In the runup to the current government shutdown, Donald Trump tweeted almost obsessively about the military, attacking Democrats’ patriotism by arguing that failing to endorse the Republican proposal would hurt U.S. troops. It’s a cheap line about an issue the president doesn’t understand.
And as the L.A. Times reported, it wasn’t just Trump.
Speaking to U.S. troops involved in bombing Islamic State militants in Syria, Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday launched a broadside at Democrats over the government shutdown, accusing the opposition party of “playing politics with military pay.”
It is unusual for a sitting vice president to use a meet-and-greet with service members to make political attacks.
We could note at this point that Pence, a fringe congressman in the not-too-distant past, used to be rather enthusiastic about his support for government shutdowns. Or we could note how dangerous it is for national officeholders to take steps like Pence’s to mix partisan politics and military service. (Phillip Carter wrote last summer, “This is what leaders do in banana republics: Instruct the people with guns to join the political fray.”)
But perhaps the most important detail is the simple fact that Pence appeared to be brazenly lying to servicemen and women. Almost immediately after the shutdown began, it was a Democrat – Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) – who sought support for a measure that would protect the troops’ paychecks from the effects of the shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected it. Yesterday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) pushed the same idea, and again Republicans balked.
This stands in sharp contrast to the 2013 shutdown. On the first day of the shutdown, Barack Obama not only signed a bipartisan measure to protect military paychecks, he also recorded a video message to the troops to assuage their concerns.
This year, Trump has made no comparable message to the military, has signed no legislation to protect servicemembers’ paychecks, and watched his vice president play politics with the troops in ways that pushed the boundaries of propriety.
It’s hard to blame Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran, for pushing back against the White House’s nonsense.
In remarks on the Senate floor on Saturday, the Illinois lawmaker rejected Trump World’s attempts to connect the Democratic position on the shutdown to support for U.S. servicemen and women:
“This morning, Donald Trump tweeted that, I quote, ‘Democrats are holding our Military hostage’ in this shut down – just the latest in a string of recent comments where he accuses Democrats like me of not caring about our military. And it’s the latest example of him failing to show leadership or take responsibility for leading this nation.
“Does he even know that there are servicemembers in harm’s way right now watching him, looking for their Commander in Chief to show leadership rather than try to deflect blame? Or that his own Pentagon says that the short-term funding plans that he seems intent on pushing is actually harmful not just to the military, but to our national security?
“I spent my entire adult life looking out for the well-being, the training, the equipping of the troops for whom I was responsible. Sadly, this is something the current occupant of the Oval Office does not seem to care to do.”
Duckworth, referencing Trump’s background as a multiple-deferment draft dodger, dismissed the president as “Cadet Bone Spurs.” As best as I can tell, he hasn’t yet responded in kind.