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In first address to Congress, Trump promises a mightier military, more money for vets

February 28, 2017 (Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump promised to rebuild the military, boost veterans spending, defeat the Islamic State and force European allies to pay more for defense, all part of his wide-ranging address to Congress on Tuesday.

The speech, his first directly to lawmakers since his inauguration six weeks ago, was cheered by Republicans and largely panned by Democrats, an indication of the continued partisan divide in the nation’s capital despite Trump’s ongoing promises to unite the country. But the president pulled few punches in the hour-long address, reiterating many of the ambitious promises he made on the campaign trail last year.

Video edited by Shahzeb Hashim and Maryam Saleh/Medill News Service

“To keep America safe we must provide the men and women of the U.S. military with the tools they need to prevent war and, if they must, to fight and to win,” he said. “I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

His proposed budget — which includes $54 billion more for the military than allowed under the spending caps known as sequestration — has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. But Trump insisted the funding bump is needed for “the resources [our] brave warriors so richly deserve.”



The commander in chief also promised an increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose budget has nearly quadrupled to $180 billion since 2001. Trump argued that “our veterans have delivered for this nation and now we must deliver for them.”

Most of the budget plan's details, including proposed cuts to foreign aid and to the State Department, are expected to be unveiled in coming weeks. To avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers must approve before April a partial budget that covers the remainder of the current fiscal year. And the president's critics are likely to tie long-term funding plans to the more-immediate fiscal debate.

Repeating another campaign theme, Trump offered support for NATO but said “our partners must meet their financial obligations” in paying for Europe's defense.

“We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific, to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost,” he said.

That includes the fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Trump this week received initial plans from Pentagon leaders outlining a new strategy to speed that campaign, and he promised to “work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”

Video edited by Shahzeb Hashim and Maryam Saleh/Medill News Service

That promise was one of the few that drew applause from both Democrats and Republicans, as did Trump’s recognition of the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in the January raid against an al-Qaida stronghold in Yemen. Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens was killed and at least three other Americans were wounded in the assault, but White House officials have repeatedly called the mission a “success” because of information gathered during the raid.  

“I just spoke to [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies,’” Trump said. “Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity.”  

Owens’ father has criticized Trump for mismanaging the raid. Earlier in the day, during an appearance on Fox News, the president appeared to blame military leaders for Owens’ death, saying “they lost Ryan.”

But Trump was effusive in his praise of the military in the address, calling service members an example for all Americans. That was a common during President Barack Obama’s public speeches as well, and Trump said it should serve as to reassure U.S. allies who worried about the dramatic changes he has promised as commander in chief.

“To those allies who wonder what kind of friend America will be," the said, "look no further than the heroes who wear our uniform.”


 
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.
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