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Not So Fast On That Transgender Ban, Joint Chiefs Say

pentagon-flag

One day after President Trump announced on Twitter that transgender soldiers would be barred from serving in the U.S. military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff made it clear that for now at least, the policy announced last year by the Obama Administration remains in place:

The military’s policy permitting transgender individuals to serve remains in place, the country’s highest military officer said on Thursday, clarifying some of the confusion surrounding President Trump’s announcement on Twitter that transgender people would no longer be accepted or allowed in the military

In a letter to the military service chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the policy on who is allowed to serve will not change until the White House sends the Defense Department a rules change and the secretary of defense issues new guidelines.

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” General Dunford said in the letter, first reported by Reuters. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”

General Dunford’s guidance is the first indication from the Pentagon about one of the central questions that arose from Mr. Trump’s abrupt announcement, made in a series of tweets on Wednesday: What will happen to transgender people serving around the world?

Mr. Trump’s announcement surprised military leaders at the Pentagon, who considered the matter largely settled after President Barack Obama last year granted transgender people the right to serve openly. It also infuriated civil rights groups, which threatened lawsuits, and created an uproar among transgender people on active duty.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, did not answer on Wednesday when asked what would happen to those currently serving in the military, saying that the ban would need to be worked out with the Defense Department. A Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, issued a statement Wednesday referring all questions to the White House.

On one level, this can be seen as a simply a procedural announcement, but it’s possible that it could indicate tension between the White House and the Pentagon regarding whether the policy should be changed at all, and how that should happen if the change is made. As a preliminary matter, of course, there’s the fact that a Presidential tweet is not official policy of any kind notwithstanding previous White House statements that things that the President says on his personal account are official statements of White House policy. In order to actually change the policy that the Obama Administration set last years there would need to be implemented through more official, and legal, channels. One option would be an Executive Order from the President outlining the policy change and, especially, what it might mean for transgendered people currently serving openly in the military in reliance on the policy change. Another option would be an announcement of policy change from the Pentagon, presumably at the direction of the President, that would cover the same subject matters. Unless and until that happens, there is no official change of policy and the Presidents tweets, while possibly reflecting what official policy will be in the near future, should be taken as having no legal force or effect. In the end, of course, if the President wants the policy changed then it will be changed by either of the means I’ve described. For now, though, the Joint Chiefs seem intent on making clear that there has been no official change and that the policy announced last year remains in effect.

On some level, this announcement may also be a sign of disagreement between the Pentagon over what direction should be taken when it comes to the military’s actual policy toward transgender service members. Notwithstanding his tweets yesterday, it now seems clear that there was no consultation between the President and the Pentagon prior to the announcement regarding changes to the policy regarding transgender soldiers. The evidence for that can be found in the fact that the Pentagon’s immediate response to press inquiries regarding the matter yesterday was to refer reporters to the White House because nobody at the Pentagon appeared to have the slightest idea that this was going to happen. Various reports yesterday, for example, described Pentagon spokespersons who would ordinarily have been fully briefed on such a major policy change as being caught “flat-footed” and “blindsided” by an announcement they had no idea this was coming Additionally, it appears that Secretary of Defense Mattis, who is currently on vacation and was reportedly “appalled” by the announcement, was not made aware of the policy change until nearly the last minute.

Perhaps the most significant news of all, though, is the revelation in a Politico article about what the real motivation for Trump’s Twitter announcement might be:

After a week sparring with his attorney general and steaming over the Russia investigation consuming his agenda, President Donald Trump was closing in on an important win.

House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico.

But an internal House Republican fight over transgender troops was threatening to blow up the bill. And House GOP insiders feared they might not have the votes to pass the legislation because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations — something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them.

They turned to Trump, who didn’t hesitate. In the flash of a tweet, he announced that transgender troops would be banned altogether.

Trump’s sudden decision was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat, numerous congressional and White House sources said.

The president had always planned to scale back policies put in place during the administration of President Barack Obama welcoming such individuals in combat and greenlighting the military to pay for their medical treatment plans. But a behind-the-scenes GOP brawl threatening to tank a Pentagon funding increase and wall construction hastened Trump’s decision.

Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and those of moderate Republicans who considered the proposal blatantly discriminatory.

“There are several members of the conference who feel this really needs to be addressed,” senior House Appropriations Committee member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said Tuesday. “This isn’t about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget.”

That’s why House lawmakers took the matter to the Trump administration. And when Defense Secretary James Mattis refused to immediately upend the policy, they went straight to the White House. Trump — never one for political correctness — was all too happy to oblige.

In other words, Trump apparently announced a change in policy that effectively denies an entire class of people the opportunity to serve their country willingly, or at least the opportunity to do so while not living in fear of being discovered and outed, because it threatened funding for his idiotic border wall. I’d call this surprising, outrageous, appalling, and disgusting, but it’s really just become standard Donald J. Trump and, sadly, passes for a just another normal day at the White House now.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Slugger says:

    “After consultations with my Generals and military experts…..” who have no knowledge of what I am about to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  2. KM says:

    Rule by tweet makes no sense, especially in an age when Twitter feeds get hacked (or “hacked” as excuse) all the time. There’s no way to verify this came from the President and wasn’t sent out by whomever happened to be logged in at the time. That the military, or anyone with a brain, would require some kind of legally binding, official and verified communication should be a given.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. Mark Ivey says:

    “when Defense Secretary James Mattis refused to immediately upend the policy, they went straight to the White House. Trump — never one for political correctness — was all too happy to oblige.”

    Mattis is gonna get “Sessioned” if he keeps it up..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Trump apparently announced a change in policy that effectively denies an entire class of people the opportunity to serve their country willingly, or at least the opportunity to do so while not living in fear of being discovered and outed, because it threatened funding for his idiotic border wall.

    And he told a bald-faced lie in order to do it.
    This guy is most likely the biggest piece of shit to ever serve in the office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  5. KM says:

    I wonder how happy Congress is now that he’s dumped another steaming pile of OMGWTFDidHeDoNow?! into their laps. He’s forcing them to take a stand that (a) pisses off evangelicals (b) pisses off people who see this as an attack on active service members (c) pisses off rational people who think Presidential Orders via Tweets is insanity or (d) pisses of the Donald by not backing him to the hilt. This was a completely unnecessary fire Trump just set and puts some Congress Critters in *bad* positions. The GOP now has to be on record for attacking active service members and veterans for a reason that’s likely to get tossed in court or they have to be pro-trans. The anonymous commentator was pleased to make Dems squirm in support this but neglected to notice it puts them even further into the dog house. Can see the ads now “Fired by tweet. Can you imagine? Honest Americans losing their jobs in a heartbeat. Heroes who serve this country… to find Republicans forcing them out into the streets for funding.” Man, it’s like they’re trying to hand over 2018 early…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. CSK says:

    @Slugger:

    I’m pretty sure the generals and esperts Trump consulted were his imaginary friends.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. CSK says:

    Does Trump know yet that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has publicly–and quite explicitly–repudiated him?

    If he hasn’t seen it on “the shows” yet, will anyone on his staff have the guts to tell him?

    Will someone hide his phone?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. James Pearce says:

    “This isn’t about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget.”

    Chelsea Manning….the gift that keeps on giving.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 13

  9. teve tory says:

    The annual transgender-related DoD expenses are estimated at $3-8 million.

    The annual boner-pill-related DoD expenses are estimated at $80 million.

    According to the GAO, a single Mar-a-lago trip, of the kind that Trump takes approximately once per week, costs $3.6 million.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  10. teve tory says:

    And I can only imagine the cost of discharging and replacing a few thousand military personnel, and the accompanying lawsuits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  11. Scott says:

    This isn’t about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget.”

    This is disingenuous, at best. Everybody has quoted the viagra and Mar-a-Lago trips but there are much greater expenditures that are made out of the defense budget.

    There is not a small population who join the service to support their already existing wives and children. There is a population of service volunteers who join to get heathcare and services for their disabled children.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  12. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: Manning didn’t get transition surgery in the military. All she got was some hormone injections. She’s paying for the surgery as a civilian.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  13. Franklin says:

    Considering that everybody generally against Trump has spent a good day wasting energy on this, which is not currently accepted as an actual change in policy, I’d say Trump has pulled one over on us. It seems like high time to quit worrying about his tweets and focus on what the Administration actually does.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  14. SenyorDave says:

    @Franklin: It seems like high time to quit worrying about his tweets and focus on what the Administration actually does.

