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Graham: Immigration deal is the price to pay to boost military, national security

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March, 2017.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 17, 2018

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham, a chief negotiator vying for a bipartisan immigration deal, pleaded with Republicans on Wednesday to consider the plan in exchange for addressing an underfunded military and other hobbled national security issues.

The South Carolina Republican, a key figure in a recent meeting at which President Donald Trump was accused of referring to the countries of Haiti and the African continent as “shithole countries,” pleaded for other Republicans to consider what’s at stake.

Facing a government shutdown deadline Friday, Democrats are threatening to oppose any funding deal that doesn’t extend protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients.

Even as a legal case winds its ways through U.S. courts, as many as 800,000 DACA recipients, also known as “dreamers,” could face deportation starting in March.

“For the Republicans to believe we will get all the defense funding we desperately want and need and we’ll deal with the dreamers later, how naïve can you be?” Graham told a crowd gathered at D.C.-based conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute during a discussion on national security. “To my Republican friends, we need to deal with the DACA kids. If that’s the price [to boost the military, other national security efforts], I will gladly pay it.”

There’s plenty at stake for servicemembers. A government shutdown could halt military pay and programs.

However, there’s a stiff partisan divide on an immigration fix, and Republicans need Democratic support to approve a funding plan to keep the government running after Friday.

In recent months, Congress has passed three temporary funding bills, called continuing resolutions, to keep the military and the rest of the government operating for the 2018 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

Some House Republicans have recently floated a temporary funding plan that doesn’t include an immigration fix, but addresses the Child Health Insurance Program, another chief concern for Democrats. It’s not clear whether that proposal could pass both chambers of Congress.

“By now, it is clear that we are not yet ready to move ahead with a major agreement on long-term funding for our armed forces, nor on immigration policy,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday from the upper chamber’s floor.

A shutdown would force the government to send home non-essential workers with no pay, shut down national parks and museums and trigger new administrative delays, among concerns for the Department of Defense.

A 16-day shutdown in October 2013 caused a rash of military programs to come to a sudden halt, including military and civilian personnel pay, the disruption of base services such as commissaries and death gratuity payments for 30 Gold Star families. That year, Congress quickly passed a bill to pay military personnel.

The budget crisis isn’t new to Washington. The last 12-month government budget, which began October 2016 and included defense spending matters, wasn’t approved until May 2017, more than halfway into the fiscal year.

This time, there’s a $700 billion defense policy plan in the balance, which won’t reach its funding priorities without a budget deal for the 2018 fiscal year. Without it, the plan could trigger sequestration, across-the-board budget cuts that were installed in 2011 to keep spending limits in place.

“Of all the dumb ideas I’ve been witness to, sequestration was the top of the list for me,” said Graham, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Sequestration kicked in 2011, and the military is in a bad way and those who created this mess need to fix it.”

The military funding concern has grown, as a smaller-sized force couldn’t come at a worst time as global threats increase, Graham said. This, with weakened interrogation and detention practices for terrorism suspects have added to an overall, hobbled U.S. national security picture.

“Why would we cut our military to historic lows, take off the table interrogation or detention of our enemies?” he said. “This is insane.”

Still, Graham argued national security is in a better position than it was a year ago under former President Barack Obama. Graham lauded several moves by Trump’s administration.

“Here’s the good news, we are on the offense,” Graham said of the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Trump wants to “dramatically increase defense spending,” he said. “One of the reasons I want to help the president is he has a very hard job right now.”

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter: @cgrisales

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