Earlier today, President Trump announced that the new Department of Defense policy on transgender was the old policy in effect before Obama’s Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered it changed.*
Most hot button issues have a gestation period so the sudden appearance of transgenders in the military as a topic of discussion was as shock to just about everyone. Politic has an interesting story on how this all came to pass.
Nearly two weeks ago, the House was debating the Defense Authorization Act. Included in the bill was an amendment that forbid Department of Defense from spending funds on “gender reassignment” surgery. The amendment, which in saner times would have been unremarkable and even unnecessary, was defeated 214-209 with 24 squish or morally apathetic Republicans voting with the Democrats.
While those 24 Republicans could block the amendment, they also put the entire bill in jeopardy because there was a very good chance the bill would not pass with that amendment.
Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and moderate Republicans who felt the proposal was blatantly discriminatory.
“There are several members of the conference who feel this really needs to be addressed,” said senior House Appropriations Committee member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) on Tuesday. “This isn’t about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget.”
As it happened, included in the Defense bill was money for a lot of Trump projects…including the Wall.
That’s why House lawmakers took the matter to the Trump administration. And when Defense Secretary James Mattis refused to immediately upend the policy, they went straight to the White House. Trump — never one for political correctness — was all too happy to oblige.
After lawmakers went around Mattis to engage the White House, Mattis was consulted before the announcement and knew the ban was being considered, according to several White House officials. But the decision ultimately came down from Trump and was “White House-driven,” Trump aides said.
The president was also annoyed by the Pentagon delay, one person said. A different official said the White House had gotten positive reaction from conservatives, an important factor amid their displeasure with Trump’s recent bashing of Jeff Sessions.
So now the gender reassignment surgery issue is mooted.
The president’s directive, of course, took the House issue a step beyond paying for gender reassignment surgery and other medical treatment. House Republicans were never debating expelling all transgender troops from the military.
“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” said one senior House Republican aide. The source said that while GOP leaders asked the White House for help, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.
While Democrats and centrist Republicans are already blasting the move, one White House official said the decision would be “seen as common-sense” by millions — though likely vociferously protested by others.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world to have this fight,” the administration official said.
Had this group of Republicans not pushed the issue, the transgender issue would have been settled downstream and, because Mattis is not a social conservative, probably in their favor. This is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action. A small number of socially liberal Republicans decided to hold the entire Defense bill hostage and force Trump to make a move…and they won a victory they won’t ever forget.
*This is a key point in the discussion. This is an accession and retention policy indistinguishable from the policies on BMI, tattoos, sole-parenthood, criminal record, etc. Unless Congress passes a law overriding Trump’s directive and he signs it or they override his veto, or unless he decides to walk this back, this change is not any different that changing any other enlistment or retention standard.