WALLER — U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says he backs President Donald Trump’s move to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military.
“I totally support the president in his decision,” Perry, an Air Force veteran and the former Governor of Texas, told reporters on Friday after speaking to workers at an air conditioning manufacturer. "The idea that the American people need to be paying for these types of operations to change your sex is not very wise from a standpoint of economics.”
Trump announced the transgender troop ban earlier this week through a series of tweets that injected a fresh dose of confusion into a U.S. Capitol already best by political chaos.
"After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow ... transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military," Trump tweeted. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming ... victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption."
Perry, who frequently touts his five-year tenure as an Air Force cargo pilot, backed that position on Friday, speaking to reporters at Daikin Texas Technology Park, a sprawling campus that produces heating, ventilation and cooling equipment.
“I think the president makes some good decisions about making sure that we have a force that is capable,” he said, focusing on the potential medical costs of sex reassignment surgeries.
A Rand Corp. study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense and published last year estimated that the cost of extending gender transition-related health care coverage to transgender troops would range from $2.4 million to $8.4 million.
Trump’s critics have described the cost as minuscule, particularly when considering that the military spends $84 million each year on medicines to combat erectile dysfunction — nearly half of the sum on Viagra, according to a 2015 Military Times analysis.
Asked about that comparison, Perry said: “You know what, I don’t check on the price of Viagra.”
Also on Friday, Perry renewed his call for Washington to find a long-term storage site for thousands of metric tons of high-level radioactive waste piling up at nuclear reactor sites across the country — whether or not that includes Texas.
“What I think is a tragedy is that we have 38 states that have nuclear waste that is stored in various forms of storage – some of it not very well protected,” he said. “And I do worry about that, from the standpoint of the citizens of this country. I think we have a moral obligation to address nuclear waste, to store it in a way that’s as safe as possible.”
Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists — formerly owned by the late Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, a longtime political donor to Perry — has applied for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission permit to bring much of the nation’s high-level waste to its low-level radioactive waste dump in Andrews County. Due to financial turmoil, however, the company paused that effort in April.
Perry, long bullish on the economic prospects of Texas as a home for the highly radioactive material, would not comment specifically on Waste Control Specialists’ struggles.
“I think there’s a path forward for that company,” he told reporters. "I don’t know with great detail where they are from a business model.”
Disclosure: The Harold Simmons Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.