Defense & National Security — Biden works to clean up Russia flop
McCain backs bill to block transgender troops ban
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is backing a bipartisan bill that would block President Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military.
"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," McCain said 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," he said.
This is the latest show of resistance by McCain, who has frequently been a thorn in Trump's side. Most dramatically, McCain cast the deciding vote in July to kill the Senate's attempt at repealing Obamacare. As a Russia hawk, he's also blasted Trump's attempted rapprochement with Moscow, and as Armed Service chairman, has frequently criticized Trump for requesting lower-than-expected defense spending and taking months to develop an Afghanistan strategy.
McCain, committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.), committee member Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the bill as stand-alone legislation on Friday.
Gillibrand and Collin earlier introduced the bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. But the amendment is not expected to get a vote amid a larger dispute of which amendments will make it to a vote.
Friday's bill would prohibit the Pentagon from involuntarily separating or denying the re-enlistment of currently serving transgender troops solely on the basis of gender identity.
It would also require Defense Secretary James Mattis to complete the study of accession - recruitment and training - of transgender recruits that he started before Trump announced the ban.
Finally, the bill would express the sense of Congress that individuals who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be eligible to serve.
"Despite being denied a vote on my bipartisan amendment to defend our transgender service members, we are not giving up in this fight," Gillibrand said in a statement Friday.
"Thousands of brave transgender Americans love our country enough to risk their lives for it, fight for it, and even die for it, and Congress should honor them and let them serve," she said. "Doing otherwise would only harm our readiness at a time when our military is deployed around the world in defense of our country."
In July, Trump announced on Twitter that he planned to ban all transgender military service, and in August he followed through by signing a presidential memo.
The memo prohibits the military from enlisting transgender people and from using funds to pay for gender transition-related surgery, and it gives Mattis six months to determine what to do with currently serving transgender troops.
Mattis said he would establish a panel of experts to determine how to implement Trump's order and that currently serving transgender troops would be allowed to continue while the study is ongoing.
Four lawsuits have been filed against the ban, three of which are seeking an immediate halt while the cases work their way through the courts.
In a statement Friday, Reed accused Trump of manufacturing a crisis for political purposes.
"Transgender service members deployed today are serving with honor and distinction," Reed said.
"The last thing they need while serving in a combat zone is to worry about being involuntarily separated," he continued. "Congress needs to act on a bipartisan basis to do what is best for our country and national security, and that includes overturning President Trump's poorly conceived transgender ban."
Collins, also, added that anyone who is willing to serve should be able to.
"Our armed forces should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country," Collins said in a statement. "If individuals are willing to put on the uniform of our country, be deployed in war zones and risk their lives for our freedoms, then we should be expressing our gratitude to them, not trying to kick them out of the military."
-This report was updated at 4:32 p.m.