President Donald Trump got nowhere Tuesday with Democratic leadership on funding for what he called the "Great Wall" and threatened a partial government shutdown on Dec. 21 that -- as it now stands -- would not likely affect the Defense Department or military pay.
In previous budget impasses, Congress has passed emergency bills to guarantee that troops would be paid in the event of a shutdown, but there has been no movement thus far in Congress on such a measure.
Currently, a partial government shutdown could occur at midnight on Dec. 21 over the failure of Congress to pass spending bills to fund the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
The Defense Department was not in the mix, but there was no guarantee there wouldn’t be side effects for the military if negotiations on a solution continue to deteriorate.
- Trump Signs $717 Billion Defense Bill Including 2.6 Percent Troop Pay Raise
- Lawmakers Approve 2.6 Percent Troop Pay Raise
- See the proposed 2.6 percent active duty pay raise for 2019
- See the proposed 2.6 percent drill pay raise for 2019
- Military Pay calculator
The prospect for a quick compromise dissolved Tuesday in a testy, finger-pointing White House meeting between Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
Vice President Mike Pence sat silently between the two sides, his head swiveling as the sides argued back and forth. Trump allowed cameras into the opening round of the meeting and it was televised on C-Span.
"If we don't get what we want one way or the other, I am proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle, I will take the mantle of shutting down the government" to get funding for the border wall, Trump said.
The president has been demanding at least $5 billion as a downpayment on extending existing segments of the wall, but Democrats have suggested they would allot $1.3 billion.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump suggested on Twitter that the military could build the wall if Congress failed to come up with the funding, although there was no money in the existing Defense Department budget for wall construction.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said there were no plans to date to have the military build sections of the wall. "However, Congress has provided options under Title 10 U.S. Code that could permit the Department of Defense to fund border barrier projects, such as in support of counter-drug operations or national emergencies" if the military were directed to do so, he said.
Trump said the active duty troops who deployed to the border just before the mid-term elections to reinforce Customs and Border Protection have done an "incredible" job at turning back the so-called "caravans" of asylum seekers. An expanded border wall would build on their accomplishments, he said.
Pelosi accused Trump of making arguments that were "frankly, devoid of fact." She challenged him to put border wall funding to a vote in the House. "There are no votes in the House a majority vote, for the wall," Pelosi said.
Trump countered that a House vote was pointless, since there would still be a lack of votes from Democrats in the Senate to get the 60 votes needed for passage.
Schumer told Trump that "we have solutions that will pass the House and the Senate," but Trump was resisting "because you can't have your way" on the wall. "We can do border security without a wall, which is wasteful and doesn't solve the problem," Schumer said.
"If we got $5 billion, we could do a tremendous chunk of wall," Trump responded, but he added that "it's a tough issue because we are on very opposite sides."
There have been two brief government shutdowns previously this year. On Jan. 20, the government shut down for a weekend over immigration issues but re-opened on Jan. 23. Trump told Pelosi and Schumer "you got killed on that one," a reference to the political fallout.
There also was a second brief shutdown that began at midnight on Feb. 9 on budget matters but lasted only five hours.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.