WASHINGTON ― White House officials argued Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s seemingly sudden decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military could hurt the political prospects of Democrats, ignoring the bipartisan opposition to Trump’s announcement.
Soon after Trump announced his decision in a series of tweets, a White House official told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan that it “forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to take complete ownership of this issue,” citing the re-election chances of potentially vulnerable Democratic senators in 2018.
Another White House official clarified to The Washington Post that politics “was never an impetus” for Trump’s decision but said that “it will be fun to watch some of them [Democrats] have to defend this.”
As expected, many Democrats swiftly condemned Trump’s announcement Wednesday morning. Yet several Republican lawmakers, including those with military experience, quickly expressed their opposition as well, demonstrating bipartisan interest in the issue.
“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.”
Trump’s decision seemed to be a move to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base. Yet, many of the Republicans who swiftly spoke out against it have tended to support socially conservative policies.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, was one of the last to support overturning “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” which previously banned openly LGBTQ people from serving in the military. But in a statement Wednesday, he argued against Trump’s ban, saying that anyone who is qualified to serve should be allowed to do so.
“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,” McCain said. “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.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an Iraq War veteran, expressed similar opposition.
“Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity,” she said in a statement.
Given both McCain and Ernst’s military service, their statements appeared to push back on Trump’s claim that allowing transgender people to serve would create “disruption” in the military, highlighting the opposition of prominent conservative veterans. The president’s assertion is one that many conservatives have used to argue against allowing all sorts of groups to serve, from women, to people of color, to LGBTQ people.
“I’m all about training standards. High, high standards for whoever joins the military,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who served in the Marines, told HuffPost. “But my initial reaction is, if you can can meet those standards, we shouldn’t care who you are. So, meet the standards, and you should be able to join the military.”
Upon hearing of Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said that current policy allows for “a big tent for people who want to serve,” adding that military service is voluntary.
“You ought to treat everybody fairly, and you ought to give everybody a chance to serve,” he told CNN.
In a statement, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said: “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.