Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. government will not let transgender individuals serve in the military “in any capacity,” citing conversations he’s had with generals and experts.

In a series of tweets, the President said the military “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

If his tweets are followed up with any type of formal policy, the move would reverse an Obama-era policy that allowed transgender individuals to serve openly and blocked a person from being discharged from the military solely because they are a transgender, according to policy on the Department of Defense’s website.

The President’s announcement comes after a six-month delay was placed on what was suppose to be the implementation of this policy at the beginning of July.

When the delay was announced Defense Secretary James Mattis said it would not change the policy that lets transgender people openly serve.

Conservative lawmakers praised the delay and pushed to block the policy, arguing that allowing transgender people to serve would require millions to be added to the military’s budget if the government had to fund transgender-related surgeries.

Estimates on how many transgender people serve in the military vary. A 2014 report from the Williams Institute suggests that about 15,000 transgender individuals are serving in active duty and more than 130,000 are veterans or retired from active duty. The National Center for Transgender Equality claims similar estimates.

However, RAND Corporation produced a report in 2016, which was commissioned by the Pentagon, that estimated about 2,450 transgender people are among active duty troops. That same study predicted it would cost the government about $2.9 to $4.2 million a year to fund hormone therapy and surgeries.

The President’s statement this morning contradicts previous support he has given the LGBT community. Last year, he tweeted that he would “fight” for that community while his presidential opponent “brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

 The first daughter has also been vocal about his support of LGBT folks. Just last month, Ivanka Trump thanked “LGBTQ Americans” for their “immense contributions to our society and economy.”

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Energy Secretary Rick Perry thought he was talking to Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman.

But the 22-minute phone call he held this week, discussing everything from deals on coal exports to President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate deal, was actually with two Russian pranksters who call themselves the “Jerky Boys of Russia.”

During the call, the two reportedly told Perry about a new biofuel made from alcohol and manure and discussed a cheap trade deal on coal exports, according to Bloomberg.

“Negotiation is always possible,” he told them.

The three also reportedly discussed the President’s opposition to a Nordstream 2 pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany and the administration’s support of new Russia sanctions.

The call was arranged after Perry met with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko.

But Perry isn’t the first to get duped by the pair, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told Bloomberg. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and singer Elton John have also fallen for their trick.

“These individuals are known for pranking high level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine,” Hynes said.

Correction: This post originally reported that McCain was a senator from Texas. We regret the error.

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After newly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci fumbled his first staff firing — he told a Politico reporter he was firing assistant press secretary Michael Short before he told Short and then blamed the news on “leakers” after Short found out and resigned — Scaramucci told reporters he won’t be firing more people for the time being.

“There are rumors that I’m firing more people,” he said on Air Force One Tuesday night. “I’m not firing any more people, at least for now.”

But the former New York financier said he’s not opposed to the idea if “leaks” don’t stop, some of which he thinks are stemming from his communications department.

“If the leaks continue, then I’ve got to let everybody go,” he said, adding that he will “probably restructure the communications department,” an office that has already undergone significant shakeup.

On Friday, the White House announced it had hired Scaramucci to take over as director of communications. Almost simultaneously, news broke that then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had resigned, reportedly over objections to the Scaramucci’s appointment. Former deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was promoted to replace Spicer.

Making the rounds on cable news shows over the weekend, the new communications director said he was going to “pare down” on the White House staff if leaks to the media don’t stop.

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Jeff Sessions has had a tough week at work, thanks to an onslaught of attacks from his boss, President Donald Trump.

But the “beleaguered” — in Trump’s words — attorney general got an assist on Tuesday from some of his former colleagues in the House of Representatives and Senate, where Sessions served for nearly two decades before joining the Trump administration.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) spoke out against the President’s dispute with Sessions on Twitter and during an interview on Fox News Tuesday, saying he has a “lot of respect” for Sessions, who he’s worked with for 20 years. Sessions also represented Alabama when he was in the Senate.

“I know him well. He’s a man of integrity, purpose and has a lot of respect from his colleagues and also the legal profession,” Shelby said on Fox, adding that the attorney general would be “hard to replace.” Shelby hopes Sessions will stay on despite the escalating attacks from Trump.

