Weekend thread: Best and worst Iowa reactions to Trump's transgender ban

Keeping track of this administration’s scandals would be a full-time job. President Donald Trump has already spent 58 days of his presidency at Trump properties, including 43 days at golf courses. He’s been venting about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in his view, should have killed the investigation into possible Russian collusion with Trump campaign officials.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke warned Alaska’s senators that Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote against GOP health care proposals “had put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.” Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said Zinke should be fired for “threatening to abuse his agency’s statutory mandate to hurt Alaska,” adding that the “Interior Department controls vast parts of our Country and cannot be allowed to use federal lands for an extortion racket.”

Trump’s new communications director Anthony Scaramucci conducted an interview that was beyond parody, trying to lean on New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza to reveal a source. Reince Priebus finally got dumped as Trump’s chief of staff. Alexandra Petri noted in her excellent commentary, “Priebus was one of the last Adults In The Room, not that it mattered because everyone in the room was doing exactly as they pleased regardless. His function was largely decorative. What is the point of adult supervision if all you do is sit back and watch as the children set everything on fire?”

The president politicized a Boy Scouts event, upending eight decades of tradition and prompting the national Boy Scouts leader to apologize. Days later, police chiefs around the country condemned the president’s remarks encouraging officers to be rougher with suspects during arrests.

But of all Trump’s outrages this week, none were more disgraceful than his unprovoked attack on transgender people serving our country in the military. After the jump I’ve compiled some of the best and worst reactions from Iowa political figures.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Williams Institute has estimated that about 15,500 transgender people are on active military duty or serving in the National Guard or a Reserve force. Trump (who has never worn the uniform himself) declared in a series of early-morning tweets on July 26 that the government would no longer permit “Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. 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.”

In reality, gender transition–related issues would cost the Defense Department only $2.4 million to $8.4 million per year, “an amount that will have little impact on and represents an exceedingly small proportion of (Active Component) health care expenditures … and overall DoD health care expenditures.”

The American Civil Liberties Union announced, “Military rules and regulations allow trans people to serve their country. Even the commander-in-chief cannot change those via Twitter. Until those rules are changed, trans people can serve openly. If those rules are changed, we stand ready to take legal action. Tweets are not self-executing: trans people cannot simply be thrown out of the military because of this tweet. Once we see plans from the DOD to implement these pronouncements, we will take the legal action necessary.”

Incidentally, the president’s tweet about “consultation with my Generals and military experts” was misleading. As Cora Lewis, Dominic Holden, and Nancy A. Youssef reported for BuzzFeed, military leaders had no idea what Trump was up to on Wednesday morning.

At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.

Rachel Bade and Josh Dawsey reported the real backstory for Politico, “A congressional fight over sex reassignment surgery threatened funding for his border wall.”

Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation [that included border wall funding] if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and those of moderate Republicans who considered the proposal blatantly discriminatory. […]

That’s why House lawmakers took the matter to the Trump administration. And when Defense Secretary James Mattis refused to immediately upend the policy, they went straight to the White House. Trump — never one for political correctness — was all too happy to oblige. […]

The president’s directive, of course, took the House issue a step beyond paying for gender reassignment surgery and other medical treatment. House Republicans were never debating expelling all transgender troops from the military.

“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 said in an email. The source said that although GOP leaders asked the White House for help on the taxpayer matter specifically, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.

How did Iowans react to this shameful act by the president?

BEST

The Iowa Democratic Party released this statement on July 26:

In the wake of President Trump’s Twitter announcement that he will ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, a coalition of Iowans identifying as transgender have released the following statement:

“Our President’s attempt to exclude patriots who want to serve and protect our country because they are transgender is an act of cowardice. Numerous studies have shown that allowing transgender Americans to serve has absolutely no impact on readiness. This is a grave insult to our active transgender service members and all those aspiring to join our military. It is also an insult to all those currently serving with transgender service members who are executing their jobs with the same excellence they were before President Obama opened the service to those identifying as transgender.

Part of what makes America strong is our ability to live as a community of people with different backgrounds. It may be difficult at times, but we are proud to live in a place where we can have the conversation, where we can work with people to increase understanding. We will keep working to make America a safe place for transgender individuals to live and serve. We hope all those who believe in the fundamentally American promises of acceptance and opportunity will join us.”

