Sens. McCain and Ernst, both veterans, oppose Trump’s ban on transgender military service

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, quickly announced their opposition Wednesday to President Trump’s Twitter announcement that the U.S. military would not “accept or allow” transgender military service members.

“Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” McCain wrote. “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.”

He continued: “We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are.”

McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and is widely hailed for his service in the Vietnam War, during which he was tortured and held captive for more than five years. He recently returned to the Senate after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

His criticism of Trump’s policy was partly echoed by Ernst, a 20-year military veteran who also serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The panel had not been briefed on the new policy prior to Trump’s tweet on the matter.

“She believes what is most important is making sure service members can meet the physical training standards, and the willingness to defend our freedoms and way of life,” Ernst’s spokesperson told the Des Moines Register. “While she believes taxpayers shouldn’t cover the costs associated with a gender reassignment surgery, Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity.”

McCain further called the new policy “unclear” and said that “major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.”

Last year, the Obama administration allowed transgender people to serve openly. But Trump argued on Twitter that transgender people would ratchet up military medical costs and could pose a “disruption” to operations of the military. Transgender medical costs only make up a tiny fraction of military health care spending.

It is not yet clear what Trump’s declaration means for the thousands of transgender military members currently serving.

The Department of Defense is currently researching how transgender people would affect medical costs and military readiness, McCain said. The Arizona Republican added that it’s not “appropriate” for any new policy decisions until the Defense Department study is complete and vetted by Congress, the secretary of defense and military leadership.

“The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to follow closely and conduct oversight on the issue of transgender individuals serving in the military,” McCain promised.

Other GOP senators also broke with party lines to bite back at Trump for his policy announcement.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said on CNN’s “Newsroom” Wednesday that he believes everyone should be able to serve, but added that he wanted to look into the policy further before making a final judgment.

“I think you ought to treat everybody fairly and you ought to give everybody a chance to serve,” said Shelby, who serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., told a Vox reporter, “I don’t agree with the president” about transgender people in the military.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also came out against the ban, stating, “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone.”

Hatch continued: “Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them. I look forward to getting much more information and clarity from our military leaders about the policy the President tweeted today.”

Additional reporting by Olivier Knox.

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