Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has long opposed LGBTQ rights and has refused to condemn Donald Trump’s unnecessary and discriminatory attempts to ban transgender Americans from the military. But in a little-noticed speech from before her election to Congress, the current U.S. Senate hopeful denounced her own party — and inadvertently herself — for hypocrisy on the question of who should be able to serve their country.
When McSally mounted her first race for Congress in 2012, she focused extensively on her personal history of breaking down barriers in the U.S. Armed Forces. “Martha E. McSally is a pioneer,” began her official campaign biography. “She is the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, and first to command a fighter squadron in combat in United States history.” Though she lost that special election campaign and a second race that November, she was elected to Congress in the 2014 GOP wave. And now, as as second-term Representative, she is seeking the GOP nomination for Sen. Jeff Flake’s open Senate seat, again campaign campaigning as “the first female fighter pilot.”
In 2013 she headlined a Ronald Reagan Dinner fundraiser for the Narraganset Republican Town Committee in her birth state, Rhode Island. In it, she scolded some conservatives for wanting to limit opportunities for service, noting the barriers women had long faced.
“I will make a little sort of political note here, at great risk to be used against me in a primary some day,” she said, “but I think we do hurt ourselves as conservatives sometimes on some of these issues because we say we’re about freedom and opportunity, but on some issues like this, we say, ‘I don’t think any woman should be able to do this or that.'”
“That’s not consistent. If we are about freedom and we’re about opportunity, then we make sure the standards are set and we make sure anybody, ANYBODY has the opportunity to be able to serve. Our national service is the strongest when we have the most capable people serving,” she said, accidentally making a strong case for why qualified service members should be valued, regardless of gender identity. “I really think we hurt ourselves when, in our stances on things, we are inconsistent and we say we want people to have freedom of opportunity except when it goes against what we personally believe. Then we want to impose that on everybody else. That’s just not consistent.”
“If we’re about freedom and opportunity, by God we’re about freedom and opportunity,” she concluded. “And let freedom ring.”
But while her candid comments in 2013 suggest that her experiences as a trailblazing woman in the Air Force made her supportive of inclusion, her record in office contradicts that. While fellow Arizona Republicans Sens. John McCain and Flake have spoken out against the Trump administration’s move to ban trans service members, McSally has said nothing publicly. Her office did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about her position. Last year, she voted for an unsuccessful amendment to allow discrimination against transgender service members’ health coverage. And she has not only embraced Trump (who has a strident anti-LGBTQ record), but included a clip of him calling her his “friend” in her Senate kickoff video. “Like our president, I’m tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses,” she told viewers.
Two House Republicans and Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (the likely Democratic nominee for Flake’s Senate seat) have co-sponsored a bill to do what McSally claimed she was for in 2013. If she were less concerned about what would be used against her in a primary, perhaps the 2018 McSally would listen her 2013 self.