Where Republican lawmakers stand on transgender troops
The reactions to President Donald Trump’s tweets last Wednesday announcing a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military have continued pouring in this week. On Tuesday, 56 retired military officers spoke out against the announcement, warning that the policy, if implemented, “would degrade military readiness.” For now, the nation’s top military official has said transgender troops can continue to serve until the White House issues official guidance to the Department of Defense.
(Trans troops, as NewsHour’s Corinne Segal reported, are weighing their options).
Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also weighed in on the issue — and their response could be critical. In 2010, Congress repealed “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” the controversial Clinton-era ban on openly gay and lesbian service members. If Congress decides to challenge Trump now, it could come in the form of this year’s annual defense spending bill. The House has already passed its version; the Senate will ring in next. Ultimately, both chambers must agree on a final spending package, so it’s important to track Republicans’ positions on both sides of the Capitol.
Here’s a look at where lawmakers stand.
Object to the ban: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was the only Republican who signed onto a letter from 44 Democrats voicing their opposition to the ban. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services committee, has also taken a firm stance against the ban. McCain said in a statement that “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.” Other Republicans have also opposed the ban publicly in interviews or on social media, including Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and outgoing Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., whose son is transgender.
Opposed to the ban, but in favor of cutting funding for gender reassignment surgery: Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a veteran and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has also come out against the ban. Last week, a spokesperson for the senator told Politico and others that “while (Sen. Ernst) believes taxpayers shouldn’t cover the costs associated with a gender reassignment surgery, Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity.”
Waiting to hear from military leaders: Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., James Lankford, R-Okla., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and John Thune, R-S.D., all have indicated that they want the Pentagon to weigh in on the issue.
“Respect” the president’s decision: Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said he respected Trump’s decision as the commander-in-chief. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and David Perdue, R-Ga., indicated the president was acting within his rights when he announced the ban on Twitter.
In favor of the ban: Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Luther Strange, R-La., have given some of the strongest statements of support of the transgender ban. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, put out a statement saying the president made the “absolute right decision.”
The “no comment” crowd: Rand Paul has not yet commented on the substance of the debate. Neither have Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., or Bob Corker, R-Tenn., though Corker said he would “look into it.”
Critical of the tweets: Several lawmakers in both chambers of Congress criticized Trump’s use of Twitter to announce the ban, regardless of how they felt about the policy itself. McCain, for example, called it “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.” Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., told reporters that “it throws us off” when the president makes surprise policy announcements on Twitter.