Since last week, the President has publicly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election, telling the New York Times he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he had known he was going to duck out of the probe. Sessions then responded to Trump’s comments on Thursday and said he would serve in his role as attorney general for as long as was “appropriate.”

On both Monday and Tuesday morning, the President took to Twitter to criticize Sessions again for being “weak” and his newly hired Communicators Director Anthony Scaramucci said Tuesday that Trump “probably” wants to push the attorney general out.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mike Lee (R-UT) were among many who jumped to the defense of Sessions’ character against Trump’s cryptic tweets, with Portman saying he’s a man of “deep conviction” who has always had “the best interests of our country at heart.”

Ahead of the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider pending nominations Tuesday, Lee said that despite their differing opinions on things like Sessions’ asset forfeiture policy, Sessions is a man of “integrity” who is leading the Department of Justice in “what I regard to be a positive direction.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) made similar comments Tuesday, releasing a statement on Twitter defending Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into the Russian government meddling in the 2016 election because he worked for the Trump campaign.

“The attorney general’s recusal was ultimately made in the best interests of the Department of Justice and the country,” he said. “Attorney General Sessions’ leadership is needed now more than ever.”

Several Republicans have defended the former senator for recusing himself from the Russia probe, which has been the basis of the President’s assaults against Sessions. In an interview with The New York Times last week, Trump said he wouldn’t have hired Sessions as head of the Department of Justice had he known Sessions would duck out of the investigation.

The No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn (R-TX) was one of Sessions’ staunchest supporters. Appearing on CNN Tuesday morning, Cornyn called his former colleague a “good and honorable man” and said that by recusing himself he helped “restore the credibility” of the Department of Justice and the FBI, which is something he thinks was “sorely needed after the last administration.”

“I happen to agree with him that he did, having participated in the campaign like he did, I think in order to maintain the impression of impartiality, which is so important to building public confidence, that I think Jeff Sessions did the right thing,” Cornyn added.

In the lower chamber of Congress, a number of representatives came to Sessions’ aid, while some criticized the President for how he has handled his criticism of the attorney general. Two mornings in a row, the President tweeted pointed attacks at Sessions, calling him “beleaguered” and “weak” for not investigating his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s “crimes.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, was supportive of Sessions’ recusal during a Fox News interview Tuesday. However, he said he understood the President’s frustrations with the attorney general for his “failure to recall some meetings.”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told Real Clear Politics that the President’s complaints would have been “better conveyed in a private conversation.”

Rep. Adam Kinsinger (R-IL) echoed that sentiment, questioning why the President didn’t just call a meeting to air his grievances with Sessions.

Sessions is one of the President’s most loyal supporters. He was one of the first member of Congress to stand behind Trump when he launched his campaign.

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) said he thinks the President’s critiques of his attorney general are “mistaken,” telling CNN that “if there’s any person on Capitol Hill that has been loyal to the President of the United States, it’s Jeff Sessions.”

“You get the loyalty you give in life. … He gave up his Senate post to take on this post. He was out there as an advocate for then candidate Trump at a time nobody else was,” Sanford said. “We have to be loyal to ideas we believe in and recognize the fact as human beings, we are going to have a difference in the way we approach those ideas.”

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) appeared on CNN Tuesday morning as well, defending the attorney general for being “loyal” and “capable.” But Stewart also said it may be in the public’s best interest to not pay “a whole lot of attention” to Trump’s tweets “because it’s not policy.”

And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was floated as a potential replacement for Sessions, according to the Washington Post, denied the claims that he could replace the attorney general, telling the Post he is “deeply gratified that we have a principled conservative like Jeff Sessions serving as attorney general.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on Republicans to “step up” and get the votes the Senate needs to open debate on repealing Obamacare Tuesday and warned it would be “absolutely ridiculous” to blame failure to do so on the President.

