Senator John McCain backs fresh effort to block Trump transgender ban

Republican Senator and war hero John McCain has backed a new effort to block Donald Trump’s transgender ban.

Donald Trump’s Defense Secretary James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis is pushing ahead with the administration’s plans to ban transgender people from the military.

In the face of multiple civil rights lawsuits, Trump officials are drawing up plans to block recruitment of any military personnel who identify as transgender, while they are working on plans to ‘purge’ existing soldiers from next year.

As supporters of LGBT rights in Congress rush to try and block the President’s action on the issue, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain has backed the plan.

McCain, who was famously held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was joined by Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Jack Reed and Republican colleague Senator Susan Collins in launching the new bill.

John McCain

Collins and Gillibrand previously attempted to move an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to tackle the ban, but were blocked by Senate Republicans.

But the new bill will have far more clout as it is backed by McCain.

The bill would block the Department of Defence from involuntarily separating, or denying the reenlistment or continuation in service in the Armed Forces of currently serving transgender service members solely on the basis of the member’s gender identity.

It would also “require Secretary Mattis to complete his review of accession of transgender individuals into the Armed Forces by the end of this year and report the results to Congress”.

Senator McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said: “When less than one percent of Americans are volunteering to join the military, we should welcome all those who are willing and able to serve our country.

“Any member of the military who meets the medical and readiness standards should be allowed to serve—including those who are transgender. The Senate Armed Services Committee will review the results of the DOD study on accession and will continue to work closely with our military leaders on any policy changes as we conduct oversight on this important issue.”

Senator Gillibrand, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel said: “Despite being denied a vote on my bipartisan amendment to defend our transgender service members, we are not giving up in this fight.

“I am so grateful to Chairman McCain, Senator Collins, and Ranking Member Reed for joining me to introduce this bipartisan bill to block the Defense Department from kicking transgender troops out of our military.

“Thousands of brave transgender Americans love our country enough to risk their lives for it, fight for it, and even die for it, and Congress should honor them and let them serve.

“Doing otherwise would only harm our readiness at a time when our military is deployed around the world in defense of our country. I am proud to lead this fight in the Senate, and I urge all of my colleagues to join us in supporting this bill.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Senator Collins said: “Our armed forces should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country.

“If individuals are willing to put on the uniform of our country, be deployed in war zones, and risk their lives for our freedoms, then we should be expressing our gratitude to them, not trying to kick them out of the military.”

Senator Reed said: “The President has manufactured a crisis for political reasons, one that is discriminatory and deeply harmful to those currently serving.

“Transgender service members deployed today are serving with honor and distinction. The last thing they need while serving in a combat zone is to worry about being involuntarily separated.

“Congress needs to act on a bipartisan basis to do what is best for our country and national security, and that includes overturning President Trump’s poorly conceived transgender ban.”

Senator McCain is considered a moderate under today’s rapidly-shifting GOP political landscape.

He is now softer than most Republicans on LGBT rights, and won praise in 2016 when he helped block his colleagues from using defence legislation as a proxy to pare back Obama’s LGBT rights protections.

The Senator also vowed to defend LGBT people after the Orlando massacre, saying: “To all those visited by fear in the aftermath of this attack, including the citizens of Orlando and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community across the nation, I can only say we must not and will not give in to fear.

“We must resist and defeat this evil – together.”

Senator McCain’s rapidly shifting stances on LGBT issues have come at a surprise to many, given his personal and strong opposition to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the past.

His shift on the issue has been partly attributed to lobbying from his daughter Meghan McCain, an LGBT rights advocate who sits on the board of rights charity GLAAD.