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Republican senator opposes Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military

"If you were willing to lay down your life beside mine, I would welcome you."

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) says she supports transgender servicemembers. (CREDIT: CBS/Face The Nation/screenshot)
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) says she supports transgender servicemembers. (CREDIT: CBS/Face The Nation/screenshot)

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said Sunday that she does not support the ban on transgender people serving in the military, which the White House filed on Friday.

Ernst, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is one of the Senate’s most conservative members, explained her position in an interview on Face The Nation.

“I support allowing those transgenders [sic] that can serve — I believe they should serve. We do want to make sure that they meet physical requirements; we can’t waive that. That is true across any demographic within our military — making sure that they are physically fit and they meet the mental standard,” she said.

She continued, “I’ve asked transgenders [sic] myself, if you were willing to lay down your life beside mine, I would welcome you into our military. But again, there are standards that have to be met and I will support the president and the administration on making sure that standards are met. But if there are transgenders [sic] that meet those qualifications, certainly I would gladly have them serve in our United States military.”

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Asked whether she would push back on the White House memo, which prohibits most transgender individuals from serving in the military, with few exceptions, Ernst replied, “I think the White House has done a very studied analysis of how we have the best qualified people coming into the military. I’m happy to have those discussions with the administration, but again, making sure that those standards are applied fairly across the spectrum of every citizen that wants to join our military.”

The memo was reportedly drafted by Vice President Mike Pence with the assistance of several prominent anti-LGBTQ activists and does not reflect the the wishes of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis or the work of his panel of military activists.

Ernst has been largely consistent in her support for transgender people serving in the military. After Trump first announced his intent to ban them from serving last July, the Iowa senator released a statement pushing back on the president’s decision, saying she supported transgender military members while clarifying that she did not support the military covering the medically necessary costs of any transition-related treatment.

Outside of those statements, however, Ernst is typically not friendly to LGBTQ causes. When she served in the Iowa Senate, she sponsored a bill to ban marriage for same-sex couples in the state constitution. During a debate in her U.S. Senate race, she said that she would support a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as well.

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Ernst appears to be indicative of a moderate strain of Republicans on the issue of transgender people serving in the military. When Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) proposed an amendment to the defense spending bill implementing such a ban last July, for example, the Republican-controlled House defeated it 209-214.

So far, Ernst is one of the only Republican lawmakers who has publicly commented on the ban since the White House reintroduced it Friday night.