Signatories to this statement are as follows: Devin Kelly, who is the chair of the Stonewall Caucus for the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP); Alex Anderson, who is the state Affirmative Action Chair for the IDP; Austin Wadle, a transgender rights activist and student at Grinnell College where they serve as President of Grinnell College Campus Democrats; and U.S. Army Reserves Sargent Jack Schuler, former Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Now in the Army Reserve, former Marine Corporal Schuler told the Des Moines Register he planned to report for drill training this weekend.

“I’ve wanted to have a 20-plus-year career since I first raised my hand, and this would kill it halfway through,” he said. “I joined the military in wartime to help people. I wanted to serve the American people and it would break my heart to have that cut short.

“Being a part of the military is a huge part of my life. My military service is as central to my identity as my being male; it’s just who I am.”

He also told the Air Force Times,

“I will continue to report for duty in the uniform of the day until I am forced to receive my DD214” discharge papers, said Sgt. Jack Schuler a transgender man and Army reservist who is a chemical operations specialist. He previously served in the Marine Corps.

“I love serving this country and its people,” he said. ”I love being a part of this military family. My dream is to retire after a long career. I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon.”

Army veteran Dave Grussing posted on Facebook,

With all the problems that are going on in my hometown and in Iowa, I don’t spend a lot of time bashing Donald Trump because, quite frankly, if I responded to everything he does that I find offensive, posting would become a full time job.

However, his tweet about transgender members of the military offends me on so many levels that I feel compelled to say something. I find it offensive that a draft dodger who feels his time in a military boarding school is the equivalent of actually serving, who insults true military heroes, who claimed to know more than the generals, who has no grasp of basic strategic concepts like the nuclear triad and how alliances like NATO work, feels that he is qualified to determine who is qualified to serve in the military.

I don’t know if it was coincidence or planned, but I find it ironic that this policy was tweeted on the same day that President Truman announced an end to segregation in the military and the federal government in 1948. Many of the arguments that Trump apologists are now mouthing, like “The military is no place for social experimentation.”, are the same arguments made against integration of the Armed Forces in 1948.

In every position I held in the Army, I had one criterion that I used to judge the ability of any soldier, NCO, or officer. That was how that soldier did their job. I didn’t care whether they were male or female, what color skin they had, where they came from, or who they went home with. If they were good at their job, that was all I was concerned with.

For some guy who used every trick in the book to avoid having to serve in the military, his decision is morally indefensible and it’s not supported by facts. The transgender population in all the services is estimated at somewhere between 6,000 and 15,000 individuals. The costs of gender reassignment surgeries and treatments are estimated to comprise less than one tenth of one percent of the military’s total health care budget.

State Senator Matt McCoy, who was Iowa’s first openly gay state lawmaker, posted on Facebook, “As an LGBTQ official, I refuse to look the other way as our president denigrates tens of thousands of trans troops. #StandWithTransTroops”

Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy organization One Iowa, issued the following statement:

“Let’s be clear: transgender people already serve in the U.S. military and do not cause ‘tremendous medical costs and disruption’ as President Trump alleges. In fact, according to studies by the Williams Institute and the Veterans Health Administration, they are far more likely to serve in the military than the general population. President Trump’s announcement won’t change that.

“All this proclamation will do is fully reinstate a blanket ban that prevents transgender people from bringing their whole selves to their mission and from receiving basic support from the nation they disproportionately fight to defend. Our transgender service people and veterans deserve far better than this, and we are deeply disappointed and angered by the disrespect to which President Trump, Rep. Steve King, and our nation’s policies have subjected them.”

The LGBTQ advocacy group Iowa Safe Schools titled their press release, “Delete Your Account.”

DES MOINES, IOWA (July 26, 2017)- Today, Iowa’s leading LGBTQ organization issued the following statement in response President Donald Trump’s misinformed and mean-spirited tweets regarding transgender servicemembers.

Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director, Nate Monson, who is available for interviews, released the following statement:

“Transgender servicemembers have always been a part of the United States Military. President Trump’s tweets disparage and demean the sacrifices transgender servicemembers have made for our country. The message that transgender youth cannot serve their country is wrong. No one should be denied the ability to serve their country regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity. President Trump should delete his account and stop bullying the transgender community.”

WORST

He wouldn’t be Representative Steve King if he didn’t say something offensive, right? Reporting for the Associated Press, Robert Burns and Catherine Lucey quoted King as saying Trump’s supporters “will be happy to hear it. We don’t need to be experimenting with the military. Plus there’s no reason to take on that kind of financial burden.” On his Twitter feed, King commented, “Trump tweet neuters the Obama & Ash Carter military sex change experiment & flicks it into the ash heap of history.”

