ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - President Donald Trump said that a new icebreaker, “the likes of which nobody has seen before,” had been bought for the Coast Guard despite it being unclear how the ship had been paid for.
The president conducted a Christmas phone call with a representative from each of the branches of the military, including a Coast Guardsman based out of Juneau. He spoke at length about a new icebreaker bought as a “Christmas present to the Coast Guard.”
“The bad part is the price; the good part is it’s the most powerful in the world. And it can go just about anywhere,” said Trump, before adding, “the ice is in big trouble when that thing gets finished. It’ll go right through it. But it’s very expensive, but that’s okay; we have to get the best.”
The conversation, published on the White House’s official website, described that an icebreaker had been purchased but the president did not say how it had been funded.
Congress has not yet passed an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, meaning the Coast Guard has not been funded into 2019. If the shutdown continues into the new year, more than 40,000 Coast Guardsmen will soon be working without being paid.
“But you folks are going to be very proud of it," Trump said, "because you’ve seen it, I’m sure. It’s a new design, highest technology.
"But with all the technology," he continued, "it still needs very thick steel, when you get right down to it, right? It can be good technology, but you need thick steel.”
Expanding the United States’ fleet of icebreakers has been a long-term legislative priority for Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan, R - Alaska.
“In our Homeland Security FY19 Appropriations bill here in the Senate, we included funding to fully build our first polar strength icebreaker in almost fifty years. It is exceedingly unfortunate that the House does not recognize the sense of urgency, as we deal with Arctic priorities,” said Murkowski in August.
The funding for six new icebreakers, three medium and three heavy, has seemingly reached an impasse in Congress with the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations bill calling for $750 million to be spent on the ships while the House version of the bill redirects that money to be spent on funding a border wall.
Lt. Matthew Spado based out of Juneau made no comment about the icebreaker but told the president it was a “calm day here in Alaska for Christmas.”
“And we’re just here and we’re ready for any unplanned events that could be occurring, whether it’s search and rescue, environmental pollution, law enforcement, or any marine safety issues that might pop up," he said.
Per the official transcript, Trump finished his brief conversation by asking Spado about the impact of the recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Anchorage. Trump said “we got lucky” with the earthquake and that "it hit the proper location, I guess, we have to say."
Spado said Juneau didn’t experience the quake “but some of our members in Anchorage, they did sustain some structural damage to some of the buildings there.” The lieutenant said that everyone seems to be doing okay.
“We got lucky there," Trump said. "It was a really big one, but it hit a area that, I guess, we were lucky that day. Things got a little bit lucky."
Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan did not immediately reply for comment about funding for the icebreakers and the differences between the House and Senate's appropriations bills.