The President tweeted last Wednesday:
“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. 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”
Although his former press secretary said in June that such tweets “are considered official statements by the President of the United States,” they apparently are not considered official by General Dunford, the President’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair. Dunford rejected the tweet:
“There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance. In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
Army Chief of Staff General Milley responded similarly:
“We grow up and learn to obey the chain of command, and my chain of command is secretary of the Army, secretary of Defense and the president. We will work through the implementation guidance when we get it. …To my knowledge, the Department of Defense, Secretary Mattis, has not received written directives yet.”
Although the President claimed to have consulted “with my Generals,” neither general was aware of the transgender ban, let alone advised it. Both heard about it through media reports of the President’s tweets.
Senator McCain was one of several Republicans who condemned the President: “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.” More importantly, McCain rejected the notion of a transgender ban at all: “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.”
I’ve seen estimates of transgender service members ranging between 2,000 and 15,000, but only 250 of them have applied to change their gender. The avoidance of these soldiers’ medical costs purportedly motivated the President’s tweets. These costs, however, are minimal and, according to the Pentagon: “will have little impact on and represents an exceedingly small proportion of (Active Component) health care expenditures … and overall DoD health care expenditures.”
But if the President decides to move forward with a transgender ban anyway, Congress can delay or void it. According to the Congressional Research Service: “The tweets also imply that there will be a change to the 2016 policy allowing transgender members currently in the military to continue to serve. Given this announcement, Congress may wish to consider the potential effects of the policy shift and whether to take legislative action in response.”
If the President does defy the wisdom of his own generals and other military experts, I hope you will join in a bipartisan bill allowing transgender soldiers to continue to serve their country.