This week, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bipartisan amendment that would reverse President Trump’s executive order banning transgender people from serving in the military. On Tuesday, the Trump administration made clear that it was not open to negotiation on the matter.
“The administration opposes the Sen. Gillibrand amendment,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told the Washington Blade. “The president signed an EO tasking [the Department of Defense] with implementation.” The White House deferred to the Pentagon for further comment, which simply reiterated its intention to implement Trump’s order.
The proposed amendment to the defense spending bill would prohibit the military from discharging servicemembers simply for being transgender, but it would allow Defense Secretary James Mattis to continue his additional study about allowing transgender people to join the military. That accession policy was supposed to begin July 1 based on studies that had already been conducted before last year, but — prior to Trump’s announced ban — Mattis agreed to delay its implementation six months for further study. The amendment would allow that delay to remain in place, with a report to Congress about the study’s findings due February 21.
At this point, it remains unclear if the amendment will even come up for a vote, let alone pass.
🚨Asked McCain if he'll accept amendment to NDAA to block Trump's transgender troop ban: "We're working on it. We've been talking for days."
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) September 12, 2017
As directed in Trump’s order, the full effect of the ban is set to take effect March 23, 2018. Despite widespread reporting that Mattis had implemented a “freeze” on the ban, he seems to be following the order exactly as directed, a fact further confirmed by the Pentagon’s comments to the Blade this week.
A new column at Lawfare explains that Trump’s ban is actually worse for transgender servicemembers than the status quo before the changes made last summer. Richard Eisenberg, who was special counsel to both General Counsels of the Army and the Air Force during the Obama administration, and Alex Wagner, who was chief of staff to the 22nd Secretary of the Army, lay out how the changes implemented under President Obama “merely acknowledged transgender servicemembers’ existence in the ranks and provided a framework for their open service, holding them to the same standards as every other one of their colleagues and guaranteeing the same rights and benefits.”
If Trump were truly returning to the policy in place before last summer, it would be a return to what Eisenberg and Wagner call “a muddled and incoherent approach that provided little guidance to transgender service members or their commanders.” Instead, Trump’s order “imposes an unprecedented ban on service by transgender individuals,” they write, but it does so by delegating the task to the secretaries of each of the armed services, “cruelly offering those service members little predictability as to when or if they will be kicked out.”