When Donald Trump announced a new ban on transgender members in the U.S. military Wednesday, he claimed in the first of three tweets that he’d “[consulted] with my generals and military experts” before making the decision. According to the general response from Defense Department officials and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, however, they had no idea the president’s ban was coming. A new report by The Daily Beast instead hints that the so-called “generals” and “military experts” behind the new policy were actually Vice President Mike Pence and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
Per The Daily Beast, White House sources claim Pence “has been pushing hard for this kind of policy shift in the military” for some time. So too, unsurprisingly, has former Breitbart executive turned Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon, who now serves on the White House staff. What’s more, another source indicated that the transgender ban would do well “with his base,” especially leaders of Christian far-right groups and socially-conservative voters. Considering Trump’s recent campaign rally in Ohio (and others prior, though following his November election victory), this doesn’t seem all that surprising.
It sure as hell surprised officials at the Pentagon, the Defense Department and the Senate Armed Services Committee, all of whom are typically informed of major policy shifts in advance. According to the Wall Street Journal, one official said Trump’s Wednesday morning tweets “[were] the first we heard about it.” Though that’s not to say they didn’t know the White House was considering it, as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asked the administration for six months to study the possible effects of transgender military enlistment back in June. Even so, as one official explained it to the New York Times, Mattis’ request didn’t hinge on an eventual ban, but merely time to “finesse” the situation.
With Mattis on vacation this week, however, it seems his and the Defense Department’s wishes were easy targets for Trump, Pence and Bannon’s campaign-like ambitions. (In subsequent tweet and Instagram posts, the president posted a short clip from his Ohio speech in which he declared, “In America, we don’t worship government. We worship God!”) Analysts generally agree that the announcement was more political than strategic, which is something McCain — who railed against such grandstanding while addressing the Senate Tuesday evening — isn’t too happy about.
“The President’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made on Twitter,” he said. “I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until [the Defense Department’s] study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress.” You can real the full statement below: