Trump tweet revives ban
Cost, disruption cited; McCain rips message, how it was delivered
President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced on Twitter that he will ban transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity, an abrupt reversal of an Obama-administration decision to allow them to serve openly and a potential end to the careers of thousands of active-duty troops.
The decision halts a years-long process of advancing rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the U.S. military that began with the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2010. And the nature of the announcement left Republicans and Democrats in Congress concerned about the seeming broad scope of Trump’s order.
Citing the need to focus on what he called “decisive and overwhelming victory,” Trump said that the military cannot accept the burden of higher medical costs and the disruption caused by transgender troops.
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Our 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.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who in 2010 opposed ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” criticized Trump’s decision in a statement, attacking how it was delivered and its implications for active-duty transgender troops.
“The president’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” McCain said. “The statement was unclear. The Department of Defense has already decided to allow current-
ly serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today. Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.”
Trump was lobbied for over a year by conservative Republicans to roll back the Obama administration policy change. Christian conservative leaders pressed him on the issue as a candidate in June 2016 during a meeting in New York just after Trump secured the Republican nomination for president. Many of them said the military is no place for “social experimentation” at the expense of military readiness.
Though they were pleased with Trump’s decision, Wednesday’s announcement came with no prior warning to those same conservative leaders. It also was a surprise to many on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s decision comes two weeks after the House rejected an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would have blocked the Pentagon from offering gender transition therapies to active-duty service members. Twenty-four Republicans joined 190 Democrats voting to reject the measure.
But conservative lawmakers — many of them members of the House Freedom Caucus — had threatened to withhold support for a spending bill if Congress did not act to prohibit the Pentagon from paying for the procedures. The impasse broadly threatened government spending but, most importantly for Trump, it potentially held up money that had been appropriated for the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, a key promise he had made during the campaign.
A White House official and a House GOP official confirmed that Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Scott Perry, R-Pa., all Freedom Caucus members, were in talks with the White House and House leadership on the issue.
They were willing to accept a Department of Defense or White House provision that addressed paying for procedures — well short of a ban on transgender people serving in the military, according to the House official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
Trump went well beyond what they requested.
This year, Trump’s military leadership had signaled that they needed more time to fully assess the implementation of the last significant piece of the Obama administration’s approach, delaying the entry of transgender military recruits until the end of 2017. The policy in place would have allowed them to begin serving July 1, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delayed it just before the deadline, citing a need for more study.
The six-month delay was requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and would have allowed a further review of how integrating transgender recruits would affect the military’s “readiness and lethality,” Mattis said in a memo last month.