Republicans railed against the Pentagon’s transgender policy on Wednesday but ultimately did not move to reverse the policy during a debate on the annual defense policy bill.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have reversed the policy allowing open service of transgender troops, but then withdrew it to give the Pentagon time to review the policy on its own.
In withdrawing her amendment, Hartzler said she did so “with the understanding and plea to [Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis to take the steps to restore readiness and make sure we don’t waste precious tax dollars, and if that doesn’t happen, understand that we need to take action once this gets on the floor.”
Last year, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the ban on allowing transgender troops from serving openly. In doing so, Carter left in place a ban on transgender recruits enlisting that’s due to be lifted July 1.
Defense Secretary James Mattis is currently reviewing a request from the service chiefs to delay lifting the enlistment ban for six months. But the Pentagon has insisted that Mattis is not considering reversing the entire policy and that transgender troops currently in the military will still be allowed to serve openly.
By contrast, Hartzler’s amendment would have reversed the entire policy and directed the Defense secretary to honorably discharge transgender service members.
In arguing for her amendment, Hartzler asserted that the transgender policy was “ill-conceived” and that allowing transgender troops harms readiness.
“Military service is a privilege, not a right,” she said. “It is predicated on winning wars and defeating the enemy. All decisions on personnel and funding should be made with this in mind.”
Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), meanwhile, lamented that the transgender policy shows “we have lost our way as a nation.”
And Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said he couldn’t imagine sharing a shower with “somebody who was a girl and didn’t have the surgery to become a man but kept the girl stuff” when he was in the military.
Democrats highlighted the Rand Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon as part of its yearlong process to craft the transgender policy that found open service would have “a minimal impact on readiness.”
Democrats also likened the arguments being made by Republicans to those levied against African-Americans before they were allowed to join the military.
“What’s really troublesome to me, Mr. Chairman, is that I can imagine, not these individuals, not my colleagues to my right, but a Congress 70 or 80 years ago that said that a certain group of people weren’t smart enough to fly airplanes. That they’d run at the first sign of battle. That African-Americans could not serve in the United States Armed Forces,” Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) said.
“Well, African-Americans proved them wrong. The unit adapted. And I’d suggest that the unit adapt to transgender individuals as well.”