President Trump announced on Wednesday, via Twitter, that transgender people would be banned from serving in the U.S. military. The decision appeared to surprise officials at the Pentagon, who initially referred press questions to the White House. It also seemed to catch Republican members of the Senate off guard: “I read about it when you reported it,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. As of Tuesday evening, a majority of GOP senators had not commented on the new ban, according to a FiveThirtyEight review of senators’ statements. Most of those who did comment, however, didn’t seem thrilled by Trump’s decision.
FiveThirtyEight found statements from 19 of the 52 Republican senators.3 Of those, only Sen. David Perdue of Georgia and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma have come out in favor of Trump’s decision. Inhofe argued that there were already “enough problems with social experimentation in the military.” Perdue wasn’t as enthusiastic, but said the president was within his rights in making his decision. Neither senator’s comment was especially surprising: Inhofe has a long history of social conservatism, while Perdue is among the most conservative members of the Senate according to his first dimension DW-Nominate score,4 which measures members of Congress’s ideology on a left-right spectrum.
Nine Republicans, however, came out against Trump’s decision. Some of these senators are moderates, including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said that, “I was one who said that those who are openly gay should not be denied the opportunity to serve our country and I feel the same way about transgender.” But it wasn’t just moderates. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska are in the middle of the Republican caucus ideologically, and they too seem to come out against Trump’s ban.
Another eight Republicans issued statements or made comments that avoided taking a clear position on Trump’s decision. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is rated as very conservative by DW-Nominate but is generally considered a libertarian, said he refused to comment on the president’s Twitter feed. The more moderate Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee felt similarly.
Other senators didn’t explicitly oppose the president’s decision but seemed to be leaning against the ban or at least wanted to hear more information. Moderate Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and the more conservative Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska wanted to consult the Pentagon before any implementation of the transgender ban. Another conservative, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, didn’t say if he agreed with Trump, but put out this statement: “During his entire public career, [Toomey] has supported measures to protect individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Over the next couple of days, we’ll see if more senators issue statements. Right now, most of them are concentrating on the Republican health care bill. Senators may also try to figure out where the public stands on the issue. Little public polling has been released on the topic of transgender Americans serving in the military. But if the preliminary positions taken by the senators are any indication, Trump may have misjudged the political environment within the Senate GOP.