Pentagon & Congress

New in 2020: Another battle about transgender troops

The head of the House Armed Services Committee said he hopes next year to revisit legislation allowing transgender recruits to join the military, listing it among his top unresolved issues in the recently adopted defense authorization bill.

“Even if we know (Senate Armed Services Committee chairman) Sen. Jim Inhofe and Donald Trump won’t change their minds, do we want to take another run at it and how?” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in an interview with Defense News last week. “We’ll be discussing that with a lot of people.”

House lawmakers last summer approved language in the sweeping, annual defense budget measure that would have overridden President Trump’s ban on transgender individuals joining in the military. But the proposal was dropped during negotiations, and the final policy bill included only some new studies on the potential impact of allowing them to join.

Smith said the issue is among his biggest unfinished priorities from the last year, along with ending Trump’s access to military construction funds for the controversial southern border wall project and closing down the detention facility at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.

“All of those issues were not resolved to the satisfaction of me and the Democratic party,” he said. “The question is what is doable in those areas “

Trump and congressional Republicans have said that allowing transgender recruits (and extending other accommodations for transgender service members put in place during President Barack Obama’s time in office) would hurt military readiness and create significant new costs.

But advocates have disputed those assessments, and said the opposition is more about discrimination than good military order.

Smith has said even without the transgender language, he is proud of the personnel issues covered in the defense authorization bill for fiscal 2020, which includes a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops, an end to the military “widows tax” on survivor benefits and a new provision to compensate military families harmed by medical malpractice.

He hopes to build on that work next year.

“Everyone agrees that people are the strength of the military,” he said. “But it’s not just the active-duty, it’s also the civilian personnel.

“When you’re talking about purchasing weapons and doing all the other stuff, making sure we’re able to attract the best people and ensuring that they stay there is important. That’s why the paid parental leave was a huge part of (the defense authorization bill). … We will continue to look for ways to attract and maintain personnel.”

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