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Veterans in Congress Criticize Trump’s Military Transgender Ban

Pushback against policy announcement is bipartisan

Sen. Tammy Duckworth called President Trump’s announcement banning transgender individuals from the military “discriminatory and counterproductive.”  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth called President Trump’s announcement banning transgender individuals from the military “discriminatory and counterproductive.”  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Veterans in Congress from across the political spectrum pushed back against President Donald Trump’s announcement banning transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military.

In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, Trump said that based on the advice of military experts, transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to “serve in any capacity in U.S. Military.” The president cited medical costs and unit disruption as part of his reasoning.

The response from veterans in Congress was swift and harsh.

Sen. John McCain said Trump’s statement was “unclear,” adding that all Americans meeting “medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving.” The Arizona Republican, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said no new policy should be introduced regarding transgender individuals until the Department of Defense concludes its current study of medical obligations and military readiness.

“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,” said McCain, a Navy combat pilot and POW during the Vietnam war. 

A spokeswoman for Trump ally Sen. Joni Ernst , a 23-year Army veteran, said the Iowa Republican disagreed with the new policy and believed that anyone who is qualified should be able to serve.

“While she 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,” an Ernst spokeswoman said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who is currently a Major in the Air National Guard, criticized Trump for making a major policy announcement through Twitter, saying the tweets “left the American people confused and uncertain.” The Illinois Republican, a recipient of the U.S. Air Force Airman’s Medal, agreed with Ernst that the U.S. military should not fund transition operations, and said the Department of Defense should make decisions on military and medical readiness for “any individual, regardless of gender identity, who seeks to serve.”

“We have the strongest military in the world, and I trust the Pentagon will put forth a policy that bolsters that tradition,” Kinzinger said.

While reaction on the Republican side were limited, there were an abundance of Democratic veterans who slammed Trump’s announcement.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in combat, called the new policy “discriminatory and counterproductive to our national security.” The freshman Democrat from Illinois was the first female double amputee from the Iraq War and the first woman with a disability to be elected to Congress. Duckworth said anyone who can do the job and is willing to risk their life should be able to do so.

“When my Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender or anything else,” Duckworth said. “All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.”

Rep. Tim Walz, a retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard, called Trump’s announcement “completely unacceptable.” The Minnesota Democrat, the highest-ranking former enlisted service member to serve in Congress, contrasted Trump’s tweets with President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the military on this day in 1948.

“Policies rooted in hate always fail in the end and this will be no different,” Walz said.

Rep. Seth Moulton compared Trump’s announcement to past military bans focused on race and sexual orientation. The Massachusetts Democrat served in combat in Iraq as a Marine Corps officer and was awarded a Bronze Star. He called the new policy “wrong, morally and militarily.”

“These are Americans who are willing to put their lives on the line for our country, which is far, far more than President Trump has ever been willing to do,” Moulton said in a statement. “Trump is trying to reverse civil rights, and I’m going to do whatever I can to stop him.”

As veterans in Congress spoke out, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also weighed in.

DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly called Trump’s statement “disgusting” in a statement on Wednesday, adding that it was “made worse by the political calculation behind it.”

“President Trump is a draft dodger and if he wants to talk about 2018, we’ve got dozens of veteran candidates who have already shown what it looks like to step up and serve our country to keep us safe, and are ready to do it again in Congress,” Kelly said.

It is unclear when Trump’s proposed policy would go into effect. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the policy is “something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together on as implementation takes place.”