Trump sprang his transgender military ban on Jim Mattis and Reince Priebus, Bob Woodward’s book says
President Trump had promised his top advisers a discussion about transgender troops in the military last summer, but instead surprised them and his administration by announcing a total ban on Twitter, according to Bob Woodward’s new book.
The president sent out the series of July 2017 tweets about an hour before he was supposed to meet chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon in the Oval Office to discuss a list of potential options hammered out by the National Security Council.
Trump instead tweeted that the transgender troops would no longer be able to serve “in any capacity,” despite no clear consensus from the council and a warning from Priebus that a full-out ban carried the most risk of triggering lawsuits, according to a copy of Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House” obtained by the Washington Examiner.
“What’d you think of my tweet?” Trump reportedly asked Priebus later.
“I think it would’ve been better if we had a decision memo, looped [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis in,” Priebus replied.
The tweet and the president’s subsequent order to the Pentagon to bar transgender troops plunged the administration into a protracted legal battle with rights groups. Four federal courts have blocked any new Trump policy and the case may go to trial next spring.
But Woodward reports that Mattis was also caught by surprise while vacationing on the West Coast and was concerned about the effects the tweet might have on service members.
Sally Donnelly, an aide to Mattis at the time, called Bannon and said the defense secretary opposed the decision by Trump and would try to reverse it.
“Hey, we’ve got a problem with the boss,” she reportedly said. “We can’t stand by this transgender decision. This is just not right. They are American citizens.”
“These guys are coming over to get full surgery. We’re supposed to pay for that?” Bannon told her. “You’ve got to take one for the team.”
Mattis convened a working group to study the issue and, earlier this year, unveiled a new proposed policy that would prohibit service by many transgender people. That remains on hold due to the legal fight in federal court.
Trump had pledged to respect LGBT rights during his campaign but, in the summer of 2017, was under budget pressure by the House’s conservative Freedom Caucus. The lawmakers had threatened to vote against the budget unless the president cut military funding of gender reassignment surgeries, which had been authorized under a new open service policy created by the Obama administration.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and other House conservatives claimed the medical costs were too exorbitant and sapped the military. Woodward reported that someone told Trump the surgeries cost $250,000, which is inflated.
“What the fuck? They’re coming in here, they’re getting clipped,” Trump reportedly told Bannon, a reference to enlisting and undergoing surgery. “Not going to happen.”
Woodward reported that general counsels from the military services met on the issue. They didn’t agree on a way forward, but were prepared to offer Trump four options: Keep the Obama policy, give Mattis leeway to come up with his own plan, issue a presidential order to accommodate transgender troops already in the military, or ban all transgender troops from serving.
After Priebus presented the options to Trump on speakerphone while he was still in residence, the chief of staff said he would walk the president through the specifics in person later in the morning.
“I’ll be down at 10,” the president said, according to the book. “Why don’t you guys come and see me then? We’ll figure it out.”
Woodward noted that Priebus “thought they had found an orderly process on at least one controversial matter.”
Then Priebus received a notification on his phone: Trump had tweeted his total ban on transgender troops.