Among the many responses to King via Twitter, my favorite came from Andy Kopsa: “I know you are only marginally a lawmaker so here’s the deal: A Tweet isn’t a law, nor policy, nor executive order. You are icky.”

In a statement, the FAMiLY Leader organization said, “Redefining gender cannot be our military’s top priority. If embracing transgenderism in the ranks compromises the safety of the American people, then, as politically incorrect as it may be, President Trump made the right call.”

That group’s leader Bob Vander Plaats further commented on Twitter that the president had taken a “major step in strengthening military. The military should NEVER be used to advance a social agenda.”

Conservative radio host Steve Deace, who also is not a veteran, commented multiple times on social media about the issue, including this Facebook post:

People claiming you have a right to serve in the military, when we already have a laundry list of physical/mental conditions that disqualify you from service.

Those who deny their gender identity are five times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of us, but I’ve been told repeatedly today not celebrating a potentially lethal psychosis makes me a hater.

Folks done gone cray-cray.

A culture that urges those mutilating themselves to seek political advocacy instead of therapy is a culture whose light is flickering.

When Deace argued on Twitter, “There is no right to serve. We deny people enlistment for a whole host of mental and physical conditions,” longtime Republican pollster Frank Luntz replied, referring to Logan Ireland, “He’s an Air Force staff sgt. and has served without issue since 2010. Would you like to trade places with him in Kandahar?”

COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER

A few Republicans in Congress distanced themselves from Trump’s policy goal right away. Senator Joni Ernst avoided speaking directly to reporters about the issue, but her office sent a statement to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble:

“She believes what is most important is making sure service members can meet the physical training standards, and the willingness to defend our freedoms and way of life,” Ernst spokeswoman Brook Hougesen wrote in an email to the Register. “While she believes taxpayers shouldn’t cover the costs associated with a gender reassignment surgery, Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity.”

Ernst’s whole political brand was built on being a career military officer, and she is one of the most prominent combat veterans in Congress, so it’s helpful for her to explode the myth that banning transgender service would improve military readiness.

However, it would have been nice to see Ernst deliver that message to the public on camera, as Senators John McCain, Orrin Hatch, and Richard Shelby did on Wednesday. In addition, Ernst has endorsed a step backwards for transgender rights by saying soldiers should not be covered for medical expenses associated with surgery.

Iowa’s Senior Senator Chuck Grassley didn’t back up Trump, but he wasn’t a profile in courage either.

“I have great deference to what the people who run the military have to say about some of these things. And I haven’t studied their view on that,” Grassley said in a call with Iowa reporters on Wednesday. He added a moment later, “I give deference to things that Sen. Ernst would say since she’s been in the military and I never have.”

When told of Ernst’s statement, Grassley reiterated his trust in her views and experience on military issues.

“I have respect for what she has to say and I think I would let it go at that until I’ve looked into it deeper and had conversations with her,” he said. “But I also would have conversations with people at the head of our military as well as besides her.”

We have civilian control over the armed forces. Senators don’t have to defer to “people who run the military,” especially when it comes to a civil rights issue.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register got only one thing wrong in this July 27 editorial:

The fact that our commander in chief actually believes the estimated 2,450 active-duty Americans now serving their country are, by virtue of their transgender status, somehow undermining the military’s ability to prevail on the battlefield is deeply unsettling.

His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says the president’s ban is based on his belief that the mere presence of transgender Americans in the armed forces “erodes military readiness and unit cohesion.” That is the same hideous argument once used to block the integration of women and African Americans in the military and to ban gays from serving in uniform.

I would bet good money that Trump doesn’t “actually believe” anything like this. The policy is 100 percent about shoring up the social conservative base and creating a wedge issue to use against Democrats next year. Look what an unnamed White House official told Jonathan Swan of Axios:

“This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to take complete ownership of this issue. How will the blue collar voters in these states respond when senators up for re-election in 2018 like Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?”

For the same reason, I expect Iowa House and Senate Republicans to run some reprehensible bill targeting transgender people during the 2018 legislative session.

Top image: Graphic created by the Victory Institute, which “works to increase the number of LGBTQ people in public office and to provide programming, service and other support to help ensure their success.”

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