McCain on Trump's military trans ban: Anyone willing to serve who meets the standards should be allowed to serve

This is high-grade political cover for any congressional Republican who’s inclined to oppose the ban but leery of becoming a lightning rod for the right. McCain will be the lightning rod. And meanwhile other Republican pols can point to him and say, “I’ll defer to the war hero’s judgment.”

Agree or disagree, though, he asks a good question. The Pentagon was already reviewing the trans policy and planning to make a recommendation later this year. Why couldn’t Trump wait for that?

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.

“The Department of Defense is currently conducting a study on the medical obligations it would incur, the impact on military readiness, and related questions associated with the accession of transgender individuals who are not currently serving in uniform and wish to join the military. I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress.

The cynical theory for why Trump moved now is that he needed to change the subject by any means necessary from the many chaotic storylines plaguing him — Russiagate, the Sessions feud, the Senate GOP voting on a health-care “mystery bill,” Rex Tillerson possibly leaving, Anthony Scaramucci planning purges in the White House. The extra-cynical theory is that Trump’s particularly worried that his dogging of the populist Sessions will start to alienate his base, so he’s giving them some culture-war material to keep them happy. But there’s a non-cynical theory too, per Politico: A dispute over whether to fund sex-change surgery for U.S. troops was holding up a spending bill in the House that included money for all sorts of other Trump priorities, including the border wall. In order to resolve that dispute, he simply announced a new policy this morning. And apparently pulled the rug out from under his Defense secretary in doing so:

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…

The announcement, multiple sources said, did not sit well with Mattis, who appeared to be trying to avoid the matter in recent weeks. Congressional sources say Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the original author of the House’s transgender proposal, tried numerous times to phone Mattis to discuss the transgender issue.

Sessions and Tillerson are already on their way out. What’s one more cabinet secretary at this point? Note, by the way, that House lawmakers weren’t asking for a total ban on trans soldiers, which is what Trump announced this morning. All they wanted was a ban on using taxpayer money to pay for gender reassignment surgery. Why did Trump go so much further in his order? (“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 House aide to Politico.) Who the hell knows? It’s cost him at least one celebrity fan, though!

The article you want to read about this morning’s Twitter-nouncement is this one from the Examiner, which convincingly argues that the major players here, namely the Pentagon and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, were completely blindsided by it. Supposedly “a handful of the most senior people [at Defense] were aware of the change” but it’s unclear how much advance notice they were given and how much of an opportunity for input they were afforded. Trump being Trump, he may have woken up this morning, decided he need to “shake things up” news-wise, and dialed up Mattis to let him know he was going to pull the plug on Obama’s trans policy on Twitter in five minutes. This quote from an unnamed administration official suggests at least some strategic thought went into it, though: “This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to take complete ownership of this issue. How will the blue collar voters in these states respond when senators up for re-election in 2018 like Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?”

Will Stabenow be forced to do that, though? How much will Rust Belt Democrats really be hurt by disagreeing with Trump on this, especially if they’re getting cover from Republicans like McCain and Ken Buck? Josh Barro argues that it’s all a matter of framing. If the left turns this into an opportunity to lecture the working class about their supposed bigotry against trans people, yeah, it’ll explode in their faces. If they stick to McCain’s point, they should be fine.

The key is to keep the frame about inclusion and service: Allowing capable Americans who wish to serve their country in the military to so do…

I would be more worried about [a backlash] if Trump had rolled out his ban in the politically smart way: by having the Pentagon announce it and then saying he was supporting the decision of his generals. That would have put Trump in a strong position, politically, to say his choice was in the service of military readiness…

Instead, Trump made himself the face of the decision. Trump is unpopular, and a lot of people will default to assuming whatever choice he made on an issue they had not considered deeply was incorrect.

That’s the most inexplicable part of this. If Trump really cared about the policy, he would have had the august, apolitical Mattis announce it. Instead he announced it himself — and not even with a presidential statement. He farted it out on Twitter. Bizarre.

In lieu of an exit question, read veteran J.R. Salzman on the risk faced by trans soldiers in combat. War is tremendously taxing mentally, Salzman notes from experience. How much can you depend on someone in those circumstances who’s already taxed mentally by emotional and psychological issues related to their gender?

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