President Donald Trump said Thursday night that he is willing to subordinate balancing the federal budget in favor of strengthening the military, possibly putting him on a path to clashing with his own pick for budget director.
"Our military is more important to me than a balanced budget," the president declared in an interview with commentator Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel.
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Prioritizing the military over balancing the budget isn't at odds with positions Trump expressed during the campaign. While he said on the campaign trail that he did want to balance the budget, he also said that he knew it would take time and that rebuilding the military and America's industrial infrastructure were equally as or even more important.
But the president's flat statement Thursday night could put Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, Trump's nominee to direct the White House Office of Management and Budget, in an uncomfortable position.
Mulvaney, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus and an early adherent of the limited-government tea party movement, is among the leading budget hawks in Congress, having co-sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment to require balancing the federal budget.
Mulvaney has pushed for large cuts in federal spending and has opposed increases in funding for the military. In 2013, he led the fight to cut $3.5 billion from the Defense Department's fiscal 2014 appropriation for military operations in Afghanistan.
Mulvaney was challenged at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.
"I'm interested in what our military needs and whether they're receiving it. It's clear from your record that you've been an impediment to that for years," McCain said. "You've spent your entire congressional career pitting the debt against the military, and each time, at least for you, our military was less important."
Mulvaney responded that he couldn't remember some of his votes to cut military spending and said: "The No. 1 priority of the United States government is to defend the nation."
In an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said he was puzzled by Trump's nomination of Mulvaney, whose "substantive views," he said are "so different than what Trump campaigned on."
Trump acknowledged the tension between fiscal and military conservatism Thursday night, telling Hannity: "I want a balanced budget eventually.
"But I want to have a strong military," he said. "To me, that's much more important than anything."