McCain backs bill to permit transgender troops to serve

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday backed legislation that would bar the Trump administration from forcing transgender troops out of the armed forces.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said in a statement that any service member, including those who are transgender, who meets the standards for military readiness and medical fitness should be permitted to serve.

“When less than 1 percent of Americans are volunteering to join the military, we should welcome all those who are willing and able to serve our country,” he said.

The bill is an attempt to establish protections for transgender troops in law, cutting off President Donald Trump’s efforts to kick service members out based on their gender identity. Trump in July tweeted that he would ban transgender troops from serving anywhere in the U.S. military. The directive caught the Pentagon flat-footed as defense officials struggled to explain what they called Trump’s guidance.

About a month later the president issued more formal instructions, directing the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military. But Trump also gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to come up with a policy on how to address those currently serving, leaving the door open to permitting their continued service.

Mattis began assembling a panel of experts to help craft the policy, which he said would “promote military readiness, lethality and unit cohesion.” Transgender people would be allowed to remain in uniform until Mattis completed the work.

The bill supported by McCain is also sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel, and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Gillibrand said she had planned to offer the measure protecting transgender troops as an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that the Senate has been considering over the last several days. But she said the Senate’s Republican leadership “cut off debate” and blocked the amendment from getting a vote.

“Thousands of brave transgender Americans love our country enough to risk their lives for it, fight for it, and even die for it, and Congress should honor them and let them serve,” said Gillibrand, who thanked McCain for his support.

The legislation also requires Mattis to complete his policy review by end of the year and to provide the results to Congress.

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