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House votes to end military ban on transgender troops

Amendment would block use of funds to implement policy that would bar transgender people from joining military and keep some who are already serving from staying in

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced the amendment, which passed by voice vote.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced the amendment, which passed by voice vote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House adopted by voice vote an amendment to the fiscal 2021 Defense appropriations bill Thursday that would effectively bring an end to the Trump administration’s severe restrictions on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military.

The amendment was tucked into a massive en bloc package of amendments that were attached to the six-bill spending package that includes defense funding.

Introduced by California Democrat Jackie Speier, chairwoman of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, the amendment would block the use of funds to implement policy issued in April 2019 that would bar transgender people from joining the military and even keep some transgender people who are already serving from staying in.

The policy permits waivers, but critics say they are virtually nonexistent.

“The military has granted only one waiver to a transgender servicemember, exposing the President’s discriminatory policy for what it is — a virtual ban on military service by brave transgender Americans,” Speier said in a statement for CQ Roll Call this week.

A similar amendment was adopted to the House defense authorization bill last year, but was stripped out of the final NDAA conference agreement. There is no such language in the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill, which the House approved last week.

The language, however, faces tough odds during conference negotiations with the Senate.

Also included in the first en bloc package are a number of other politically contentious amendments.

One such amendment by Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, would prohibit the use of funds provided by the defense bill to implement an April 2018 Justice Department memorandum regarding a “zero-tolerance policy” in the prosecution of criminal immigration offenses along the southwest U.S. border.

Another, sponsored by Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., would prohibit the bill’s funds from being used for the acquisition of chemical weapons for domestic riot control. The language comes after an at times violent response by federal and local enforcement to the nationwide protests that emerged following the police killing of George Floyd.

Lawmakers rejected by a vote of 126-292 an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., that would prohibit the use of funds for military recruitment via the e-sports streaming platform Twitch and other e-sports activities.

Last week, the Army was accused of censorship on its Twitch channel, and announced it would pause streaming via the wildly popular platform.

Aside from that roll call vote, the House completed consideration of defense-related amendments by the early afternoon, adopting two packages of en bloc amendments by voice vote and rejecting a third.

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Among the amendments adopted is another by Speier that would allocate $1 million to ensure surveillance systems are operational at certain Army facilities. The amendment follows the death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a Fort Hood soldier whose remains were found near the base this month. The investigation into Guillen’s death has been made more difficult by a lack of available surveillance footage from the base.

An amendment by Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., would allocate $17.2 million for Army vehicle improvement programs, including outfitting Humvees with anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability control retrofit kits to prevent rollover accidents. The armed services have experienced a recent spike in rollover deaths.

The House, meanwhile, rejected an amendment to the Energy-Water portion of the appropriations package from Ohio Republican Michael R. Turner that would have removed a prohibition on the use of funds by the Nuclear Weapons Council to influence the budget of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

As proceedings continued on the House floor, the White House released a 28-page statement Thursday afternoon threatening to veto the legislation in its current form.The statement specified 19 provisions within the defense portion of the spending package that the White House “strongly objects to.”

One would decrease the authority of the Defense Department to transfer, or reprogram, funds for programs that were not appropriated by Congress. In February, the Trump administration reprogrammed millions of dollars within the DoD’s budget to help pay for the Mexican border wall project.

Also included in the letter’s objections are provisions that would prohibit wall construction, live nuclear tests, require the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate figures and restrict the use of military force against Iran, among others.

The House expects to pass the appropriations package by Friday.

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