President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that “transgender individuals” will not be allowed to serve in the military “in any capacity” blaming “disruption” and “tremendous medical costs”, The Hill reports.
Trump made the announcement after House conservatives pushed the White House to curb Pentagon funding for transition-related medical care and indicated they may not support the spending bill currently on the floor over the issue.
But Trump went much further, and decision-makers on Capitol Hill, including the Armed Services committees, were out of the loop. Trump’s announcement, made in two morning posts on Twitter, also left more questions than answers, including whether the 250 openly transgender troops and thousands more who remain private about their gender identity, could face immediate discharge.
The president said the military is not going to accept or allow transgender people to serve “in any capacity”, adding he reached the decision following consultations with his “Generals and military experts”. Trump made the announcement while Defense Secretary James Mattis was on vacation.
The Pentagon issued a statement and referred all questions to the White House, saying it will give more guidance in near future. The press briefing at the White House, on the other hand, did not clear up the confusion.
“I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic. As I do, I’ll keep you posted. But if those are the only questions we have, I’m going to call it a day. But if we have questions on other topics, I’ll be happy to take those” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
The Obama administration lifted the ban in the summer of 2016, allowing transgender troops to serve openly. Any medical treatment deemed medically necessary, including hormone therapy and surgical procedures, is also covered. According to Trump’s tweets, the entire policy is going to be reversed.
“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,” the president tweeted.
“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. Thank you.” he added.
Transgender troops estimates vary widely. LGBT supporters put some 15,000 on the high end. According to a 2016 study by Rand Corporation, the estimates were 2,450 active duty transgenders and 1,510 in the reserves. The official number of transgenders who have come out totals in 250.
Sanders was unable to answer the question whether transgender currently serving the military, would be discharged, including the ones deployed to war. “The implementation policy is going to be something that the White House and the Department of Defense have to work together to lawfully determine, and I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that and keep you posted as that takes place,” she said.
Asked why such a decision was not made before announcing the new policy, Sanders said Trump did not feel the need to wait after making up his mind. Trump made the decision Tuesday, she said, and informed Mattis that day.
“I think sometimes you have to make decisions, and once he made a decision, he didn’t feel it was necessary to hold that decision and they’re going to work together with the Department of Defense to lawfully implement it,” she said.
On the Capitol, defense hawks and GOP leadership were caught off guard. A House Armed Services Committee staffer said the committee was “surprised” by the announcement and was waiting for more information. Notably, Chairman Mac Thornberry made no statement.
House leadership sources said GOP leaders knew the White House was looking into the issue but thought the review was only on how and whether to use taxpayer funding for transition-related medical care. The actual announcement was far beyond what was expected and caught many by surprise, the sources added.
Other GOP sources said conservatives pushed Trump to take action after the failure of an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would have banned Pentagon funding for the medical care. The conservatives expressed concern about supporting a wide-ranging spending bill without such a ban. The bill includes defense spending, as well as funding for the border wall promised by Trump during his campaign.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, notoriously furious when kept out of the loop on Pentagon policy changes, appeared to be equally caught off guard.
“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 in a statement.
Several other Republicans, too, did not agree with Trump’s decision. Senator Orrin Hatch, for example, said that “transgender people are people,” and Senator Joni Ernst said while taxpayer funding shouldn’t be used on transition surgery, “Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity”. Democrats were also outraged and promised to take action to reverse Trump’s decision.
“It takes a brave and committed person to volunteer to defend this country, and every American that is able and willing to do so should be allowed to join the U.S. military,” Representative Adam Smith, ranking Democrat of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that “they will fight this decision, just like they fought ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and ultimately justice will prevail”.