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Pentagon prepares to accept transgender recruits beginning in January, as Trump’s ban hangs in the balance

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The U.S. military is preparing to accept transgender recruits for the first time beginning in January, the Pentagon said Wednesday, the latest signal that President Trump’s desired ban may not materialize after all.

Officials are “taking steps to be prepared” to bring in the first transgender recruits on Jan. 1, as required by a federal court order issued recently, said Army Maj. David Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman. He declined to comment further, citing open litigation, but said that the Defense Department and Justice Department are consulting on the issue.

Government lawyers appealing the ruling in Washington want U.S. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to delay the Jan. 1 deadline, saying the military cannot be “adequately prepared” by then to begin accepting transgender applicants. In a motion filed Thursday, they asked Kollar-Kotelly to render a decision by noon Monday.

The court battle stems from Trump’s July 26 announcement on Twitter that the U.S. government “will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” He cited the military’s need to focus on “decisive and overwhelming victory” without being “burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption” that he said having transgender people in the military would cause.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a memo the following day to say that transgender service members who already are serving would be treated with dignity and respect as the Pentagon sorted out its new policy, effectively putting any change on hold.

Several people sued the federal government afterward, including in Maryland and the nation’s capital. In Washington, Kollar-Kotelly said in a preliminary injunction that the policy “does not appear to be supported by any facts.”

Federal judge in D.C. blocks part of Trump’s transgender military ban

She added: “There is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have any negative effect on the military at all. In fact, there is considerable evidence that it is the discharge and banning of such individuals that would have such effects.”

In Maryland, U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis issued a ruling last month that went further, blocking the administration’s ability to deny funding for gender reassignment surgery. In his ruling, Garbis wrote that transgender service members have “demonstrated that they are already suffering harmful consequences,” including the cancellation of surgeries and the inability to commission as military officers.

Trump wants to restore the policy in place before the Obama administration overturned the military’s ban on transgender personnel.  Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has formed a panel of experts to conduct a review, saying in August that the panel’s members would provide advice and recommendations on implementing Trump’s directive. Based on those findings, Mattis is expected to submit a new policy plan to the White House in late February, with implementation set for late March.

A study commissioned by the Pentagon and cited by the Obama administration as it lifted the ban on transgender service in July 2016 found that there was little impact to military operations by allowing transgender service. There already are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender people among the 1.3 million troops on active duty, the study found.

Mattis has questioned whether those numbers are accurate.

Ann Marimow and Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report, which has been updated.