Joint Chiefs: ‘No modifications’ to transgender policy from Trump tweet – Politico
There will be “no modifications” to the military’s transgender policy as a result of President Donald Trump’s declared ban on transgender men and women on Twitter, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said in a message to top military officers on Thursday — the latest sign of the disarray following the commander-in-chief’s abrupt announcement.
Marine Gen. Joe Dunford also wrote in the message, which was sent to the chiefs of the military branches and senior enlisted leaders, that the military will continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”
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“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Dunford wrote in the internal communication, a copy of which was provided to POLITICO. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions,” he continued.
The president said Wednesday in a series of three tweets that transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve in any capacity, sparking questions about what that would mean for the thousands currently in uniform and whether it constitutes an official policy change.
The announcement also sparked fierce criticism from lawmakers in both parties, while advocacy groups immediately threatened to take the president to court to overturn any ban.
Dunford’s message was seconded later in the day by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ chief spokeswoman.
“The Department of Defense is awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up to the Commander-in-Chief’s announcement on military service by transgender personnel,” Dana White said. “We will provide detailed guidance to the Department in the near future for how this policy change will be implemented.
“The Department will continue to focus on our mission of defending our nation and on-going operations against our foes, while ensuring all servicemembers are treated with respect,” she added.
The Pentagon’s position underscored how the military, like legal experts, does not consider the president’s social media pronouncements policy.
In an appearance at the National Press Club, Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, also said later Thursday that Dunford is “exactly right” and that the military will work through new guidance when it gets a formal directive from the White House through normal channels.
“We grow up and learn to obey the chain of command, and my chain of command is secretary of the Army, secretary of Defense and the president,” Milley said. “We will work through the implementation guidance when we get it…To my knowledge, the Department of Defense, Secretary Mattis has not received written directives yet.”
Milley also doubled down on Dunford’s message that every service member – “bar none” – should and will always be treated with dignity and respect.
Only a formal directive through the chain of command would lead to a real policy change, said Tobias Wolff, a professor at University of Pennsylvania Law School.
He said that Dunford’s statement makes it clear that the Pentagon does not make major changes to its policy because of a tweet – “and he was right to do so.”
“The chairman of the joint chiefs is respecting the rule of law and the role of the secretary of defense, and he is protecting commanders in the field from having good order and discipline undermined,” Wolff said. “General Dunford should never have been put in this position. It is a reflection of the crisis we now face with this increasingly unstable and reckless individual occupying the presidency.”
Dru Brenner-Beck, a retired Army judge advocate general and president of the National Institute for Military Justice, told POLITICO that under normal procedure the president would issue an executive order instructing the Pentagon to go about changing the department’s personnel policy — but only after Defense Department officials coordinated with various parts of the military and weighed in on the proposed changes in the draft order.
Brenner-Beck said its even legally questionable whether a declaration from the president’s personal social media account is enough to launch the process of rewriting Pentagon regulations, calling it “a whole new frontier.”
“A tweet doesn’t really give you policy,” she said. “How do you implement a tweet? Usually you would have some kind of an actual policy document that comes down.”
A Defense Department official, speaking on the condition they not be named, said Thursday that the Pentagon is scrambling to coordinate with the White House for guidance on the way forward, noting that there is an urgent need to explain to the troops what it means.
Transgender troops — which by some estimates number as high as 15,000 and as few as 1,300 — have been allowed to serve openly since June of 2016. The Pentagon has been studying ways to implement the decision for new recruits — including questions about housing and medical care.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month ordered that review be extended another six months.
The Pentagon’s policy changes have not been without controversy. House Republicans, as part of defense spending legislation now under consideration, have sought to prohibit the Pentagon from paying for troops’ gender transition surgery.
But virtually no one has suggested drumming them out of the military altogether.
“Everyone was confused and I think there are still confused,” said Radha Iyengar, a senior economist at the government-funded Rand Corporation, who authored a recent study for the pentagon on the medical costs associated with transgender service members. “I think the Joint Chiefs statement helps that but we are waiting to see what the actual policy is.”