House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday he backs a proposed amendment to major defense policy legislation that would bar the Pentagon from paying transition-related health care for transgender service members.
Ryan made the remarks under questioning from the Washington Blade during his regular news conference on Thursday ahead of a vote of the amendment, which was introduced by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and approved by Republican leadership for a vote as part of the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization bill.
Asked if he backs the measure and predicts it’ll pass, Ryan replied, “Yeah. I think it’s important that we work closely with the DOD on this. As you probably know, Secretary Mattis is under a review on this right now, and so that I want to make sure that what we do is in close coordination with them.”
The Wisconsin Republican said he wants to Defense Secretary James Mattis on the issue even though Ryan backs an amendment that would effectively override the Pentagon’s decision on service by transgender troops.
“We’ll see what happens with the Hartzler amendment and she also is concerned about this,” Ryan said. “Again, I think it’s important that we coordinate closely with DOD as they review this.”
Ryan dodged questions from the Blade on how he could back an amendment overriding Mattis while at the same time expressing a commitment to work with him on transgender service, deferring to Hartzler.
“It’s a free process,” Ryan said. “It’s open process. She can bring an amendment to the floor if she wants to.”
David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s government affairs director, assailed Ryan in a statement for his remarks, saying claims of an “open process” are bogus.
“Speaker Ryan’s claims that this process was somehow open are completely false,” Stacy said. “There were several pro-LGBTQ amendments submitted by members of Congress and not a single one made it through Ryan’s so-called ‘open process.’ Speaker Ryan and GOP leadership intentionally cleared the path for Rep. Hartzler’s dangerous anti-transgender amendment to be made in order and fully share responsibility for this attack on transgender service members and their families.”
Two pro-LGBT amendments proposed for the defense authorization bill were a measure from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) seeking a military the ban on gay blood donations and a measure form Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) that would have commended LGBT service members.
Stacy also criticized Ryan for asserting he wants to work with Mattis on transgender service while pushing an amendment at the same time interfering with the Pentagon on the issue.
“Despite his purported desire to work with the Pentagon, the Pentagon has not asked for this amendment and Secretary Mattis opposes it,” Stacy said. “We strongly urge the House to vote against this abhorrent amendment to strip transition-related health care from active duty troops and their families.”
It remains to be seen whether the House vote on the amendment — which marks the first time ever the U.S. House has voted on a measure specifically targeting transgender people — will be successful.
The measure seeks to bar the Defense Department from spending funds on gender transition — except for mental health services — under its health care system for service members. That restriction would apply not only to service members who need transition-related care, such as hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery, but also the dependents of all service members, such as a transgender spouse or child.
Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the ban on transgender military service last year, allowing transgender people within the military to come out without fear of discharge, but put in place a plan that would only openly transgender people to enlist in the military beginning July 1, 2017.
Earlier this month under the Trump administration, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced a six-month delay in allowing transgender accessions in aftermath for request from the military service chiefs and consternation from Republicans in Congress.
The amendment comes to floor after Mattis announced a six-month delay in an Obama-era policy decision set for July 1, 2017, to begin to allow openly transgender people in the armed forces.
At her regular conference just prior to Ryan’s presser, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on Republicans to withdraw the amendment.
“Earlier today, I called on Republicans to withdraw their mean-spirited and discriminatory Hartzler amendment targeting transgender servicemen in the defense bill,” Pelosi said. “This amendment reverses some of the work of bipartisan efforts to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ policy.”
Asked by the Blade how confident she is the amendment would fall, Pelosi said Democratic votes would be lined up against it, but the fate of the measure is up to Republicans.
“It will depend on the Republicans; we’ll have a very strong Democratic vote against it,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi said the amendment came up during House Democrats’ whip meeting Thursday morning and she felt her caucus had “very strong” opposition to the measure.
Referencing a House vote last year affirming support for former President Obama’s executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination — which later failed after some Republicans changed their votes — Pelosi said, “We have had some good support from Republicans in the past.”
“We won, then they made people change their vote, and that was terrible, and then we had to take it up again,” Pelosi said.