“Inaction is simply not an option at this point. And Senate Republicans need to step up, and they need to make sure that we repeal and replace Obamacare with a system that’s sustainable,” she said in an appearance on “Fox and Friends.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats alike are still unsure what bill will be up for a motion to proceed vote Tuesday, whether it will be a straight Obamacare repeal bill or a version of the GOP’s embattled repeal and replace plan. Both proposals have received harsh criticism from moderate and conservative Republicans alike.

But Sanders said one thing is clear: if GOP Senators fail to bring something to the floor, it won’t be President Donald Trump’s fault.

“I think it would be absolutely ridiculous for Congress to try to place the blame on the President for the inability to get their job done. It’s Congress’ job to legislate, and it’s the President’s job to serve as the executive,” she said. “We are in the legislative part of this process and it’s time for them to step up and make sure Americans get the health care they deserve and the health care that we can afford.”

Trump corroborated the White House’s claims with early morning tweets, calling Tuesday a “big day” for health care and asking Republicans to “step up to the plate” to repeal or repeal and replace.

“I have a pen in hand,” he said.

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A prominent psychiatry group decided this month that they will stick with their tradition of not taking an official stance on the mental state of public figures, but sent a reminder to members saying they are free to weigh in on the mental health of politicians and public figures, like the President.

The request to take an official stance on the psychological health of public figures was voted down at a recent meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s executive team, according to an email sent out to members earlier this month. But members were reminded that they’ve had permission since 2010 to make their own expert opinions about people in the public eye known, according to a spokesperson for the group.

STAT, a health and medicine news site, originally reported that the letter sent out to members was a sign that the group was breaking with a decades-old rule that kept specialists from commenting on behaviors and the psychiatric health of public figures without first examining them.

But group spokesperson Wylie Tene said that report is misleading.

“There’s nothing really new with the letter (we sent to members). It was just reiterating to members that they don’t have to follow the Goldwater rule because we don’t have a Goldwater rule,” he told TPM, referring to a restriction that’s been in place since the 1960s when psychiatrists answered survey questions on whether then-Sen. Barry Goldwater, who was running for President that year, was fit for the office.

The rule was put in place because of the ethical questions raised over offering a professional opinion about a person without consent or examination.

There’s no punishment for violating the rule, according to STAT, and no other medical profession has such a rule as long as experts make it known that they have not examined the public figure they’re assessing.

While the 3,500 members of the American Psychoanalytic Association already had permission to comment on a politician’s mental health without an evaluation, the reminder is more relevant in the age of President Donald Trump, a former president of the psychiatrist organization said.

“We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly,” former president Prudence Gourguechon told STAT, saying that role should be taken even more seriously today, given “Trump’s behavior is so different than anything we’ve seen before” in a President.

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Admitting he quit reading President Donald Trump’s tweets “quite a long time ago,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) dismissed the President’s most recent Twitter attack against the attorney general, saying he doesn’t think it’s possible to bully Jeff Sessions because he’s an “adult.”

“I don’t think he’s bullying. For one thing, I don’t think you can bully Jeff Sessions. Adults don’t— I don’t feel bullied. I have people object to me and chant at me and do all sorts of things to me. I don’t feel bullied by it,” he said Tuesday on CNN. “If you were to ask Jeff Sessions, I’m pretty sure he’d say I don’t feel bullied by this either.”

Stewart’s defense of Sessions comes after a wave of public attacks from the President in the past week. Trump has said he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he’d known the attorney general would recuse himself from investigations into Russia meddling in the election. He also bashed him on Twitter two mornings in a row, calling Sessions “beleaguered” and “weak” for not investigating Hillary Clinton, his former presidential opponent.

Stewart said people shouldn’t put so much weight in the President’s Twitter presence.

“I don’t pay that much attention to (the tweets) and I recommend other people not pay a whole lot of attention to them because it’s not policy. … Look, there’s a lot of different ways we communicate with our constituents, some more serious and official than others,” he said. “I’m just saying you’ve got to realize this President communicates differently than other presidents and that every tweet isn’t national policy and that every tweet doesn’t necessarily mean something as dramatic as it may sound.”

He said he doesn’t know what will come from the President’s attacks against Sessions, but said he hopes he doesn’t push the attorney general out.

