- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

President Trump on Wednesday banned transgender troops from serving in the U.S. military “in any capacity,” moving to scrap yet another of President Obama’s major legacy policies.

The dramatic reversal will bar transgender inductees and force transgender people in uniform out of the armed services, according to Pentagon sources.

Gay rights groups blasted the move as a rollback of equality, but the decision thrilled social conservatives and military readiness advocates, who said the Pentagon should focus on winning wars, not on social experiments.

“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,” Mr. Trump said when announcing the policy in a series of Twitter posts — an unprecedented use of social media.

The president said he made the decision after consulting with “my Generals and military experts.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later added the president’s National Security Council to the list of those consulted and said Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is on personal leave, had been notified before the announcement.

However, many at the Pentagon were blindsided.

“We refer all questions about the president’s statements to the White House. We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the commander in chief on transgender individuals serving in the military,” a Pentagon spokesman said.

Defense Department officials expected that the policy would provide honorable discharges to transgender people now in the services, although that provision and other details had not been finalized.

Transgender service members had been integrated into the U.S. military since last year, when Obama administration Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the ban.

They have been able to receive medical care and gender reassignment treatments, as well as change their gender identification in the Pentagon personnel system, since October.

However, Mr. Mattis postponed a formal policy due July 1 by six months to study its effects on the “readiness or lethality” of the force.

Mr. Trump settled the question with Wednesday’s tweets.

Banning transgender troops was the latest blow to Mr. Obama’s legacy. Mr. Trump also has ripped up the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and numerous environmental regulations.

Mr. Trump indicated that the cost associated with gender reassignment treatments was a key factor in his decision.

Still, the move exposed Mr. Trump to criticism that he backtracked on a campaign promise to be a pro-LGBT president, especially protecting gay Americans from threats by Islamist terrorists who advocate the killing of homosexuals.

Mrs. Sanders said the president remained committed to protecting all Americans but that he had been concerned about the policy since it was enacted under Mr. Obama.

“The decision is based on a military decision. It’s not meant to be anything more than that,” she said. “Obviously, it’s a very difficult decision. It’s not a simple one. But the president feels that it’s the best one for the military.”

Out of 1.3 million service members, an estimated 2,500 to 7,000 on active duty and as many as 4,000 in the reserves identify as transgender, according to a Rand Corp. study.

Rand also estimated that the cost of medical treatment for transgender troops was $84 million a year, about 1 percent of the military’s annual health care budget. That amount is a sliver of the $600 billion-plus overall military budget.

Opponents have questioned those numbers, saying Rand used only gay-friendly sources and lowballed estimates. One issue is that Rand didn’t include lost time such as the yearlong absence the Pentagon provided to transitioning troops to get used to their new genders.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Republican, recently introduced legislation to prevent the Pentagon from spending on transgender treatment. The House narrowly defeated the bill on a 214-209 vote, with 24 Republicans opposing it at the urging of Mr. Mattis, who feared it would jeopardize the military budget.

“Policy of past has rendered soldiers nondeployable, and that’s not fair to those who have to be deployed in their stead,” Mrs. Hartzler said Wednesday. “We need to ensure these defense dollars are going toward meeting military threats.”

She said she had not heard anyone suggesting a reconsideration of allowing gays to serve in the military, which has been the policy since the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011.

Mr. Trump’s announcement immediately exposed America’s cultural and political divide.

The American Civil Liberties Union called it an “outrageous and desperate action” and said extensive research showed no cost or military readiness drawbacks associated with transgender troops.

“The president is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a former Navy pilot, said there was no reason for the military to turn away people who are able to fight, train and deploy. He said confusion stemmed from setting policy in a tweet.

“The president’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” he said.

The liberal veterans group Common Defense condemned the president’s pronouncement as “un-American and morally wrong.”

“This statement by this commander in chief is a slap in the face to Americans who sacrificed to do what Trump and his children never have: serve their country in uniform,” said Pam Campos, the group’s executive director and an Air Force veteran.

“Transgender Americans are already serving honorably in our military and continuing to sign up in a time when many Americans are not. Trump’s gross attack against our transgender colleagues is an attack on all of us,” she said. “He actively weakens our military and public trust in it and our top military leadership.”

On the other side, the move was hailed for ending a “social experiment” in the military and returning the Pentagon’s focus to national security.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said Mr. Trump made “the absolute right decision.”

“National security should trump social experimentation always,” Mr. Hunter said. “It’s about time that a decision is made to restore the warrior culture and allow the U.S. military to get back to business.”

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said he applauded Mr. Trump “for keeping his promise to return to military priorities — and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation’s military.”

“The military can now focus its efforts on preparing to fight and win wars rather than being used to advance the Obama social agenda,” said Mr. Perkins, a Marine veteran. “The last thing we should be doing is diverting billions of dollars from mission-critical training to something as controversial as gender reassignment surgery.”

Carlo Muñoz and Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report.

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