WASHINGTON — Top defense lawmakers on Capitol Hill quickly blasted President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban Wednesday, calling the policy change short-sighted and potentially dangerous.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., called the surprise news “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.” He said Trump’s statements on the issue were unclear and confusing.
“Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” he said. “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.”
On Wednesday, in a series of tweets, Trump announced plans to reverse defense policy allowing transgender troops to serve openly in the ranks. Defense officials had been conducting a review of plans to admit new transgender recruits, but previously said the changes would not affect individuals already in the ranks.
“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,” Trump wrote in his tweeted policy change.
“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.”
Congressional Democrats attacked those comments.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. and ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, called the move “an unwarranted and disgraceful attack on men and women who have been bravely serving their country.”
“It takes a brave and committed person to volunteer to defend this country, and every American that is able and willing to do so should be allowed to join the U.S. military. We will fight this decision, just like we fought ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and ultimately justice will prevail.”
Smith’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., called the announcement “a divisive political move that exposes the President’s lack of faith in the professionalism of our armed forces.
He added that Trump should immediately reverse the decision. “Every American who is brave enough to serve their country should be free to do so … This discriminatory policy denies Americans, no matter how skilled and qualified they are, the opportunity to serve.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. — another committee member — said she would introduce legislation in coming days to counter Trump’s plans. Reed told reporters he is open to the idea of including the issue in the chamber’s upcoming debate on the annual defense authorization bill.
Several Republicans also joined McCain in opposing the decision. The Senate’s first combat veteran — Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, — told Politico in a statement that “what is most important is making sure servicemembers can meet the physical training standards” and be willing “to defend our freedoms and way of life.”
But others applauded the change. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., who earlier this month sponsored a measure (that was narrowly defeated) to force the transgender policy change during a defense policy debate, said on Twitter she was pleased Trump was acting on “this costly and damaging policy.”
Pentagon officials referred all questions regarding the policy to the White House. Congressional officials said they’ll be closely following the issue in coming months, to see exactly how the policy will be implemented.
Defense officials estimate about 7,000 transgender servicemembers are currently in the military. Outside rights groups say they believe the number is closer to 15,000.
Reporter Joe Gould contributed to this story.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.