Trump’s military transgender ban blocked in House spending bill

The House move lines up what will surely be a battle with the Senate during conference negotiations later this year.

Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017. The House decision to block a Trump ban of transgender people from serving in the military in the 4-bill spending package lines up what will surely be a battle with the Senate during conference negotiations later this year. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House on Tuesday used a massive spending bill to block the Pentagon from enforcing President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people from serving openly in the military.

By a vote of 243-183, the House adopted an amendment to the four-bill spending package that includes the defense appropriations measure, lining up what will surely be a battle with the Senate during conference negotiations later this year.

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California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, chairwoman of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, authored the amendment, which stipulates that no funds in the bill be used to implement the president’s ban.

“This amendment risks undermining the readiness of our military at a time when we can least afford it,” Rep. Ken Calvert of California, the top Republican on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said on the floor.

Calvert argued against transgender people serving in the military, saying that their service is not a social issue but one of “deployabilty.”

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“Individuals with medical conditions that do not allow them to deploy, such as those identified in the policy, adversely impact military readiness and reduce the military’s warfighting capability,” he said.

Rep. Anthony G. Brown, a Maryland Democrat, said Calvert’s arguments reminded him of racial segregation in the armed forces.

“These arguments are the same ones that were made to keep the military racially segregated,” Brown, who served in the Army, said. “My service in an integrated armed forces did not harm readiness, and neither does the service of the more than 14,000 transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.”

The issue of transgender people serving in the military has been debated fervently on Capitol Hill since Trump announced his ban on transgender service in August 2017. And since retaking the House in January, Democrats have signaled that they will take any chance to fight the ban.

In February, Speier brought in five transgender military members to testify before her subcommittee to buttress the Democratic position that transgender soldiers do not negatively affect the military’s mission.

The witnesses included a West Point graduate, an Army Ranger, combat veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and a Bronze Star recipient, many of whom had served in the military for the better part of the last decade.

Speier did not include in the Military Personnel portion of the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill a provision similar to her amendment in the Defense spending bill. House Democratic aides, though, say she will offer a similar amendment when the House takes up the Pentagon policy bill after the July Fourth recess.

Inclusion of such an amendment would set up a direct clash with the Republican-controlled Senate that is sure to resist Speier’s attempt to rebuke Trump and overturn his ban. The Senate is considering its own defense authorization bill on the floor this week.

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