According to a new report, President Donald Trump suddenly decided to ban transgender service members from the military on July 26 to get congressional funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall, which he repeatedly promised Mexico would build.
Numerous congressional and White House sources told Politico there was an internal fight between House Republicans on banning taxpayer-funded sex reassignment surgery for members of the military.
House conservatives and defense hawks reportedly wanted the ban, while moderate Republicans believed it was discriminatory. This division placed the spending bill, which included the wall money, in jeopardy.
Trump tweeted his ban on transgender troops on July 26: "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."
Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama echoed the same financial justification: "There are several members of the conference who feel this really needs to be addressed. This isn't about the transgender issue; it’s about the taxpayer dollars going to pay for the surgery out of the defense budget."
The "tremendous medical costs" mentioned by Trump don't appear to hold up, according to a study done by the Rand Corporation for the Department of Defense in 2016, notes CBS News.
The Rand Corp. report found that sex reassignment surgery for service members who want to transition would be between $2.4 million to $8.4 million yearly, or 0.04 percent to 0.13 percent of the Defense Department's spending on health care.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2015 that found transition surgery for transgender troops "is too low to warrant consideration in the current policy debate." That study estimated the costs to be about $5.6 million annually.
If the top number by Rand, $8.4 million, is correct then transgender surgery doesn't come close to the $41.6 million spent by the Pentagon in 2014 to help male service members get erections with Viagra, based on an estimate by the Military Times.
"This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire," a senior House Republican aide told Politico in an email.
Conservative Christian groups have been pushing for a ban on transgender members of the military ever since President Barack Obama dropped the policy that locked them out.
Peter Sprigg of the Christian-based Family Research Council questioned the mental stability of transgender service members in June:
Family Research Council has concerns about the psychological fitness of persons who identify as transgender to serve (because of high levels of psychopathology within that population), and about the effect of allowing people to present themselves as the opposite of their biological sex on good order and discipline, readiness, recruitment, and retention.
"Conservatives were telling [the] White House they didn't want money in a spending bill to go to transgender health services," a senior administration official told Politico.
Sources: Politico, CBS News, Family Research Council / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Airman 1st Class Janiqua Robinson/Wikimedia Commons, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey Troutman/Wikimedia Commons