WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee blasted President Donald Trump this weekend for his remarks encouraging troops to lobby lawmakers to follow the White House in the ongoing budget debate.
“We need to be one-hundred percent clear that it is utterly beyond the pale for the commander in chief to publicly tell members of the armed services that they should lobby Congress on his behalf,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
“Doing so puts them in an untenable position and disrespects their longstanding professional practices as well as their duty to remain apolitical. President Trump has done this before, and he cannot be allowed to keep doing it.”
On Saturday, during a commissioning ceremony for the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford in Virginia, Trump told a crowd of military personnel that he was pushing for significant defense spending increases in his fiscal 2018 budget request.
“Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable, and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve, and you will get,” he said.
“Believe me. I will tell you, you will get it. Don’t worry about it. But I don’t mind getting a little hand. So call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it.
“And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”
The comments were greeted with applause from the gathered crowd but appeared to be in violation of military rules against politicking in the ranks. They also drew questions from critics about whether Trump’s words could be interpreted as an order from the country’s top military official.
Military rules do not prohibit troops from voting or donating to political parties. But troops are reminded nearly every election cycle not to appear in uniform at political rallies and not to take an active role in political campaign, to avoid giving the appearance of the military trying to influence civilian elections.
Smith said he condemned the remarks. “President Trump has done this before, and he cannot be allowed to keep doing it.”
White House officials dismissed Smith’s comments but did not respond to other questions about Trump’s remarks. Trump supporters have repeatedly defended his speaking style as less formal than his predecessors and blasted critics for strict interpretations of his words.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.