The White House was on the defensive Wednesday over President Trump’s surprise decision to ban transgender people from military service.
Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced a barrage of questions about how Trump came to the decision, why he announced it over Twitter, whether the Department of Defense was involved, whether the decision was politically motivated and if Trump was failing in his campaign pledge to defend LGBT Americans.
Frustrated, Sanders threatened to end the press briefing if reporters didn’t have questions about anything else.
“I really don't have anything else to add on that topic,” she said at one point. “As I do, I'll keep you posted. But if those are the only questions we have, I'm going to call it a day. But if we have questions on other topics, I'll be happy to take those.”
President Trump tweeted in the morning that after consulting with his generals and military experts he had decided to ban transgender people from any military service.
The announcement represented a major policy shift and appeared to catch the Defense department off-guard. Defense Secretary James Mattis is presently on vacation and administration officials could not say what the policy announcement meant for the approximately 250 transgender people now serving openly in the U.S. military.
Sanders said that Mattis and the rest of his national security team were informed about the move after Trump came to the decision on Wednesday. But she insisted they had been involved in discussions leading up to the announcement.
“I think sometimes you have to make decisions and once he made a decision, he didn't feel it was necessary to hold that decision, and they're going to work together with the Department of Defense to lawfully implement it,” she said.
Sanders pushed back at the notion that the decision was political in any way and insisted that it was made solely on the basis of what is best for the military.
“This was a military decision,” she said. “This was about military readiness. This is about unit cohesion. This was about resources within the military and nothing more.”
Sanders referred reporters to the Defense department to answer how the policy would be implemented. Earlier in the day, Defense had deferred to the White House.
“The implementation policy is going to be something that the White House and the Department of Defense have to work together to lawfully determine, and I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that and keep you posted as that takes place,” she said.
Sanders also insisted that Trump was not failing the LGBT community he pledged to protect during the campaign.
“The president has a lot of support for all Americans and certainly wants to protect all Americans at all times,” she said. “The president has expressed concerns since this Obama policy came into effect, but he's also voiced that this is a very comprehensive and disruptive policy and based on consultation that he's had with his national security team, came to the conclusion that it erodes military readiness and unit cohesion and made the decision based on that.”
Under President Obama and then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter, transgender troops can receive coverage for any treatment deemed medically necessary by their doctors, including surgery and hormone therapy.
That left it to Mattis to determine whether to allow new transgender troops to enter the military, a decision Trump made on Wednesday.
Several prominent Republicans, including Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVirginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda Sinema's no Manchin, no McCain and no maverick Progressives say go big and make life hard for GOP MORE (Ariz.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (Utah), broke with Trump. McCain said that Trump shouldn't be making policy announcements over Twitter.