Since federal courts first enjoined President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban, lawyers for his administration have been at pains to insist that anti-Muslim animus is not a driving force of policymaking in his government.
But an internal White House document, obtained exclusively by Crooked Media, suggests that the reach of Islamophobia among Trump administration aides and advisers stretches far beyond the four corners of the travel ban, into the budget-writing process, where the White House’s full agenda comes together. The document also reflects the extent to which the White House policymaking process, conducted in the shadow of the media circus around Trump himself—from family planning to federal hiring to nutritional assistance—is defined by ideological extremism, and tempered by incompetence.
Policymakers in Trump’s White House argue that the U.S. should refrain from influencing curricula and “other touchier-feelier programs” at foreign institutions that receive federal funds to educate young girls—except in “muslim countries, where we need to do a check of the curricula at the schools we’re supporting to weed out jihadism.”
Though not as nakedly discriminatory as Trump’s 2015 call for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims” entering the United States, this new proposal, like the travel ban, envisions a double standard in the application of policy toward people and institutions on the basis of whether their home countries are majority Muslim or not.
These same officials are convinced that the World Health Organization is a “corrupt, hostile bureaucracy that achieves no actual [public health] capacity in countries.”
And they hope to halve federal funding for Title X, the grant program that provides family planning and prevention services to the poor, and divert the money into programs to promote “fertility awareness” methods of birth control—popular among socially conservative contraception foes—which fail annually for a quarter of couples.
Members of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council (DPC) transmitted these and other priorities and concerns, as part of their longer wish list, to the Office of Management and Budget, seeking their inclusion in the budget the president will submit to Congress next year, according to a source who provided the memo to Crooked Media.
The list offers a unique, unvarnished look at the true objectives and fixations of a White House where policy detail is delegated to ideological aides, but where the president’s imprint is nevertheless unmistakable. It disparages “Multilateral stuff” in contrast to “bilateral” programs, mirroring Trump’s professed disdain for global trade agreements and preference for nation-to-nation dealmaking. It describes the Department of Health and Human Services’ interest in reducing childhood obesity—a defining passion of former First Lady Michelle Obama—as “inexplicable…not a priority of this administration.” And its call to scrutinize organizations in “muslim [sic] countries” bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Trump’s election-season call to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States, along with subsequent efforts to codify the ban.
Like many proposals that bear Trump’s hallmarks, it is likely to inspire stiff resistance from the administration’s regular foes.
“This document reveals yet again that the Trump White House has clear policy objectives of imposing an unconstitutional religious test to explicitly discriminate against Muslims,” said ACLU’s national political director Faiz Shakir. “As the Trump administration tries to convince the public and the courts that they don’t actually govern based on deep anti-Muslim animus, this revelation provides further evidence that what’s really going on is they’re just trying to hide and mask an inconvenient truth.”
We have embedded a verbatim recreation of the memo below, but are withholding the original to protect our source.
Since it was first established by Ronald Reagan over 30 years ago, the DPC has been the White House’s internal think tank and coordinating center for domestic social policy, leaving matters with larger fiscal implications to the National Economic Council. The pronouncements and internal deliberations of the White House policy councils have no immediate legal force, but they traditionally reflect the president’s objectives and hold considerable sway over the content of his budget, which makes them useful proxies for the White House’s thinking and priorities.
That is in part why veterans of past administrations will find this document striking. It hints at a level of professional shoddiness, and a degree of ideological extremism, that, though typical for the Trump White House, are highly unusual in a budget-writing process that transcends presidencies.
“Even under a charitable read of harried officials moving fast, and leaving aside the ideological extremism revealed in so many of the policy priorities, what the document really shows is an alarming repudiation of evidence-based policymaking,” says a former OMB official. “Just bald assertion after bald assertion with no real data to back anything up. This simply would not have passed muster in the Obama White House.”
According to the document, the DPC proposes to cut $300 billion from federal compensation over 10 years, in part by phasing out pension and retiree health benefits, and reducing paid leave. The document also forecasts a federal pay freeze for calendar year 2019—a rare step President Trump could take unilaterally.
After acknowledging receipt of a request for comment Wednesday afternoon, the White House went dark, and has not responded to multiple followup emails, including a list of specific questions about the document, and an opportunity to confirm or deny its authenticity.
However, provisions in the memo line up neatly with publicly available information about the priorities of Domestic Policy Council members.
Each of the document’s repeated references to fertility awareness, including as a preferred remedy for teenage pregnancy, can be found in subsections that identify DPC staffers Katy Talento and Alexandra Campau as points of contact for OMB officials. Talento, a former adviser to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), attracted the attention of the health news service STAT earlier this year, after Trump selected her to help shape the administration’s health policy, for expressing “strong rhetoric against birth control and abortion.”
In a January 2015 article for the right wing website The Federalist, Talento suggested that “chemical birth control” is “causing miscarriages of already-conceived children,” and, “breaking your uterus for good.”
Fertility awareness methods—including the so-called “rhythm method”—are birth control alternatives popular among social conservatives, who advance dubious claims that prescription contraception is abortifacient. These methods, by which women seek to avoid pregnancy by tracking ovulation, are “about 76% effective,” meaning “24 out of 100 couples who use FAMS will have a pregnancy each year,” according to Planned Parenthood.
The memo may also complicate ongoing litigation over the most recent iteration of the administration’s travel ban, which was enjoined nationwide this week by a federal judge in Hawaii. That case turns heavily on whether the revised ban is motivated by anti-Muslim animus, and whether Trump’s campaign trail pronouncements and official memoranda can be used to infer that such animus extends to the appointees who promulgate his policies.
“This is one more datapoint among many that this is a White House that produces policy based on Islamophobia,” said Deepak Gupta, a founding principal of the boutique appellate law firm Gupta-Wessler, who has consulted for challengers in the travel ban litigation. “The fact that they transmitted this to OMB suggests they’re not really hiding it in intergovernmental communications, which is remarkable.”
The administration’s legal arguments in support of the travel ban rest on the claim that courts should apply a “presumption of regularity,” under which Trump’s motives, as inferred from his public comments about Muslims, are irrelevant to the legal merits of the ban, because officials serving under him are presumed to act legally. Their animus should not, in other words, be inferred from the president’s.
Though the DPC’s requests have no direct bearing on the travel ban, they could nevertheless factor in to judges’ thinking about whether administration officials deserve the benefit of the doubt when questions of racial animus arise.
“If you were bringing a racial discrimination case against a local government, and you challenged a particular policy as racially discriminatory, the most compelling evidence is going to be evidence that specifically relates to the policy,” Gupta added, by way of analogy. “But the fact that a particular policymaker or particular policymaking body has done things motivated by racism in the same time period is also relevant. This evidence could be used to pierce the presumption of regularity around White House policymaking and executive policymaking more generally.”