The White House is preparing guidance for the Pentagon to carry out President Trump's decision to bar transgender people from the military, but the ban appears to have exceptions for current service members, according to a military officer familiar with the deliberations.
The draft details suggest that White House officials are backing away from the blanket ban Trump described, instead giving discretion to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis to retain people now serving in the military while barring new entrants who are transgender.
Mattis reportedly could allow a self-declared transgender service member to remain in the military if the person is considered capable of being deployed in a war zone, in military exercises or aboard ship.
The Pentagon would have to stop admitting transgender people into the military, end payments for medical treatment related to gender transition, and fully implement the restrictions within six months, according to the draft guidelines, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal in Thursday's editions.
The guidelines are not final and have not been officially sent to the Pentagon. They are still being vetted by Trump administration lawyers to try to protect against likely legal challenges.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn't say whether the White House was close to sending such guidance to the Defense Department. "When we have an announcement on that I'll let you know," she said.
In anticipation, however, one congressional critic vowed to seek legislation to undo any ban. Democrats and Republicans have said that anyone who wants to serve should be allowed to do so.
"When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn't care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a Democrat who lost both her legs in the attack during her Army service in Iraq.
"If the president enacts this ban, which would harm our military readiness, the Democratic and Republican members of Congress who oppose this discrimination must enact legislation that prevents it from taking effect," Duckworth continued in her statement.
Trump unexpectedly announced the ban on Twitter on July 26, writing that the military would no longer "accept or allow" transgender troops to serve "in any capacity."
The announcement was a reversal for Trump, who had promised repeatedly during his presidential campaign to support the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Although the president wrote that he decided after "consultation with … Generals and military experts," top military officials said they were blindsided. In an unusual move, the Pentagon indicated it would not take action without fuller presidential guidance through proper channels.
Trump's tweet was an attempt to undo a policy of his predecessor. The Obama administration last year lifted a long-standing ban on transgender service members, allowing those in the ranks to come out openly. The Pentagon was preparing to allow openly transgender people to join the military in 2018.
The day after Trump's tweet, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, told commanders in a memo that the current permissive policy would remain until "direction" came from the White House and "implementation guidance" was issued by the secretary of Defense.
A change in military personnel policy at a minimum can take months of study and preparation before it is put into place.
If the Trump administration declares some service members can't be deployed on ships, in combat or for military exercises because of their gender identity, the Pentagon could be vulnerable to lawsuits claiming its standard is discriminatory.
Five transgender women in the military filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month, accusing Trump and the Pentagon of unconstitutional discrimination and violating their rights to equal protection and due process.
Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Assn., a Washington-based organization that advocates for LGBT rights in the military, said in a statement, "Transgender service members are just as deployable as any other service member."
"These brave men and women are already risking their lives for this country around the world," she added.
Trump wrote in his tweets that he wanted to bar transgender troops because of "tremendous medical costs" and "disruption." Both concerns appear to be unfounded, according to studies.
A Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Pentagon last year estimated there were about 2,450 transgender people serving on active duty. It concluded that allowing transgender troops to serve openly would cost $2.4 million to $8.4 million in additional healthcare costs annually, a tiny fraction of the Pentagon's $6-billion healthcare budget.
The study also predicted "little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness."
Polls show that American voters overwhelmingly support allowing transgender people to serve in the military. That is true regardless of age, gender, education level or racial group; the exception is Republicans, who are opposed by a wide margin.
In a Quinnipiac University Poll conducted July 27 to Aug. 1, 68% of voters and 55% of those in military households said they supported permitting transgender service members, while 27% of voters (39% in military families) were opposed.
Times staff writers Noah Bierman and W.J. Hennigan contributed to this report.
4 p.m.: Updated with information on public opinion polling regarding transgender people in the military.