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Photo Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Chistopher Goodney (Bloomberg), Drew Angerer, Stephen Yang/Getty Images

Some Republican governors have found themselves at odds with their own party over a record number of bills targeting transgender children.

Why it matters: Social conservatives see a winning issue in bills to restrict trans students' participation in sports and access to health care, but the sudden push has met resistance even from some staunch conservatives.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) vetoed a bill to criminalize gender-affirming care for trans kids last month, calling it an "extreme" government overreach. The state's GOP-controlled legislature later overrode his veto.

  • Hutchinson told Axios he was concerned about the harm the bill could cause and also wanted to send a message to his Republican colleagues that they need to get back to a restrained government.
  • "This one, it was important to draw the line ... it's the most extreme law in the country," he said.
  • Although he vetoed the health care bill, Hutchinson signed two measures on trans students' participation in sports. The health care legislation "was not theoretical, it was very real, and that's the difference in those two bills," he said.
  • Hutchinson acknowledged that "no one has cited an example of where trans athletes have tried to compete [in the state]" — which has been a liability elsewhere.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) vetoed a bill that would ban K-12 trans students from playing sports on teams that align with their gender identity, saying: "There is no evidence" to suggest fairness in sports is in danger.

  • "To date there has not been a single recorded incident of a transgender girl attempting to play on a North Dakota girls' team," he said in a veto statement. His office declined to comment further.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) initially opposed a bill in her state to ban trans students from playing women's sports, citing "vague" language and the threat of a lawsuit from the NCAA. She later used executive orders to enact a modified version of the ban.

  • Her initial opposition met with blowback on the right, and "planted some doubts among social conservatives" about her strength as a potential 2024 presidential contender, the N.Y. Times' Jonathan Martin writes.

Between the lines: Anti-trans bills are "just an election strategy in general to instill fear in others, whatever that 'other' is," said Dan Zwonitzer, a Republican member of the Wyoming House, who came out as gay several years ago. "That's a great political tactic to help win elections. It just sucks that you're the target."

  • Two freshman Republicans in the state legislature said at the beginning of their session that trans youth in junior high sports are Wyoming's most important issue, Zwonitzer told Axios.
  • "Half of us did that awkward look at each other, like, 'where's this coming from?'" he said. "All of a sudden this year, it is seemingly the new battleground issue."

The other side: Former Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican whose son is transgender, told Axios that Republicans may be misreading the politics of the issue.

  • “Doing the right thing to support trans youth does not mean that you will be handed a political death sentence," she said.

Go deeper

Sep 9, 2021 - Health

HHS awards over $18M in grants to bolster students' health care access

Students and parents in line to enter school. Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Biden administration has awarded over $18 million in grants to expand students' access to health care and mental health support as the new school year takes off, according to new numbers shared with Axios.

Why it matters: Both children's mental health and their utilization of mental health services worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, per research from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). The return to in-person instruction could also lead to increased health risks depending on masking and vaccinations in the community.

Education Department investigating Florida over mask mandate ban

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The Education Department announced Friday that it is investigating Florida over its ban on mask mandates.

Why it matters: The investigation, which said the ban could discriminate against students with disabilities or underlying medical conditions, is the latest development in both the legal back-and-forth over masks in Florida schools and between the Biden administration and GOP-led states over mask mandates.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.