President Donald Trump says he wants transgender people barred from serving in the U.S. military ‘in any capacity,’ citing tremendous medical costs and disruption. (July 26)
President Donald Trump’s policy announcement on Twitter Wednesday that transgender Americans will be barred from serving “in any capacity in the U.S. Military” drew a sharp rebuke from U.S. Sen. John McCain.
It’s the latest public rift between the commander-in-chief and the high-profile chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
McCain, R-Ariz., was quick to deride Trump’s surprise proclamation as “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” noting that the Pentagon is already in the midst of studying issues related to new transgender recruits, including “medical obligations” and potential impact on readiness.
It is a signal that, despite a new battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer, McCain intends to continue as a check on Trump on national-security and defense issues — McCain’s top area of influence and interest.
“The (president’s) statement was unclear. The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today,” McCain said in a written statement. “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving.”
McCain said “service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy” shouldn’t be forced to leave the military, regardless of their gender identity.
“We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are,” McCain said.
Such a policy change should wait for Defense Department officials to complete their ongoing study and for Congress to have time to digest the findings, he added.
There are nearly 1.3 million people serving in the armed services. More than 800,000 are in the reserves. The exact number of transgender members of the active-duty military and reserves is unknown; past estimates have put the figure at anywhere from 1,300 serving active-duty to 15,500 serving active-duty or in the reserves and National Guard.
The McCain-led Senate Armed Services Committee has oversight of the Defense Department and the branches of the military. McCain has said he’s a fan of James Mattis, Trump’s defense secretary, and H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser.
But he also has demonstrated a willingness to clash with Trump when he disagrees with him.
Last week, while recovering from a July 14 craniotomy, McCain blasted Trump for “playing right into the hands” of Russian President Vladimir Putin by curtailing U.S. aid to the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Though Trump and McCain have had an on-again, off-again public feud, McCain also has a long history of challenging the White House on military matters, including former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In fact, McCain last year was critical of the Obama administration for blindsiding him with its decision to drop the military ban on transgender people.
“Unlike any other administration that I have been associated with, we received no heads up,” McCain said in a June 2016 Fox News Channel interview. “I happen just to be the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and, you know, it’s customary in all the years I’ve been on it to give members, particularly the chairman, a briefing and say this is what we want to do as far as policy changes are concerned or other events, and this administration doesn’t do that.”
It also appears that McCain got no heads up from Trump on the reversal, which appears to have even taken Trump’s Defense Department by surprise.
At that time, McCain questioned the possible fiscal cost associated with removing the ban and suggested that hearings and even legislation was needed.
Julie Tarallo, McCain’s Senate spokeswoman, told The Arizona Republic that McCain’s position has remained consistent on the issue of transgender service members, which is to make sure that military standards are not lowered and that there is no negative impact on readiness.
In a series of tweets, Trump said that he came to the decision to ban transgender people from the military after consultation with “generals and military experts.”
The military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” the president tweeted.
Asked how the policy would affect transgender members of the military who are now deployed around the world, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, did not directly answer the question.
She said the White House and the Department of Defense would work together to make sure the policy was implemented in a lawful way.
“The president has a lot of support for all Americans and certainly wants to protect all Americans at all times,” Sanders said. “The president has expressed concerns since this Obama policy came into effect, but he’s also voiced that this is a very expensive and disruptive policy and, based on consultation that he’s had with his national security team, came to the conclusion that it erodes military readiness and unit cohesion, and made the decision based on that.”
Nowicki is The Arizona Republic’s national political reporter. Follow him on Twitter @dannowicki.
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