Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday hinted that the Pentagon may propose its own changes to President Trump’s plan to ban all transgender individuals from the military.
Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon that he has “no doubt” that the White House would soon send official guidance on the issue, but added that the Pentagon would study the policy once it’s handed down and may incorporate its own changes.
“I’m going to wait until I get the direction from the White House and then we will study it and come up with what the policy should be,” Mattis said.
“The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve, under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” Mattis said.
“There’s a host of issues and I’m learning more about this than I ever thought I would. It’s obviously very complex.”
Mattis said that Pentagon personnel are engaged with White House staff in drafting the policy.
“I’ve got my people over there in the room to give them any military background that they might need to inform them,” he said. “They write their own policy of course, so we’re in a supporting role right now.”
Trump wrote in two tweets on July 26 that the U.S. military would “not accept or allow” transgender people to serve “in any capacity,” though the administration has yet to make clear how such a ban would be implemented.
He made the announcement after House conservatives pushed the White House to curb Pentagon funding for transition-related medical care. But Trump asserted that he had reached the decision after consultation with “my generals and military experts.”
This is the first time that Mattis has commented publically on Trump’s transgender ban announcement. The Defense secretary was on vacation in Washington state at the time of the tweets and reportedly taken by surprise at the declaration.
Mattis said Monday that “there was a fair amount of discussion about the transgender issue,” prior to the Twitter announcement. The Pentagon was also in the midst of a study on the issue, to be completed later in the year.
When pressed on Trump’s decision to announce the policy before the Pentagon study was completed, Mattis said that the president was within his authority to move ahead.
Trump said on Thursday that he's doing the military “a great favor” by instituting the ban, and that the issue of transgender people in the military has “been a very difficult situation.”
But several service officials have been apprehensive of the potential shift in policy.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said last week that “any patriot” should be allowed to serve.
And earlier this month, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft asserted he “will not break faith” with transgender individuals serving in his service.