It became clear Thursday that the Senate would not consider an amendment to the defense budget addressing President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, but lawmakers have not given up. On Friday, they introduced a separate bill addressing the ban, with new bipartisan support: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
The bill expands upon bipartisan support the amendment already enjoyed from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Susan Collins (R-ME), but as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain gives the bill more of a fighting chance. “When less than one percent of Americans are volunteering to join the military, we should welcome all those who are willing and able to serve our country,” he said of his co-sponsorship in a statement. “Any member of the military who meets the medical and readiness standards should be allowed to serve — including those who are transgender.”
Senate Bill 1820 mirrors the language of the failed amendment. It would prohibit the Pentagon from kicking service members out because of their gender identity, and require Defense Secretary James Mattis to complete his study on the accession of openly transgender troops and report the results directly to Congress. Transgender people were supposed to be able to start joining the military on July 1, but Mattis implemented a delay to further study the policy. The bill doesn’t reverse that delay, but holds Mattis to his deadline.
Mattis said Thursday that, because Trump’s order only takes effect next March, there is no change in the status quo in the meantime. This means currently serving trans servicemembers can re-enlist and should still be able to access the medical care they’ve been prescribed, including surgeries. The ACLU lawsuit challenging Trump’s order alleges, however, that several servicemembers’ surgeries have already been canceled or put on hold indefinitely, and it’s unclear how that will be rectified.
Opposition to Trump’s ban continues to grow. As part of their lawsuit challenging the ban, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN included a declaration from Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in support of trans military service. Noting his parallel work studying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and implementing its repeal, Mullen explained, “The now repealed DADT was problematic and flawed in similar ways as the ban on open service by transgender service members. Both DADT and the ban on open service by transgender individuals set apart a subset of brave women and men serving in uniform and treat them worse than other soldiers for no valid reason – and both policies potentially undermine military readiness.”
Mullen also noted that the military already studied “open service by transgender troops and concluded that inclusive policy for transgender troops promotes readiness.”
Trump has insisted he’s doing the military “a great favor” by implementing the ban, even though by all accounts, military leadership was caught off guard by it and his own lawyers recommended against it. The White House opposed the amendment proposed last week and thus will likely oppose the identical language in the new bill.
A study by the Palm Center found that implementing the ban will cost 100 times more than any costs the military incurs from trans servicemembers’s medical needs.