“I think Jeff Sessions has shown he’s loyal. I think he’s shown he’s very capable. … I think he is a good man,” Stewart said. “So, I hope that he continues to serve. Now, we could go back and forth on how important or meritorious these tweets are and maybe we’ll just agree to disagree. We just don’t know what the President may be intending to do.”

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The President ramped up his attacks on his attorney general Tuesday morning, criticizing Jeff Sessions for having a “VERY weak position” on looking into Hillary Clinton “crimes” and asking why Sessions hasn’t investigated “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage” his campaign.

In a tweet-storm Tuesday morning, he brought up his former presidential opponent’s email scandal, asking “where are the E-mails and DNC server” and even tagged Fox News host Sean Hannity in one of the posts.

President Donald Trump is known for getting his information from cable news shows and often tweets in response to what’s being discussed on television. Hannity has been a vocal supporter of the President, and on his show Monday evening he questioned why there has a been so much focus on the investigation into whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government to influence the election and not into whether Clinton worked with the Ukrainian government during her campaign.

Trump’s critical tweets about Sessions are just the latest in a week-long series of public outrage against his pick for attorney general. In a New York Times interview published last week, the President aired his grievances with Sessions‘ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, saying he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he had known he was going to do that.

On Monday he called Sessions “beleaguered” on Twitter and called him out on the same issue, asking why he wasn’t looking into “Crooked Hillary’s crimes and Russia relations?”

Despite the President’s clear criticism, the White House has said Sessions still has the confidence of the President, but that Trump is “disappointed” by Sessions’ recusal.

Sessions has been a loyal Trump supporter since day one and was one of the first to throw his endorsement behind the then-candidate. Last week, Sessions said he would continue to serve as attorney general for as long as it was “appropriate.”

On Monday, unnamed sources told Axios that the President is “so unhappy” with Sessions that he’s brought up bringing back former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to run the Justice Department.

Giuliani dismissed those rumors Monday, defending Sessions and saying he made the “right decision” in recusing himself from the investigation after it was revealed that he met with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. multiple times when he initially denied those meetings during his confirmation hearing.

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A Republican House member thinks the GOP women of the Senate are to blame for Congress’ inability to address Obamacare.

Appearing on a Corpus Christi radio station Friday, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) not only suggested that it was Republican women’s fault that the party is fractured on how to get rid of Obamacare, but also said if it was “a guy from south Texas” at the center of the disagreement, he might ask them to resolve their issues with a gun fight.

“The fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me. … Some of the people that are opposed to this, they’re some female senators from the Northeast,” he said, likely referring to Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, who has been vocal about her opposition to each of the Senate’s health plans from the start. She said over the weekend that she’s opposed to the delayed repeal bill.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV) have also been clear about their opposition to various versions of the Republican health care plan.

Farenthold suggested if it were a man from his state blocking the repeal bill, he might ask him to “step outside and settle this Aaron Burr style,” he said, referencing the famed gun duel between the former vice president and Alexander Hamilton, a former secretary of the Treasury who had longstanding political differences. The gun fight ended in Hamilton’s death.

The GOP congressman voted in favor of the GOP’s health care plan that made it through though the House in May. He told NPR in an interview in March that he supported the bill because he ran on repealing Obamacare.

His comments come as the Senate moves toward a procedural vote to begin debate on repealing Obamacare, which is expected to come Tuesday. If it succeeds, the Senate will bring the repeal bill to the floor to debate, which could result in a vote on a delayed repeal of Obamacare or the GOP’s replacement bill.

Listen to his full interview below:

H/t Think Progress

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The President called out Attorney General Jeff Sessions again on Monday morning, less than a week after he aired his grievances with the attorney general in an interview with The New York Times.

Calling Sessions “beleaguered,” President Trump asked on Twitter why Sessions and other investigators hadn’t looked into the “crimes” of Hillary Clinton and her relations to Russian officials.

The tweet comes as three members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle are scheduled to testify before Congress this week as committees look into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election.

One of those scheduled to appear, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, submitted an 11-page statement to Congress Monday morning that claims he met with four Russian officials, but did not collude with the government to influence the election.

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