WASHINGTON — President Trump accused Democrats on Friday of holding American troops' paychecks hostage in their quest to strike a deal on immigration – but it all rests on lawmakers' willingness to bust a Jan. 19 deadline to reach an agreement to fund the government.
If lawmakers can't agree on a deal, the government will shut down. Pentagon officials say that means troops – even those deployed to war zones in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – would not get paid on schedule. But that doesn't mean the military will collapse: Ships continue to steam, warplanes fly and troops go on patrol.
The issue will come to a head in the coming days, and Trump is already staking out his negotiating position. "Sadly, Democrats want to stop paying our troops and government workers in order to give a sweetheart deal, not a fair deal, for DACA," Trump tweeted. "Take care of our Military, and our Country, FIRST!"
Some Democrats have announced that they will not support a spending bill without an agreement on the issue of "DREAMers." Trump killed the Obama-administration Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that had provided legal protection to as many as 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, and challenged lawmakers to come up with a solution.
This week, Trump demanded that a fix for the DREAMers must include money for a wall along the border with Mexico, one of his central campaign promises. "It's got to include the wall. We need the wall for security," Trump said at a news conference Wednesday. "Any solution has to include the wall, because without the wall, it all doesn’t work."
If the government does shut down, troops and Defense Department civilians in critical jobs are required to report for duty, David Norquist, the Pentagon’s comptroller, said in December before another short-term spending deal was reached. But their paychecks will not be issued until there's an agreement on funding the government.
"First item is military personnel report to work," Norquist said. "But we are not able to pay them until the shutdown ends. Civilians, it depends on what we call 'excepted activities.' If they're performing an excepted activity – safety of property, protection of life – they report to work. If not, they will either given time to come in and shut down their work. Or they will stay at home, we'll send them instructions on that.
"I cannot emphasize too much how destructive a shutdown is," he continued. "If we have -- we've talked before about the importance of maintenance on weapons systems and others, but if it's not an excepted activity, there'll be work stoppage on many of those maintenance functions."
The effects of a shutdown would ripple through the military, Norquist said. For instance, death benefits for troops killed cannot be paid to families.
But critical national-security protection would continue, he said.
"Even under a shutdown, we continue to support and protect the security of the country," he said.