45 sen­a­tors ask Pen­tagon to avoid trans­gen­der ousters

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON — A bloc of 45 U.S. sen­a­tors asked the Pen­tagon not to dis­charge any trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers un­til the De­fense Depart­ment com­pletes an on­go­ing re­view of whether they should be able to con­tinue serv­ing in uni­form.

The let­ter holds no le­gal sway over the Pen­tagon and law­mak­ers can­not stop Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump from car­ry­ing out his stated in­ten­tion to ban trans­gen­der peo­ple from serv­ing in uni­form, but the let­ter puts al­most half of the U.S. Se­nate on record as op­pos­ing the sur­prise an­nounce­ment.

Separately, the top le­gal of­fi­cers in 18 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia asked Congress to pass leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers.

De­spite Trump’s di­rec­tive, is­sued in a se­ries of tweets Wed­nes­day, the mil­i­tary’s high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cer said in a let­ter to se­nior mil­i­tary lead­ers Thurs­day that there will be “no mod­i­fi­ca­tions” to the cur­rent pol­icy on trans­gen­der troops un­til fur­ther di­rec­tion is re­ceived from the pres­i­dent.

“In the mean­time, we will con­tinue to treat all of our per­son­nel with re­spect,” said Gen. Joseph Dun­ford Jr., chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The White House has not yet said whether or when it would is­sue de­tailed in­struc­tions to the Pen­tagon to carry out Trump’s tweeted or­ders.

The let­ter from sen­a­tors was writ­ten by Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, D-N.Y., a mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee who fo­cuses on per­son­nel mat­ters. Aides said the let­ter is in­tended to en­cour­age De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis to com­plete the re­view ex­plor­ing whether trans­gen­der peo­ple should be al­lowed to serve.

The sen­a­tors ask that “at a min­i­mum, you do not sep­a­rate any ser­vice mem­ber due to the per­son’s gen­der iden­tity un­til you have com­pleted the as­sess­ment that you an­nounced on June 30, have re­ported back to Congress about any chal­lenges that you fore­see in the ac­ces­sion and re­ten­tion of trans­gen­der troops, and de­ter­mined the Depart­ment is un­able to mit­i­gate these chal­lenges.”

“Any Amer­i­can who wants to serve and meets the stan­dards should be al­lowed to serve our coun­try,” the sen­a­tors added.

Ul­ti­mately, 45 sen­a­tors signed Gil­li­brand’s let­ter — all Democrats ex­cept Sen. Su­san Collins, R-Maine. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the top Demo­crat on the armed ser­vices panel, was among the sig­na­to­ries.

Mean­while, Hawaii At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dou­glas Chin sent a let­ter dated Thurs­day ask­ing the chair­men and rank­ing mem­bers of the House and Se­nate Armed Ser­vices com­mit­tees to reaf­firm in leg­is­la­tion that trans­gen­der peo­ple may not be banned from serv­ing in the mil­i­tary. That let­ter urges law­mak­ers to in­clude trans­gen­der pro­tec­tions in the Na­tional De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act.

Eigh­teen other at­tor­neys gen­eral, who like Chin are all Democrats, also signed the doc­u­ment.

The pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion would put in place a pol­icy that “vi­o­lates fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional and Amer­i­can val­ues,” the at­tor­neys gen­eral said.

“The new ban harms our states’ trans­gen­der res­i­dents and marginal­izes an en­tire group of peo­ple based solely on gen­der iden­tity,” the let­ter said.

Gil­li­brand told CNN on Thurs­day that she was out­raged by Trump’s un­ex­pected an­nounce­ment and said she would be in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion to block Trump from ban­ning trans­gen­der troops as part of con­sid­er­a­tion of the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill.

“These are men and women who woke up that morn­ing … only to find out by Twit­ter that their pres­i­dent doesn’t want their ser­vice. I can’t think of some­thing more dis­re­spect­ful, more out­ra­geous,” she told CNN.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Ed O’Keefe of The

Wash­ing­ton Post and by Au­drey McAvoy of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

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