Vice President Mike Pence lauded President Donald Trump for rebuilding the military, fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs and strengthening America’s national security in his Republican convention speech on Wednesday night.
“We’ve taken the fights of radical Islamic terrorists on our terms on their sites,” Pence said in a speech delivered from Fort McHenry in Baltimore that also touched on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the country’s economic turmoil and racial equality protests across the country. “We’ve stood up to our enemies and we’ve stood with our allies.”
The speech, which doubled as Pence’s formal acceptance of his re-nomination to serve as vice president in a second Trump term and an argument for why the Republican ticket deserves four more years, came on a night heavy with military imagery and veteran speakers.
Last week, Democratic leaders decried Trump as an erratic commander in chief who has been soft on foreign dictators, adversarial towards allies and callous about the impact of his decisions on military families.
But in the Republican Party rebuttal on Wednesday, second lady Karen Pence praised Trump as a champion of military spouses and veterans’ mental health care. Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, the vice president’s national security adviser, stated that Trump “reversed the decline of our military and restructured our national security strategy with historic investment and vision.”
Pence — the son of a veteran and the father of a Marine Corps captain — noted that several Medal of Honor and Purple Heart recipients were among the crowd of several hundred spectators for his speech at the historic military site.
He credited Trump as a commander in chief who “stepped in and from day one and kept his word to rebuild our military” by signing sizable increases in military spending in recent years, a move that critics have said has come at the expense of other domestic and diplomatic priorities.
Pence noted that Trump founded the first new branch of the armed forces in decades, the U.S. Space Force. And the vice president highlighted improvements to the Department of Veterans Affairs in the last three years.
“After years of scandal robbed our veterans of the care that you’ve earned in the uniform, President Trump kept his word again,” Pence said. “We reformed the VA and Veterans Choice is now available for every veteran in America.”
The issue of medical care “choice” for veterans has been a key campaign focus for Trump, both this cycle and in 2016, and a point of controversy for his critics.
The availability of private-sector health care for veterans has expanded significantly since Trump signed the VA Mission Act into law two years ago, but prominent Democratic leaders (along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.) have blasted Trump’s shift of resources from VA hospitals to outside clinics as an abdication of government responsibilities.
Trump has also taken criticism for saying he came up with the idea of veterans “choice,” even though the named VA Choice program was started in 2014 under President Barack Obama.
But Pence said the improvements to VA and the military stand as as proof of Trump’s focus on fulfilling America’s responsibilities to its “heroes.”
Following the speech, Trump joined Pence in greeting and posing for pictures with the veterans and other audience members in attendance. The president is expected to deliver the closing remarks of the week-long convention on Thursday evening.
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.