According to copies of the draft obtained by both the Times and the Post, the guidance explains that because of legal challenges brought against the Obama-era guidance by several states, the departments "have decided to withdraw and rescind the above-referenced guidance documents in order to further consider the legal issues involved."
"School administrators, parents and students have expressed varying views on the legal issues arising in this setting," the draft states. "They have also struggled to understand and apply the statements of policy and guidance."
According to the Times, it was DeVos who insisted that language be included in the draft that calls on schools to protect transgender children from bullying.
"Schools must ensure that transgender students, like all students, are able to learn in a safe environment," the draft reads.
Although DeVos and her family are known for being aligned with various social conservative causes and organizations, her reported objection to Sessions' and Trump's plan to rescind the Obama transgender protections has been praised from some in the left-leaning media.
"Credit where credit is due: Though we don't know her reasoning, DeVos deserves praise for fighting Sessions' outright hostility toward trans people," wrote Slate's Mark Joseph Stern. "Yes, she ultimately caved, and she remains either terrible or ignorant on most other issues. But she also forced the trans question all the way to the Oval Office, compelling Trump to issue a direct verdict rather than delegating the unseemly task to his attorney general."
DeVos also earned praise from Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a Democrat who led the effort to oppose the DeVos confirmation in the Senate.
"I am glad to see reports that Sec. DeVos agrees with me and so many people across the country that rolling back this guidance on protecting transgender students would be absolutely wrong and should not be done," Murray said in a statement.
Trump's own views on the transgender bathroom issue have been rather inconsistent.
During the presidential campaign last April, he appeared to be in favor of allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom "they feel is appropriate." However, he later said last May in response to a question about the Obama administration directive that he believes the issue should be left to the states. That comment was echoed by Spicer in Tuesday's and Wednesday's briefings.