    I think you can do both at the same time. When the POTUS behaves abhorrently on a daily basis I think he has to be called out when he does. Make a big deal about it. This doesn’t mean that you don’t go after him on real policy. One goal is to get him out of office before he does more damage to this country. Pence is horrible but not a complete national embarrassment.

    This guy is most likely the biggest piece of shit to ever serve in the office.

    Truer words were never spoken.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    Manning didn’t get transition surgery in the military.

    No, but she was convicted of espionage, then while sitting in a military prison, petitioned the military to provide her transition, which became a cause celebre among activists of a particular persuasion and, eventually, a reason for commuting her sentence.

    It’s pretty clear this is a transaction for Trump. His heart’s not really in it. He doesn’t want to spend more than five seconds on it, about the length of time it takes to tweet about it. This is a trade. “I’ll give you the transgender ban, you give me a vote for Trumpcare.”

    Now he can’t really say, “I implemented this ban to buy Senator Backward’s votes,” so he comes up with a pretext.

    Where did he get the pretext? From the right wing frothing over Chelsea Manning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  16. CSK says:

    @Franklin:

    Trump’s Tweets are the best insight we have into his psyche on a day-to-day–or moment-to-moment–basis. This is how the man thinks (to use the word very loosely), reacts, and responds. We have proof now that Trump will invent a consultation with “generals” and “experts” to try and effect a policy change.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. grumpy realist says:

    Did anyone catch La Mouche’s brain(?!) dump to the New Yorker?

    Talk about projection….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: If you’re saying Trump et al. are pandering to ignorance and bigotry and using Chelsea Manning’s misconduct as pretext, then, yeah, I agree.

    It’s unfortunate, of course, that America’s still at a place where this might work, but that’s not Manning’s fault.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. Mikey says:

    @CSK: Foreign intel services, both friendly and adversarial, are absolutely creaming their jeans over Trump’s Twitter feed. Every day the buffoon hands our enemies insights into his personality that would have taken them much time and effort to suss out of a competent President. But he’s giving it to them on a shit-stained silver platter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    If you’re saying Trump et al. are pandering to ignorance and bigotry and using Chelsea Manning’s misconduct as pretext, then, yeah, I agree.

    Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. Thank you for taking the effort to understand.

    And no, I was not blaming this on Chelsea Manning, her ownself. She’s been, mostly for worse, a pawn of folks far more interested in using her for their own agenda than they are in her own plight.

    If I were to blame anyone, it would be the activists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  21. Franklin says:

    @CSK: I’m saying we now have a pretty good idea of how he “thinks”, so we don’t need to spend so much energy re-analyzing it every time a new bizarre tweet comes out. The media has been covering it non-stop, which indicates people are clicking on the stories. Stop clicking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Joe says:

    @Franklin:

    I was going to up click you, but realized in the nick of time that I would be stepping on to the Mobius strip of destruction.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. Jack says:

    So which is it? Transgender people should be allowed in the military or mentally ill people should not have guns? You guys really need to stop painting yourself into these corners.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  24. Mister Bluster says:

    Which is it?

    A self confessed pervert that brags about sexually molesting women getting elected President USA
    -or-
    a Commander in Chief who back stabs all who support him and hires Tony “I don’t kiss my own one eyed trouser mouse because I’ve tried to” the Mooch to be communications director.

    Meanwhile Jack’s other blonde girlfriend, Laura Ingraham, said Coochie “is humiliating to the president.”
    Like Trump can’t do that all by himself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  25. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @SenyorDave: “Pence is horrible but not a complete national embarrassment.”

    Alas in some ways, Pence is worse because although he is horrible, he is not a complete national embarrassment. Would we be seeing the debacle that the GOP has turned the healthcare vote into under a President Pence? Maybe not.

    The fact that Trump is a dumpster fire may be the only thing (other than general incompetence at governing) that is holding up the GOP agenda. It might be wiser to throw fuel on the fire for another year and a half.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Jack: False dichotomy much?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  27. Kylopod says:

    @Jack:

    So which is it? Transgender people should be allowed in the military or mentally ill people should not have guns?

