WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's top uniformed officer said Tuesday that he believes gender identity is not a credible reason to discharge transgender service members from the military, an opinion that puts him odds with President Trump.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has advised the White House to keep any troops who have served "with honor and value" and will continue to provide that advice.
"I would say that I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards and is worldwide deployable and is currently serving should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve," he said.
It was the latest example that the Pentagon was not onboard when the President took to Twitter on July 26 to declare a ban on transgender troops in uniform.
Trump said then that he made his decision "in consultation with my Generals," but it is not clear who gave him that advice.
The White House issued formal guidance to the Pentagon last month that followed up on Trump's tweets, and said the Pentagon should submit final plans to the White House on implementation of the transgender ban by Feb. 21.
Trump is seeking to reverse a year-old Obama administration policy that ended a longtime prohibition on transgender people serving in the armed services and the Coast Guard. Despite Trump's moves, several military leaders have publicly sought to reassure transgender service members that the Pentagon would not reimpose a ban until a panel of experts had studied the matter.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said that until the studies are complete no one now serving would be kicked out based on gender identity. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said anyone able to serve in the military should be allowed to do so.
Several powerful Republican lawmakers — including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah — also expressed opposition to the President's decision.
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to stop the proposed ban.
The Pentagon was blindsided when Trump first wrote in June that the U.S. military would not "accept or allow" transgender troops to serve "in any capacity."
Several thousand self-declared transgender service members are in uniform, including some deployed overseas, and it still isn't clear if they will be kicked out of the military or allowed to continue to serve.
In his tweets, Trump said he had decided to bar transgender troops because the military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."
Experts said neither justification was accurate or fair since the expected medical costs were negligible and transgender troops have been openly serving for the past year without disruption.
Trump's ban drew rebuke from war veterans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups.