McCain joins chal­lenge to trans­gen­der troops ban

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY KAROUN DEMIR­JIAN karoun.demir­jian@wash­

The top Repub­li­can on the Senate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has joined an ef­fort to chal­lenge Pres­i­dent Trump’s an­nounced ban on trans­gen­der troops, a sign that open re­sis­tance to the or­der is grow­ing.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a mil­i­tary hawk and one of the GOP’s most out­spo­ken crit­ics of Trump, said in a state­ment Fri­day that he was back­ing the mea­sure be­cause “we should wel­come all those who are will­ing and able to serve our coun­try.”

“Any mem­ber of the mil­i­tary who meets the med­i­cal and readi­ness stan­dards should be al­lowed to serve — in­clud­ing those who are trans­gen­der,” he con­tin­ued.

The an­nounce­ment from McCain came as he joined Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee, and com­mit­tee mem­bers Kirsten Gil­li­brand (D-N.Y.) and Su­san Collins (R-Maine) in in­tro­duc­ing a bill to thwart the pres­i­dent’s plan.

McCain had pre­vi­ously been cagey about whether he would sup­port the Gil­li­brand-Collins ef­fort, not­ing that it might be pre­ma­ture, be­cause the ban had not gone into ef­fect. He did, how­ever, prom­ise to let sen­a­tors of­fer any amend­ments they wanted.

Trump an­nounced via Twit­ter in July that trans­gen­der troops would no longer be al­lowed to serve in the mil­i­tary. And last month, De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis an­nounced he would con­duct a six-month re­view of trans­gen­der troops be­fore im­ple­ment­ing that or­der. For now, trans­gen­der troops cur­rently in the mil­i­tary are be­ing al­lowed to reen­list, ac­cord­ing to new Pen­tagon guide­lines re­ported Fri­day by the Associated Press.

Un­der Trump’s plan, Mat­tis has un­til Feb. 1 to fin­ish his study. But the Senate’s bill would speed up Mat­tis’s time­line to the end of the year, pre­vent the mil­i­tary from dis­charg­ing cur­rently serv­ing trans­gen­der troops, and ex­press Congress’s con­vic­tion that qual­i­fied in­di­vid­u­als should be al­lowed to serve, re­gard­less of gen­der iden­tity.

De­spite McCain’s and Reed’s sup­port, it is not clear whether the bill will get a full Senate vote in the next sev­eral months.

Gil­li­brand and Collins had hoped to at­tach an amend­ment to that Na­tional De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act push­ing back against the trans­gen­der troops ban. But their ef­forts fell short when the Senate could not agree on a ros­ter of amend­ments to vote on, so they re­drafted the amend­ment as a sep­a­rate piece of leg­is­la­tion.

The de­fense ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill is one of the few “must-pass” mea­sures with which Congress grap­ples each year and, thus, is a pop­u­lar ve­hi­cle for law­mak­ers who might oth­er­wise have dif­fi­culty se­cur­ing de­bate time for their pre­ferred mea­sures.

In the next sev­eral months, Congress must tackle bud­get mat­ters, a loom­ing debt ceil­ing, im­mi­gra­tion and sev­eral other high-pro­file is­sues that could eclipse a bill to en­sure the mil­i­tary ser­vice of trans­gen­der troops.

Still, McCain’s en­dorse­ment puts some ur­gency be­hind the mat­ter, and it sig­nals to con­gres­sional lead­ers and Mat­tis that this is not an is­sue he in­tends to ig­nore.

“The Senate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee will re­view the re­sults of the DOD study on ac­ces­sion,” McCain said in his state­ment, “and will con­tinue to work closely with our mil­i­tary lead­ers on any pol­icy changes as we con­duct over­sight on this im­por­tant is­sue.”

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