POLITICS

Former Coast Guard Head Calls Shutdown 'Disgraceful' And 'Insulting'

Thad Allen, retired Coast Guard commandant, decried "the constitutional amnesia that has swept Washington.”

NEW LONDON, Conn. ― A former Coast Guard commandant on Thursday tore into President Donald Trump and Congress over the ongoing partial government shutdown, calling the budget impasse “disgraceful” and “insulting.”

Retired Adm. Thad Allen, who held the Coast Guard’s top position from 2006 until 2010, visited the Coast Guard Academy on Thursday to meet with servicemen and servicewomen at the pop-up food pantry on campus. Two days earlier, some 42,000 Coast Guard members missed their paychecks for the first time since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

“This is a manufactured problem that could be solved,” Allen told HuffPost of the shutdown ― the longest in U.S. history. “The price is being paid by Coast Guard men and women. In my view, that’s untenable.”

Thad Allen, retired Coast Guard commandant, speaks with a volunteer at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, on
Thad Allen, retired Coast Guard commandant, speaks with a volunteer at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, on Thursday.

Allen, a beloved figure in the Coast Guard community known for straight talk, became visibly emotional as he described the “remarkable courage and resiliency” of service members struggling to make ends meet.

The shutdown is happening “while many of them are expected to come in every day, man boats, fly aircraft, break ice and do things that need to be done to support this country and carry out their mission,” Allen said.

“It’s an extraordinary ask of this political establishment to tell them, ‘Go to work, we’re not paying you, your families are at risk, and we don’t know when it’s going to be over,’” Allen said. “That’s not responsible government.”

Coast Guard members are the only members of the U.S. military going unpaid as the shutdown stretches into its fourth week. Though military agencies such as the Army and Navy are housed under the Defense Department, the Coast Guard is a part of the Department of Homeland Security ― one of several agencies affected by the partial shutdown.

As such, the vast majority of Coast Guard members, including active duty and those deployed overseas, are working without pay. Members whose duties have been deemed not essential, such as Coast Guard Academy maintenance employees, are furloughed. 

The Southeastern Connecticut chapter of the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association has been operating the makeshift food pantry out of the academy’s Leamy Hall to help Coast Guard members and families struggling to make ends meet. 

On Thursday, the pantry was buzzing with men and women ― young and old, single and with families ― picking up necessities. Many never imagined they would need to rely on a such a service.

Coast Guard members volunteering at the Coast Guard Academy food pantry accept donations.
Coast Guard members volunteering at the Coast Guard Academy food pantry accept donations.

It’s unclear when the shutdown could end. Trump has vowed to veto a spending bill that would reopen impacted federal agencies if it doesn’t include $5 billion toward his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats have steadfastly rejected his demand, calling a wall ineffective and immoral.

“It’s not responsible leadership ― executive, congressional ― it doesn’t matter,” Allen said. This is about “what the government owes the American people. ... The current leadership in Washington is not meeting their constitutional duties.”

Allen warned the shutdown could pose a risk to national security if it drags on much longer.

“If you get to some point where you have people required to work, not being paid, their families subjected to stress, I think sooner or later you have to expect there’s going to be a problem with readiness and ability to respond,” Allen said.

“Senior leaders in this country ought to pay closer attention to the risk that’s being created by all of this,” he added. “Sooner or later, we’re going to have to do something about the constitutional amnesia that has swept Washington.”

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