49 senators accuse Mattis of bringing back 'don't ask, don't tell'

49 senators accuse Mattis of bringing back 'don't ask, don't tell'
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Forty-nine senators, including one Republican, blasted Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Trump needs a national security adviser who 'speaks softly' US could deploy 150 troops to Syria: report MORE’s recommendations on transgender troops, saying they are not supported by evidence and represent a return to the days of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“The recommendations and report break faith with the men and women serving in our military by establishing a new ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for transgender service members, permitting them to serve only if they are willing to forego any chance of living as their true selves,” the senators wrote in a letter to Mattis on Thursday.

“Just as our mistaken policy regarding lesbian, gay and bisexual service members harmed readiness and ultimately was repealed, the implementation of your recommendations will also harm our nation’s military. Accordingly, we are opposed to the implementation of this discriminatory policy.”

The letter was organized by Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions Klobuchar, Buttigieg find themselves accidentally flying to debate together MORE (D-N.Y.). The one Republican signatory was Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann Murkowski The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (R-Alaska). Only one member of the Democratic caucus, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) Manchin The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Trump, lawmakers consider app that would conduct background checks: report Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks MORE (W.Va.), did not sign the letter.

Last month, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat MORE signed a memo banning most transgender people from serving in the military “except under certain limited circumstances.” The memo gave Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenFox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network DOJ to Supreme Court: Trump decision to end DACA was lawful Top immigration aide experienced 'jolt of electricity to my soul' when Trump announced campaign MORE, who oversees the Coast Guard, “authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.”

No new policy can go into effect immediately, as courts have issued preliminary injunctions that require the Pentagon to continue allowing open service while lawsuits work their way through the court system.

Trump’s memo was signed in conjunction with the release of a report Mattis submitted to the president outlining his recommendations on how to handle transgender troops.

In Senate Armed Services Committee hearings over the last two weeks, Gillibrand has been asking the military chiefs whether they are aware of unit morale, cohesion and disciplinary issues as a result of open service by transgender troops.

The chiefs of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines replied they have no reports of any issues. On Thursday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told Gillibrand such reports would not normally get to his level.

Mattis, meanwhile, argued Gillibrand’s question was flawed.

“These issues like this would not come to service chief level generally unless it was a very, very, I would call it, newsworthy situation, and the reason is that under the [former Defense Secretary Ash] Carter policy, the reporting is opaque,” Mattis told Gillibrand on Thursday.

“We cannot report that a problem emanated from a transgender. We cannot, under the Carter policy, do that. So the question you’ve asked the service chiefs and the chairman are ones that, right now, the Carter policy prohibited that very information from coming up because it’s private information and it’s specifically called out in his policy statement, so it’s impossible for them to respond to you.”

In the letter Thursday, the senators said Mattis’s recommendations “came as a surprise” to them.

That’s “particularly in light of the many statements — from all levels of military and political leadership under your tenure — arguing that open service has had no impact on readiness or good order and discipline, and that transgender service members should be treated with dignity and respect and allowed to serve as long as they meet the standards,” the senators wrote.

While Mattis’s recommendations claim to be “informed by the department's own data and experience obtained since the Carter policy took effect,” they continued, the recommendations are actually “not grounded in any reported experience from the last two years.”

“For example, the report asserts that ‘[t]he potential for discord in the unit during the routine execution of daily activities is substantial and highlights the fundamental incompatibility of the department's legitimate military interest in uniformity, the privacy interests of all Service members, and the interest of transgender individuals in an appropriate accommodation.’ Given that the department’s experience with open service should, after almost two years, include ‘routine execution of daily activities,’ it is telling that this conclusion is offered without evidence of such ‘discord,’” they wrote.

Further, they said, policies banning transgender service would undermine morale and make it harder to recruit by sending a message to young people that the military is outdated.

“We strongly oppose your recommendations,” the senators concluded. “Rather than a policy which excludes all transgender individuals, the military should establish a policy which includes all Americans who are willing to serve and a policy that reasonably protects the military’s interest as an employer in providing necessary medical care for those willing to serve our country.”