Hill Democrats slam Trump’s military transgender ban, while GOP is caught by surprise – Washington Post
By Mike DeBonis and Ed O’Keefe,
Congressional Democrats slammed President Trump’s decision, announced in a series of tweets Wednesday morning, to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, while Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill remained largely perplexed or silent.
“Trump makes our military weaker by arbitrarily kicking out high-performing soldiers based solely on gender identity,” tweeted Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), one of seven openly gay members of Congress.
Capitol Hill’s most prominent Republican voice on national security matters, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), also criticized Trump’s announcement, calling it “unclear” and “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.”
McCain said transgender individuals already serving 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.”
But other Republicans on Capitol Hill remained mum early Wednesday.
A House Republican aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about internal matters, said that while GOP leaders were aware of a White House review of the issue of transgender service members, they were no given heads-up about the announcement and that it was “way beyond what we expected.”
Only one Republican lawmaker offered early support for the policy change on social media Wednesday: Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), who recently offered an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would have blocked the Pentagon from offering gender transition therapies to active-duty service members.
“Pleased to hear that @realDonaldTrump shares my readiness and cost concerns, & will be changing this costly and damaging policy,” she said on Twitter.
A GOP colleague, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), who has a transgender son, weighed in against the policy: “No American, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be prohibited from honor + privilege of serving our nation.”
Trump’s announcement comes two weeks after the House rejected Hartzler’s amendment in a closely watched vote. Twenty-four Republicans joined all 190 Democrats voting to reject the measure.
But the issue has remained a pet cause for House conservatives who believe the federal government should not be funding gender reassignments. Conservatives have offered several amendments to a pending appropriations bill funding the military that would target transgender service members. But those amendments, which could come up for a vote Thursday, would not exclude them from serving entirely.
During the debate on the initial amendment, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, argued for the therapy restriction but explicitly stopped short of calling for an overall ban.
“We’re not stopping transgender people from joining,” he said. “We’re saying taxpayers in this country right now are not going to foot the bill for it.”
The defense policy bill has yet to move through the Senate, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated that could happen in the coming weeks. Opponents of Trump’s policy could move to amend the bill to overturn it, though that could represent a partisan roadblock to what is typically a bipartisan bill.
The 2010 campaign to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gay and lesbian troops was settled in law, but transgender policy was left in flux because it is dictated by Defense Department medical regulations.
“If this tweet becomes a DOD regulation or a federal statute, this is a president hell-bent determined to wreak havoc in the ranks – the very thing he said he didn’t want to do he’s proposed doing,” said Aubrey Sarvis, a private attorney and gay rights advocate who used to lead Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the group that pushed to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “If he seeks to do this as commander in chief by ordering his subordinates to act on this, the Defense Department is going to be faced with a barrage of lawsuits.”
“This is a wake up call and defining moment for the LGBT community. We have to rise up and oppose this president,” Sarvis added.
In an indication that congressional Republicans were caught flat-footed by Trump’s surprise announcement, neither GOP leader of the House or Senate Armed Services committees issued a statement on it for nearly three hours afterward.
McCain’s statement noted that the Pentagon has been studying the issue of transgender people serving in the military: “I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress.”
Democrats, meanwhile, flooded social media and email inbox with statements objecting to the change.
Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, called the policy change “an unwarranted and disgraceful attack on men and women who have been bravely serving their country.”
“These service members are defending the United States around the world as we speak, and they have long done so with distinction,” he said. “To prevent transgender people from joining the military and to push out those who have devoted their lives to this country would be ugly and discriminatory in the extreme.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading proponent of the Obama administration policy change that allowed open transgender service, said Wednesday that she would pursue legislation to “overturn this discriminatory decision.”
“These service members are willing to die for their country, and this is an insult to their brave and honorable service,” she said. “This new directive is harmful, misguided, and weakens — not strengthens — our military.”
The two Democratic floor leaders also weighed in. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) noted Trump made his announcement on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the military.
“President Trump has chosen this day to unleash a vile and hateful agenda that will blindside thousands of patriotic Americans already serving with honor and bravery,” she said.
“Transgender Americans are serving honorably in our military,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said. “We stand with these patriots.”
Several Democratic military veterans also lambasted Trump’s decision. Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, accused Trump of “using fear of Trans community to score political points.”
“Banning any qualified person from serving their country, because of who they are is both discriminatory and bad national security policy,” he tweeted.
And Rep. Anthony G. Brown (Md.), a retired Army Reserve colonel, called it a “a dark day for our Armed Forces and our nation.”
“President Trump’s rationale harkens back to a more ignorant and intolerant time, where words like ‘disruption’ and ‘not a social experiment’ were used to keep women, African Americans and gays and lesbians from fully participating in our military services,” he said.
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