Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer indicated Thursday he splits with President Trump over the president's new policy banning transgender individuals from serving in the military, saying "any patriot" who wants and qualifies to serve should be able to.
"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," Spencer told reporters during a visit to Naval Station Norfolk, according to the Daily Press. "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."
The Senate confirmed Spencer, a former Marine helicopter pilot and financier, as the 76th Navy secretary last week.
Trump announced transgender individuals would no longer be able to serve in the military "in any capacity" in a series of tweets last month.
The president's announcement caught top military officials, as well as members of Congress, by surprise.
Spencer's comments follow a promise last week by Coast Guard commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft that he would not "break faith" with the 13 Coast Guardsmen who came out since the Pentagon began allowing open service last summer.
The Pentagon hasn't received formal directives on the new policy, and the White House has said it will work with the Department of Defense to implement the transgender ban in accordance with the law.
But Trump's new transgender ban is already facing legal challenges.
Earlier this week, two advocacy groups filed a lawsuit challenging the president's policy, which argues against reversing the Obama administration's policy to allow transgender individuals to serve openly.
In 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the ban on transgender troops and announced that transgender service members would be allowed to serve openly.
Trump, who cited high costs and disruption in his original tweets, defended a ban Thursday and said he has "great respect" for the transgender community.
"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," Trump said.
The Pentagon has estimated the number of transgender troops to be in the hundreds, but the Rand Corp. and outside advocacy groups put the number as high as 8,000-15,000.