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White House threatens to shut down briefing over questions on transgender policy shift

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders threatened to shut down Wednesday’s press briefing after too many reporters asked for details on President Trump’s new policy banning transgender Americans from serving in the military.

Sanders had few details on the policy, which Trump announced in a series of tweets earlier in the day.

“As I’ve said before and I’ll try to make this clear, this was a military decision, this was about military readiness, this was about unit cohesion, this was about resources within the military, and nothing more,” said Sanders. “Guys, I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic, 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 them.”

Reporters were seeking specifics on the policy that Trump announced via Twitter Wednesday morning. Sanders said there were no details on how it would be implemented or whether active-duty members would be pulled from their units, but that the White House and Pentagon would work out the policy so it could be done “lawfully.” Outside organizations estimate there are as many as 15,000 transgender members of the military.

Politico reported Wednesday Trump may have been seeking to end a congressional budget fight over paying for sex-reassignment surgery for service members, which threatens funding for the wall on the Mexican border. But for whatever reason, he went further than anyone expected with his blanket ban. Reporters have said that the Pentagon was caught “flat-footed” by the decision and was referring all questions to the White House. The “high costs” for transgender surgeries cited by Trump amount to $8.4 million, which is about 0.13 percent of the military budget.

Hours after Trump’s Twitter declaration, the Department of Defense website still referred to the policy instituted by President Obama that “transgender Service members may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender individuals.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during the press briefing on July 26, 2017. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Sanders said that transgender service members “erode military readiness and unit cohesion” and that Trump made his decision based on that, but she did not specify any instances or studies of this happening. When asked if the militaries of the United Kingdom, Australia and Israel — allies the United States frequently works with that allow transgender service members — have experienced these problems, Sanders said she was only focused on the United States.

“As I said earlier, this decision was made after extensive discussions with his national security team, and the president decided it was in the best interest of the military to end this Obama policy,” said Sanders. “I can’t speak to anything about another country, I’m pretty focused on making sure we get good things happening here.”

At a Rose Garden ceremony following the briefing, a reporter shouted a question about the transgender policy to Trump, who declined to answer, retorting: “she’s very rude.” Trump has received limited Republican support for the policy, and has received pushback from GOP senators such as Orrin Hatch of Utah, Joni Ernst of Iowa and John McCain of Arizona.

Sanders ended up taking more questions on the policy, but gave no substantive answers. At the outset of the briefing, she spent of three of her 19 minutes at the podium discussing being a mom and reading a letter from a 9-year-old who said Trump was his favorite president.

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