The chairman of the White House Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, has announced that the U.S. military will not implement President Donald Trump's transgender ban until they are given comprehensive guidance on the new policy. Trump's controversial decision to prohibit transgender Americans from serving emerged after conservative pushback against a defense spending bill that included funding for his key agenda items.
On July 26, Trump took to social media to announce that transgender service members would be banned from the military.
"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," the president tweeted out. "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."
The announcement reportedly came as a surprise to the Department of Defense (DoD). In June 2016, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter of the Obama administration lifted the military ban on transgender Americans after studying the issue for a year.
On July 27, Dunford announced in a letter that Carter's policy would remain in effect until Trump offered the military specific instructions on how a ban would be implemented, The Hill reports.
"I know there are questions about yesterday's announcement on the transgender policy by the President," Dunford wrote. "There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance."
Dunford added "In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."
Trump's announcement surprised the Defense Department because his decision was made largely with their consultation. The president decided to ban transgender service members after several conservative House Republicans told him that they would not vote on a defense spending bill if it contained funding for sexual reassignment surgery for military personnel, Politico reports.
GOP Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, a member a the House Appropriations Committee, was among the House lawmakers who did not want defense spending used for transgender medical services.
"There are several members of the conference who feel this really needs to be addressed," Aderholt said. "This isn't about the transgender issue; it's about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget."
Between 2,450 to 15,000 active-duty service members are estimated to be transgender. In 2016, a study conducted by the Rand Corporation projected that accomodating these service members' medical needs would at most cost a thousandth of one percent of the DoD's annual budget, according to The Washington Post.
Defense Secretary James Mattis was not responsive to House Republicans' request that the military stop paying for transgender service members' sexual reassignment, so the conservative lawmakers took their case to the White House.
Trump was reportedly eager to garner GOP support for the defense spending bill because it contained a $1.6 billion down payment for Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Dallas News.
Several House Republicans were surprised that the president chose to ban transgender military personnel altogether when they only requested that he halt their medical services. An anonymous GOP congressional aide asserted that the president's announcement was "like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire."
On July 26, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the White House had not yet decided what would happen to the openly transgender Americans already serving in the military.
"That's something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully," Sanders told ABC News. "I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that."
Judging by Dunford's letter, the onus of working out the details to back up Trump's surprise decision will be on the White House instead.