Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to his former department “ridiculous” Thursday night in Brookville and said the plan was not supported by most senior members of the U.S. military.
Powell made the comments during a speech at LIU Post, where he also called Trump’s suggested 37-percent cuts to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development a “bad idea” that would hurt the country’s diplomatic efforts.
“You can’t fix the budget by cutting the State Department and have an effective system for diplomacy,” Powell told a crowd of several hundred. “I hope the Congress will not support it.”
Trump’s proposed budget would slash State Department programs and funding from other agencies, in part, to pay for steep increases in defense- and national-security-related spending. The diplomatic cuts have been criticized by lawmakers from both parties and by dozens of retired military leaders.
Powell was the keynote speaker at the inaugural event for LIU’s Global Institute, which is focused on foreign policy and national security. The event was moderated by former Rep. Steve Israel, a Huntington Democrat who did not run for re-election last year. Israel signed on in December as chairman and distinguished writer-in-residence at the Global Institute in Brookville.
Powell, who was born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, spoke for more than 90 minutes without notes or a microphone, discussing a range of issues from health care and immigration to media polarization and congressional gridlock. He also spoke earlier in the evening at a private dinner on the LIU campus.
Powell, who was secretary of state during Republican President George W. Bush’s first term, said he was optimistic that lawmakers would make improvements to the Affordable Care Act but criticized Congress for being unable to pass appropriations bills in recent years.
“Congress is not getting the work done that we sent them there to do,” said Powell, who blamed gerrymandering and money in politics for the inaction in Washington.
During his last high-profile visit to Long Island in October, a lunch with business leaders in Woodbury, Powell made national headlines when he endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.
Powell, also former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said at the time that Trump was “not qualified” to serve as commander in chief and that the New York businessman had sold Americans “a bill of goods.”
In a more conciliatory tone Thursday, Powell said he “did not think” Russian interference was responsible for Trump’s election in November.
He said Trump “won under our Constitution. He is my president — our president — and I support the Constitution.”
Regarding international relations, Powell took an optimistic approach, arguing that Iran and North Korea were unlikely to use nuclear weapons and that China was a key strategic ally. He called Russia a “deteriorating nation” that attracted no new immigrants.
He said that while the Islamic State group will remain a dangerous threat, the might of the U.S. military remains unsurpassed and the United States is living through “one of the greatest periods of peace” in its history.
“There’s not going to be a World War III,” he said, “because there is no one to have World War III with.”