President Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his pledge to fund a new icebreaker for the Coast Guard, comparing its necessity with his effort to build a wall on the southern border.
"It's like the border wall. We still need a wall," and the Coast Guard needs an icebreaker to replace the 42-year-old Polar Star, Trump said in a series of Christmas Day phone calls to service members around the world.
In a call to the Coast Guard's District 17 in Juneau, Alaska, he said the new icebreaker will be fitted with the latest technology, but its defining feature will be the thick steel in its hull.
"With all of the technology, it still needs very thick steel," Trump said.
Following the partial government shutdown that began at midnight last Friday over $5 billion the president is seeking to fund the wall, Trump said the new sections of the wall he proposes would consist of "steel slats."
Technology would be no substitute for the wall, despite what House and Senate Democrats claim, he said. "They can have all the drones they want, all the technology they want," but the wall is essential to border security, Trump said in the call to Alaska.
"I call it bells and whistles," he said of the technology, "but if you don't have the wall, it doesn't work."
The new icebreaker will have capabilities "the likes of which nobody's seen before. The bad part is the price," Trump said, apparently referring to the Coast Guard's estimate of $950 million.
"The good part is it's the most powerful in the world," he said. "The ice is in big trouble when that thing gets finished. It'll go right through it. It's very expensive, but that's OK."
Trump called the icebreaker a Christmas present for the Coast Guard and suggested that a contract had already gone out, although Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said earlier this month that he expected an announcement on a contract award in the spring.
In addition to the phone call to the Coast Guard, Trump also called Task Force Talon at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; Marine Attack Squadron 223 and Navy Forces Central Command in Manama, Bahrain; and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base, in Qatar.
The overall message: "There's no greater privilege for me than to serve as your commander," Trump said. "I know it's a great sacrifice for you to be away from your families."
In his own Christmas message to the troops, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned last Thursday in a dispute with Trump over his order to withdraw troops from Syria and other issues, said he was proud to serve with them.
"To those in the field or at sea, 'keeping watch by night' this holiday season, you should recognize that you carry on the proud legacy of those who stood the watch in decades past. In this world awash in change, you hold the line," Mattis said in the message prepared before his resignation.
"Far from home, you have earned the gratitude and respect of your fellow citizens, and it remains my great privilege to serve alongside you," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.