Despite assertions from a Republican lawmaker the White House privately urged Congress to vote “no” on a proposed amendment that would have banned transgender health care in the U.S. military, a top Trump administration official said Wednesday he’s “not familiar” with any such discouragement from the White House.
Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, made the comments during a guest appearance at the regular White House briefing Wednesday in response to a question from the Washington Blade.
Although Short threw cold water on the idea the White House opposed the amendment, he couched his response by vaguely acknowledging discussions of withdrawing the measure and whether it was right for major defense policy legislation.
“I’m not familiar with the White House urging a ‘no’ vote,” Short said. “I do think that there was a position as to whether or not that amendment belonged on NDAA, and there was some discussion about withdrawing, but I’m not familiar with us whipping the vote one way or the other.”
Asked to clarify whether the White House opposed the amendment itself, Short said, “The position was whether it belonged on NDAA.”
Had the House adopted the amendment and it made its way into the final version of the defense bill President Trump would sign into law, it would have barred the Pentagon from paying for transition-related care for both service members and their dependents.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) proposed the amendment to the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization bill, but it was rejected by a 214-209 vote.
The ban on transgender service was lifted during the Obama administration, but a portion of that policy enabling openly transgender people to enlist in the armed forces was left until July 1, 2017. Defense Secretary James Mattis, under pressure from the military service chiefs and Congress, agreed to delay the target date for accession another six months pending a review of transgender service.
Short’s account contrasts with a Facebook post from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), one of 24 Republican lawmakers who voted against the amendment and cited opposition from both the White House and the Pentagon in his justification for his vote.
“Sec. Mattis and the White House contacted Congress to urge us not to adopt the Hartzler Amendment to the NDAA,” Amash said. “They are reviewing the entire policy and want an opportunity to present a new policy before Congress weighs in. As a retired general, Sec. Mattis knows a lot more than most members of Congress about how to build a strong and ready force.”
The Pentagon told the Washington Blade it doesn’t take positions on legislation and didn’t respond to follow-up emails on whether it made calls to lawmakers on the amendment. According to CNN, however, Mattis privately called Hartzler to urge her to withdraw the measure, as noted by the blog Task & Purpose.
The offices of Hartzler and Amash didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment on the White House denial of whipping a vote on the amendment.