Bob Woodward’s new book provides former confirmation that Donald Trump blindsided some of his top aides with the transgender military ban – and also reports that the president referred to gender-confirmation surgery as “getting clipped.”
Trump’s July 2017 tweet announcing the ban – which is currently blocked by courts as lawsuits against it proceed – came an hour before he was scheduled to meet advisers to discuss proposals on the matter from the National Security Council, according to a Washington Examiner report drawn from an advance copy of the Woodward book, Fear: Trump in the White House.
“What’d you think of my tweet?” Trump later asked his then-chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Woodward recounts. “I think it would've been better if we had a decision memo, looped [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis in,” Priebus replied.
Mattis was on vacation at the time and was also surprised by the tweet. One of his aides, Sally Donnelly, called White House strategist Steve Bannon and told him Mattis objected to the ban, which reversed President Barack Obama’s policy of allowing trans troops to serve openly.
“Hey, we've got a problem with the boss,” she said, according to Woodward. "We can't stand by this transgender decision. This is just not right. They are American citizens.”
But Bannon, in Woodward's account, claimed the ban was justified because trans people were joining the military in order to have their transition procedures paid for. “These guys are coming over to get full surgery. We're supposed to pay for that?" Bannon told Donnelly. “You've got to take one for the team.”
Trump reportedly made the same argument, which questions the patriotism of trans recruits while ignoring the fact that many have completed their transition before entering the military and some do not desire surgery or other procedures.
“What the fuck? They're coming in here, they're getting clipped,” Trump told Bannon, as Woodward recounts. “Not going to happen.” Someone had provided Trump a tremendously inflated cost for the surgery, $250,000 per individual. Religious right groups and congressional Republicans backing the ban have offered inflated figures, but even theirs are lower, more in the neighborhood of $100,000 per person, and a study by the LGBTQ-supportive Palm Center cited an average per-person cost of $30,000.
Lawyers from the armed forces “were prepared to offer Trump four options: Keep the Obama policy, give Mattis leeway to come up with his own plan, issue a presidential order to accommodate transgender troops already in the military, or ban all transgender troops from serving,” the Examiner reports, based on Woodward’s book. But he went ahead and tweeted before meeting with them. Several months later, Mattis wrote a memo outlining the justification for the ban.
Trump claimed to have consulted with military leaders on the ban before sending his tweet, but other sources have said the primary forces behind the ban were Vice President Mike Pence and activists from the religious right. They lobbied against funding of transition-related health care for trans troops, and some called for an outright ban. Obama and his last Defense secretary, Ash Carter, actually did get input from military leaders and other experts.
Woodward’s book will be released Tuesday.