WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to bar transgender men and women from serving in the armed forces was met Wednesday with more questions than answers.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s immediate response was that “we need to have a hearing, not a tweet.”
“Let the military tell us about the policy change, what it is, does it affect the people currently serving and what is the recommendation,” said the South Carolina Republican, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and who formerly served in the Air Force.
Trump had earlier in the day announced on Twitter that "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow ... Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
"Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming ... victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," he continued.
Transgender service members have been able to serve openly in the military since last year under President Barack Obama's directive. Since October, transgender troops have been able to receive medical care and start changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon’s personnel system.
Today, there are as many as 250 service members who are transitioning to their preferred genders or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagon’s personnel system, according to several defense officials.
Though the Pentagon has refused to release any data on the number of transgender troops currently serving, a Rand Corp. study estimated that between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members are on active duty and between 1,500 and 4,000 are serving in the reserves.
It's unclear how many, if any, are currently serving in the Lowcountry. Marvin Krause, a spokesman for Joint Base Charleston, referred all questions about Trump's statements to the White House.
"The Air Force will continue to work closely with Department of Defense to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military," he added. "DoD will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future."
With Trump’s announcement, it wasn’t immediately clear when the change in policy would take effect and what would happen to the transgender men and women currently on duty. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not provide clarification at the Wednesday afternoon briefing, and Trump did not respond to a question shouted at a later event.
Graham said while he did not support Obama’s expansion of the military to transgender service members at the time, the current issue is one of “fairness” to those who had taken advantage of the opportunity.
"From my point of view, military readiness is the most important thing," he said. "Accommodating everybody's lifestyles — disabled people can't serve. There are people who can't serve. Transgender people are very patriotic, I want everybody who's patriotic who wants to serve, that goes into the plus column.
"Here's the deal," Graham said. "I want to know what's best for the military. It's not to turn the military into some social laboratory for the country as a whole. If you can show me transgender military service is good for the fighting force, then I'll be good to go. l don't want to do this based on a tweet. ... I want to be fair, and I want to know how it's working."
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., agreed, saying his understanding was that the Defense Department was reviewing transgender service members and that review would continue regardless of Trump's directive.
"Anybody who wants to serve our country, we should be grateful for their desire and their service," Scott said. "I want ... (to) understand all the issues that have been studied and what the impact has on our ability to defend the country. The answer might be nothing. I don't know yet. But I want to wait and see."
Scott also said he was deferring to "folks like Lindsey Graham and others who serve in the military to decide what to do on this issue."
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, told The Post and Courier he was generally “reticent about unilateral executive branch action on a range of fronts,” and that included Trump’s most recent edict on Wednesday.
“Regardless of how one feels about transgender individuals,” Sanford continued, “I think that those kinds of delicate issues are best decided after deliberation through the deliberative process of 535 members of Congress arguing it out.
“The military shouldn’t be used as an experimentation ground for issues that our society is trying to get its arms around, and I don’t know if we had,” Sanford added.
S.C. Republican Reps. Jeff Duncan and Tom Rice of Laurens and Myrtle Beach, respectively, said they supported the commander in chief making the final call.
Both referred back to earlier statements they’d made regarding a vote the House of Representatives took two weeks ago on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. It would have barred the military from covering medical treatments for transgender servicemen and women relating to their transitions, ostensibly saving taxpayer dollars.
All Republicans in the S.C. congressional delegation supported the amendment, which was ultimately defeated. Some reports indicate an outcry over the inability to advance this amendment led to Trump’s announcement Wednesday.
"The military restricts people with asthma from serving in the military, but we're going to pay out billions for people who want to change their sex?" Duncan wrote on Facebook earlier this month.
“Military guidelines on the sex of its personnel, like all of its guidelines, should be designed to produce the most effective fighting force to defend our country — period," Rice said Wednesday. "I leave it to the President and people in charge of the military how best to define that goal. However, I strongly oppose the obligation of the government to fund procedures for sexual reassignment or any other elected surgery.”
Meanwhile, Trump's move brought condemnation among South Carolina gay rights leaders such as S.C. Equality Executive Director Jeff Ayers.
Ayers said the Department of Defense spent over a year studying how to integrate transgender people in the military, "and what they found was that allowing transgender people to serve without fear or lying about who they are is good for military readiness and good for morale.”
Trump's move, Ayers added, was an attempt to distract the public from his other troubles, such as ongoing investigations into Russia's impact on the 2016 election. He called the decision "pure political hypocrisy" and "shameful."
Chase Glenn of the Alliance for Full Acceptance called the move "offensive and reprehensible.
"(It) puts the safety and well-being of those currently serving in jeopardy," he said.
Robert Behre and The Associated Press contributed to this report.