Why would Trump randomly begin his morning by launching a sudden attack on transgender Americans whom he pledged repeatedly to fight for on the campaign trail? Perhaps because he thought they were standing between him and the thing he wants more than anything in the world: funding for his precious border wall. Politico writes:
House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico.
But an internal House Republican fight over transgender troops was threatening to blow up the bill. And House GOP insiders feared they might not have the votes to pass the legislation because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations — something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them.
They turned to Trump, who didn’t hesitate. In the flash of a tweet, he announced that transgender troops would be banned altogether.
Another rash and desperate decision by Trump on a policy he’s barely considered and knows probably nothing about. How much money are we talking about here? A Rand Corporation study found annual military spending on transgender medical care would amount to $8.4 million on the high end out of a total medical budget of $6.2 billion. That’s what so-called “defense hawks” are obsessing about, when the military spends $41.6 million on Viagra. Who are these jokers?
So Trump wakes up, has a cup of coffee and figures, if I end transgender service, problem solved on the spending bill! Right? Mark my words, Trump has no idea the can of worms he has just opened because he’s incapable of drawing causal connections between his actions and the many different consequences they can have—especially the unintended ones.
Nowhere was that more clear than at Wednesday’s White House briefing, where Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was so flustered by the number of questions hurled at her about Trump’s new transgender policy pronouncement, she threatened to shut down the briefing.
“I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic,” she said after fielding about 10 minutes of questions. “If those are the only questions we have, I’m going to call it a day.” Sanders only managed to hang in for another five minutes or so after that.
Her two biggest problems were that she had no way of explaining Trump’s brazen betrayal of his high-profile campaign promise to protect LGBTQ Americans and she couldn’t answer this one simple question: What happens now? Would several thousand current transgender service members be immediately thrown out (i.e. would the military start a witch hunt?). What about those who are presently deployed overseas?
“That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully,” she said.
That was it on the details. Sorry, folks. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials haven’t offered any insights yet, since it seems they were completely blindsided by Trump’s morning musings.
So what about all Trump’s campaign promises that he would be better on transgender rights than Hillary Clinton, yet now he’s turning “the clock back on this issue”? Sanders fumbled for an answer.
“The president has a lot of support, for all Americans and certainly wants to protect all Americans at all times,” she offered, buying time until she could settle on something. Oh, there it is…
“The president has expressed concerns since this Obama policy came into effect. But he’s also voiced that this is a very expensive and disruptive policy […] and came to the conclusion that it erodes military readiness and unit cohesion, and made the decision based on that.”
Again, the White House will not plausibly be able to sell the notion that an $8.4 million annual expenditure is an “expensive” policy, unless they change “million” to “billion,” which they’re not above doing.
But short of all-out lying, their entire rationale will come down to transgender service harming “unit cohesion and military readiness” and, guess what? They have no idea what they’re talking about. The nearly 20-year battle to overturn the military’s ban on gay service members was an argument over military readiness and whether it was better to kick gays out—particularly gays with skill sets like speaking Arabic and other critical languages—or keep them in.
The evidence, including decades of study and anecdotal accounts, came down overwhelmingly on the side of military preparedness being helped, not hurt, by the contributions of gay service members.
That’s why one of the most fervent supporters of the military’s gay ban, who actually voted against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010, issued a statement Wednesday totally rejecting Trump’s assertion that transgender Americans should be banned from serving. None other than Sen. John McCain, chair of the the Senate Armed Services Committee, (who, no lie, nearly covered me in spittle one time he was so worked up about DADT repeal) wrote:
The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today. Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. 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. 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.
That is a simply stunning turnaround for a guy who fought the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” tooth and nail. But John McCain’s change on the issue isn’t a function of magnanimity. He lost that battle on the merits of the argument, as will Trump, even if it takes another decade.