Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation from both parties took issue with President Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning announcing a ban on transgender military service “in any capacity,” although U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, said he supported the new policy.
“America needs a military comprised of patriots willing to sacrifice for this country,” U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican, told Colorado Politics in a statement. “Any American who is physically and emotionally qualified should be allowed to serve.”
Trump unveiled the policy in a series of tweets that appeared to reverse an Obama administration policy adopted last year by Defense Secretary Ash Carter that ended the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. Citing “tremendous medical costs and disruption.” the president said that the government “will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
Colorado Democrat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet denounced Trump’s decision, calling it “an obvious attempt” to draw attention from GOP attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
“Our commander-in-chief should not ban Americans who are qualified to serve in our military and are willing to risk their lives for our country,” Bennet said in a statement. “This is an obvious attempt to distract from the Republicans’ disastrous debate on health care.”
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, tweeted that she was “stunned” at Trump’s decision, adding, “This is about bigotry, not safety.”
Lamborn, however, said he agrees with Trump’s decision.
“While I appreciate and respect the willingness of anyone to step forward and serve in uniform, I agree with the president’s decision,” he told Colorado Politics in a statement. “There are too many unanswered medical, housing, readiness, and deployment questions to allow the previous policies of the Obama administration to continue. Our military must remain focused on fighting and winning conflicts and wars, any other considerations must remain secondary.”
One of Lamborn’s GOP primary challengers, El Paso County Commissioner and Air Force veteran Darryl Glenn, said he opposes Trump’s ban.
“There’s no greater honor than to be in a position to serve your country,” Glenn told Colorado Politics in a text message. “As a retired Air Force Lt. Col., I believe that military service should be based on an individuals ability to perform the mission.”
The other Republican running against Lamborn, state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, also an Air Force veteran, told Colorado Politics he backs the revised policy and called a focus on anything other than “military readiness” a “distraction.”
“I support the president’s decision,” Hill said in a statement. “I am glad the President is focused on military readiness. We are surrounded by countries and terrorist groups who hate America and after eight years of apologizing for American strength, it is right for us to make preparation to fight, win, and if necessary, die for our country. A focus on anything or anyone else in the military is a distraction from protecting our great country, that secures everyone’s rights against those that don’t.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Personnel, took Trump to task for switching course on transgender service members while Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, was in the midst of overseeing a review of the policy.
“President Trump should have allowed Secretary Mattis to finish his review of the policy that allowed transgender personnel to serve in the military,” Coffman said in a statement. “I know Secretary Mattis from his extraordinary career in the Marine Corps and as a Marine Corps combat veteran myself, I’m confident that he would have made his decision based solely on the combat effectiveness and the ‘good order and discipline’ of our military.”
While Trump said on Twitter he’d arrived at his decision “After consultation with my Generals and military experts,” BuzzFeed News reported that Pentagon officials were taken by surprise by the announcement, and some even wondered if the president might be announcing a military strike on North Korea during the nine minutes that elapsed between his first and second tweet.
Coffman’s three Democratic challengers also condemned the new policy.
“As a former Army Ranger who served with people of all backgrounds, political persuasions and orientation, I am deeply disturbed by the presidents decision,” said Jason Crow in a statement to Colorado Politics. “A person’s gender identity should never hold them back, be it in civilian life or when they are standing up to fight for our country. He is playing politics with our national security, as evidenced by the Pentagon having no knowledge of this decision. By excluding these men and women who have bravely signed up to serve, we are making our military weaker. Just as I stood up for the LGBTQ community at the DNC in 2012, I do so today and always.”
In a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Crow praised the Obama administration’s move to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers from serving openly.
Democrat Levi Tillemann, a former official in Obama’s Department of Energy and a Coffman challenger, called Trump’s announcement “disgusting,” suggesting on Twitter that the president was attempting to distract from his own policy failures and controversies gripping the administration.
“#DOD employs 15k transgender Americans. #Trump’s legislative agenda failing, Russiagate blowing up, so he punches down. Disgusting,” he tweeted.
Tillemann elaborated in a later statement: “Trump’s directive on transgender soldiers is immoral, unethical and an affront to to the transgender individuals who have served our country. It’s a calculated ploy to distract from the failures that are consuming his presidency — from a health care bill that would strip coverages from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans to the mounting evidence of his campaign’s collusion with Russia in last year’s election. As a diversionary tactic he has targeted servicemen and women and civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Even for Trump, this is a new low.”
The third Democrat seeking to unseat Coffman, Aurora attorney David Aarestad, criticized Trump’s decision in strong terms.
“President Trump’s announcement this morning shows how dramatically off course this country is going,” Aarestad told Colorado Politics. “Anyone willing to serve our country in uniform should be honored for doing so, for being willing to step forward and put the needs of the country ahead of their own. Singling out any one group of from being permitted to do so, is inappropriate, it is wrong and it is un-American.”
Chase Kohne, an Army veteran and Democrat from Castle Rock, called Trump’s move a “senseless assault.” Kohne os a Bronze Star recipient and Army Reserve major who is challenging Buck in the 4th Congressional District.
“It takes courage to sign up and serve knowing you are likely to deploy in today’s military,” Kohne said in a statement. “As an Army officer, I judge my soldiers solely on their capability to do their job and their desire to serve their country. Turning away capable and brave Americans is against everything our military’s traditions stand for.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat and candidate for governor in next year’s election, charged that Trump’s policy shift would “weaken our military.”
“Military service should be about defending freedoms, not a mechanism to deny them,” Polis said in a statement. “Transgender Americans should be able to serve our nation based on their merits and abilities. In a dangerous world, we can’t afford to weaken our military by kicking out high performing service members just because of their gender identity.”
Calling the move “wrong,” U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, said in a tweet that Trump’s decision “amounts to discrimination against soldiers serving their country.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Democratic congressional candidate Chase Kohne. This story will continue to be updated as more reaction comes in.