Speaking Thursday from his Bedminster, N.J. property, President Trump said that he’s doing the military “a great favor” by instituting the ban, but some military leaders don’t agree.
Hours after the President’s comments, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, said he will follow any order the president gives on transgender troops, but that “any patriot” should be allowed to serve. “On a fundamental basis, any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military,” said Spencer.
However, it was unusual that a service leader would make such a public statement, according to a report in The Hill, noting that there’s a “long-held understanding that service leaders are meant to stay within the chain of command and implement a president’s directives rather than speak out.”
In other words, Spencer’s statement was a risky career move. Other sources from the Pentagon, who did not give their names, told the The Hill that Spencer’s recent comments are “not supposed to happen.”
“There’s a chain of command that’s supposed to be followed,” they said. “The service secretary is not supposed to question the orders of the commander in chief.”
Trump said earlier in the day that the issue of transgender people in the military has “been a very difficult situation.”
“I have great respect for the community,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “It’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”
A 2016 RAND Corp. study estimated that there are nearly 2,500 transgender people on active duty in the military, while a 2014 Williams Institute examination put the number at 8,800. There are 250 openly transgender troops.
The president first wrote on Twitter in late June, “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. 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. Thank you”
Since that announcement, former military leaders have also spoken up, most notably in a letter this month signed by 56 retired generals and admirals. They argue the ban would be disruptive and degrade military readiness, rather than improve it, as the president has asserted.
Spencer is the latest military official to speak up against the proposed ban, which has also been under fire from politicians and rights groups.
“We will process and take direction of a policy that is developed by the [Defense] secretary [with] direction from the president and march out smartly,” Spencer told reporters Thursday night after visiting Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.
Earlier this month, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft stated that he “will not break faith” with transgender individuals in his service.
Zukunft disclosed on August 1 that he and other Coast Guard leaders personally made calls to the known transgender individuals within the service after Trump’s ban announcement.
“I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard and I will not break faith,” Zukunft said he told Lt. Taylor Miller, the Coast Guard’s first openly transitioning officer.
He also said the Coast Guard has “stood up a tiger team of our [Judge Advocate General’s Corps] officers,” referring to the legal branch of the force.
When asked about the legal team and their role, Coast Guard spokeswoman Lisa Novak told The Hill the branch “follows closely with James Mattis on human resources policies and we are currently in contact with them on how those policies may be affected.”
The public statements from Spencer and Zukunft show that the Pentagon and the White House are at odds over an unexpected policy change.
One source close to Pentagon officials told The Hill that the situation is about authority, not right or wrong.
“Trump has the authority,” they said. “The last president had the authority to bring in transgender individuals; Trump has the authority to remove them.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford has said current military policy on transgender personnel has not changed.
The current policy would remain in place until the White House sends specific guidance, Dunford said.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” he said in a letter to the service chiefs.
The defense lobbyist said Dunford’s response is “what a senior military leader is supposed to do” — acknowledge the president’s directives and maintain the current policy.
As of Friday, the White House had not sent any policy directive on the transgender personnel ban to the Defense Department and it is not expected over the weekend, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick.
“There’s been continuing conversations between both parties, but no guidance has come forward as to where we’re going,” Haverstick told reporters.
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