White House and Pentagon officials are providing virtually no details about President Trump's decision to ban transgender troops from the military for a simple enough reason: There aren't any.
In the history of presidential decisions, this may have one of the biggest gaps ever between the amount of consequence, symbolism and resonance, and the quantity of internal deliberation or consideration:
- Trump jumped the gun with his tweets yesterday morning, surprising the Pentagon and leaving thousands of troops in limbo because there has been no guidance on whether the decision is retroactive.
- The tweets: "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. 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. Thank you."
- That was it: No press release, no white paper, no FAQ. The rule-making and guidance process is just beginning.
- And this is a policy that administration officials feel is virtually certain to be challenged in court on constitutional grounds.
Something this big just isn't done this way. It's a victory for Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, no doubt. But there wasn't a huge fight, or clear factions like on the Paris climate decision. Vice President Pence had little to no involvement. It wasn't on the radar of most of the West Wing's New York crowd.
- Administration officials are like: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. They're not mad. They're not defensive. They're just going: Yup.
- Conservative leaders, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, had been talking to the White House about the issue. But as described by administration officials, the decision occurred almost by spontaneous combustion after Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, demanded it as part of an appropriations deal.
- The White House appreciated his help on health care, and will need what the president calls "the Freedom people" again.
- So it's part of the current West Wing instinct to go with the base. But Trump apparently gave no great thought that this was his first real foray into the culture wars.
- Defense Secretary James Mattis wanted to be deliberative for internal reasons, but his process was short-circuited by the tweets.
Stand by for answers to such questions as whether the military will continue to cover counseling and drugs, but not hormonal treatment or surgery. There's a widespread assumption that the announcement will be moderated so that current troops are grandfathered in. But who knows?