Navy Secretary Richard Spencer appeared to break with President Donald Trump on Thursday over the President’s intention to ban transgender individuals from serving in the US military.
Asked about Trump’s transgender ban, Spencer said Thursday he would carry out any order given — but added that he believed “any patriot” who wanted to serve in the military should be able to do so.
“We will process and take direction on a policy that will be developed by the secretary (with) direction from the President — and march out smartly. As I said before, on a fundamental basis, any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military,” Spencer told reporters while visiting Naval Station Norfolk, according to the Daily Press.
Spencer was confirmed as Trump’s Navy Secretary last week. He was Trump’s second pick for the job after the first, Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration over concerns about untangling his financial holdings.
Trump announced his plan to ban transgender service members on Twitter last month. The move took the Joint Chiefs of Staff by surprise, and the Pentagon has said it is awaiting an official order from Trump before making a policy change.
The White House has yet to send official guidance to the Pentagon on the ban.
In 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the military’s ban on transgender service members while giving the Pentagon time to implement the policy change. Defense Secretary James Mattis was still studying whether to allow new transgender recruits to join the military when Trump announced an outright ban.
Five active-duty transgender service members on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Trump’s Twitter directive, arguing it was unconstitutional.
Asked about the ban Thursday, Trump said he was doing the military “a great favor.”
“I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it,” Trump said. “As you know it’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”
Spencer is not the first military official to express concern over the ban. Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft pledged to “not break faith” with transgender service members in the Coast Guard while speaking at a Washington think tank earlier this month.
Zukunft added that he reached out to all 13 transgender members of the Coast Guard after Trump’s tweets announcing the ban.