A bloc of 45 U.S. senators is asking the Pentagon not to discharge any transgender service members until the Defense Department completes an ongoing review of whether they should be able to continue serving in uniform.
The letter holds no legal sway over the Pentagon and lawmakers cannot stop President Donald Trump from carrying out his stated intention to ban transgender people from serving in uniform, but the letter puts almost half of the U.S. Senate on record as opposing the surprise announcement.
Despite Trump’s directive, issued in a series of tweets on Wednesday, the military’s highest-ranking officer said in a letter to senior military leaders Thursday that there would be “no modifications” to the current policy on transgender troops until further direction was received from the president.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The White House has not yet said whether or when it would issue detailed instructions to the Pentagon to carry out Trump’s tweeted orders.
The letter from senators was written by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee who focuses especially on personnel matters. Aides said it is intended to encourage Defense Secretary James Mattis to complete the review he has started to explore whether transgender people should be allowed to serve.
The senators ask that “at a minimum, you do not separate any service member due to the person’s gender identity until you have completed the assessment that you announced on June 30, have reported back to Congress about any challenges that you foresee in the accession and retention of transgender troops, and determined the Department is unable to mitigate these challenges.”
“Any American who wants to serve and meets the standards should be allowed to serve our country,” the senators added.
The letter was finalized late Thursday and early Friday amid the drama of the unexpected end to the Senate’s weeks-long debate over health-care reform.
While most senators watched as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., deliberated with colleagues over how he planned to vote on a proposed watered-down repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Gillibrand was spotted working her way around the Senate Chamber seeking signatures for her letter. With paper and pen in hand, she was seen talking to Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, as well as several other Democrats.
Ultimately, 45 senators signed her letter – all Democrats except Collins. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the top Democrat on the armed services panel, was among the signatories.
Gillibrand told CNN on Thursday she was “outraged” by Trump’s unexpected announcement and said she would be introducing legislation to block Trump from banning transgender troops as part of consideration of the annual defense policy bill.
“These are men and women who woke up that morning . . . only to find out by Twitter that their president doesn’t want their service. I can’t think of something more disrespectful, more outrageous,” she told CNN.