    So which is it? Cut taxes, but not cut Texas?

    So which is it? Ban abortion, but not abort Bannon?

    So which is it? The planet isn’t getting hotter, but the women are?

    So which is it? The right to bear arms, or the right to arm bears?

    So which is it? Get rid of PC, but not PCs?

    So which is it? Say no to gun control, but yes to rock and roll?

    Make up your minds, people!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  28. de stijl says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    That’s a crazy-pants dichotomy.

    A false dichotomy should be about the same subject.

    This is a madcap variation of the Chewbacca Defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    If I were to blame anyone, it would be the activists.

    I blame the bigots, not the people who call out the bigotry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  30. teve tory says:

    @Mikey: The right-wing excuse for bigotry is that the pro-human-rights side isn’t activisting correctly. If they have a silent protest, it was the wrong place. If they’re loud, they should have been quiet. If it’s during a sporting event, it should have been somewhere else.

    It’s never the bigot’s fault, to right-wingers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    I blame the bigots

    Sure, but with Chelsea Manning as your poster child, you don’t have to actually be a bigot to be wary of allowing –screw the landmines– “non-binary” people into the military.

    Like, how about we pick someone who didn’t steal military secrets? How about we pick someone who served with distinction? How about we pick someone who didn’t try to get the military to pick up the tab for her transition?

    Here’s an idea: Kristin Beck, who challenged Steny Hoyer for Maryland’s 5th House district last year. Hoyer, who’s been in office since before the first millennial was even born, took 75% of the vote.

    Activists, not all of whom are on a blind crusade, are often be too eager to advance their issue to consider the pitfalls of their approach. That’s not always true, but it’s true enough, and it’s true in this case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. Franklin says:

    @Jack: The only thing I can come up with is that you’ve somehow associated transgender with mental illness. Maybe you should evaluate how you invented that connection. Look up intersex, for example. Has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s brain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @de stijl: I stand corrected. Allow me to rephrase: Non sequitur much?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Kylopod says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: I’d use the term from TV Tropes: Insane Troll Logic.

    Insane Troll Logic is the kind of logic that just can’t be argued with because it’s so demented, so lost in its own insanity, that any attempts to make it rational would make it more incomprehensible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. Mikey says:

    @Kylopod: Or, as Wolfgang Pauli is reputed to have said, “that’s not only not right, it’s not even wrong.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    Sure, but with Chelsea Manning as your poster child, you don’t have to actually be a bigot to be wary of allowing –screw the landmines– “non-binary” people into the military.

    There have been non-binary people in the military as long as there’s been a military and picking one case of extreme misconduct out of many thousands who served honorably is nothing more than an attempt to justify bigotry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    picking one case of extreme misconduct out of many thousands who served honorably is nothing more than an attempt to justify bigotry.

    Well, it’s not. It’s just human nature.

    Lead with Chelsea Manning on this issue, and be prepared to be opposed by left, right, and center.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  38. Improvement says:

    A transgender ban makes sense. Even center-left columnists like Robin Beres of the Richmond Times-Dispatch say it is rational to not recruit transgender troops (she served 23 years in the military).

    There are legitimate medical reasons to disqualify from service those who identify as transgender, including surgeries and daily hormones which also interfere with scheduled military training and ability to be deployed. Diabetics cannot serve for similar reasons. The taxpayer money that would have been spent on costly and risky elective surgeries and decades of synthetic hormones that can cause cancer, in an effort to change sexual appearance, will be much better spent on treating our combat wounded servicemen and our veterans, and on buying equipment to keep our servicemen safe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  39. Matt says:

    @James Pearce: You’re leading with Manning. I’m leading with Kristin Beck and so are others.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristin_Beck

    @Improvement:

    The taxpayer money that would have been spent on costly and risky elective surgeries and decades of synthetic hormones that can cause cancer, in an effort to change sexual appearance, will be much better spent on treating our combat wounded servicemen and our veterans, and on buying equipment to keep our servicemen safe.

    I’d say the same thing about viagra which they spend over 10x more on. Or any number of other things that are covered…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2