President Donald Trump this weekend accused congressional Democrats of holding military funding hostage for “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, endangering national security on multiple fronts.
“This isn’t a Republican thing or Democratic thing or anything,” he said during a Friday night campaign-style event in Florida. “It’s time for Democrats in Congress to drop the threats of shutdowns of government and support a clean appropriations bill that fully supports and funds our military. We can’t play games anymore.”
The comments come amid negotiations among congressional leaders on a fiscal 2018 spending deal in advance of Dec. 22, when the latest short-term federal spending measure expires. Troops could face paycheck delays, federal workers could face furloughs and federal programs could stop over the Christmas holiday if a new funding measure isn’t approved by then.
The remarks also came about a day after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met with Trump at the White House to discuss a possible path forward on a budget plan. Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but Senate Democrats hold enough seats to block some legislative proposals.
Last month, when Trump made similar remarks attacking Democrats over Twitter, Pelosi and Schumer responded by boycotting a meeting with Trump on possible solutions ahead. Whether the latest round of comments result in similar negotiation problems is unclear.
Democrats have pushed for increases in non-military spending to go along with hefty defense spending hikes, arguing that State Department operations and Veterans Affairs’ programs are as critical to the nation’s security as additional Pentagon priorities. Agreeing on those spending totals has been the major sticking point for progress on appropriations measures in Congress
Pelosi also said last week that she is pushing to include in any budget deal a fix to the Trump’s revocation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects some young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Trump seized on that item at his rally.
“We are building our military stronger. … It’s wrong and dangerous for congressional Democrats to hold troop funding hostage for amnesty, letting people pour into our country; we don’t know who they are,” he said.
Supporters of DACA rules note that participating individuals are already in the United States and have passed multiple security background checks, along with periodic monitoring. But opponents have worked to tie the issue to larger concerns about immigration and national security.
Trump also promised again to “build that wall” — a physical barrier on the U.S. southern border with the goal of blocking illegal border crossings from Mexico. The inclusion of that multibillion-dollar project in budget plans has also become a sticking point in the budget negotiations.
Like some congressional Republican leaders, the president said on Friday that military funding must take top priority over other government priorities.
“We believe the United States military is the greatest force for justice in the history of the world, and we are going to take care of it and we are going to properly fund it,” he said. “We are going to have the finest weapons because when we do all of that, we are much, much, safer.”
Plans under discussion on Capitol Hill now have outlined an increase in federal spending caps of more than $182 billion for fiscal 2018 and 2019, with about 60 percent of that money going to defense spending.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.