President Donald Trump made his case Thursday for a massive boost in defense spending by rallying shipbuilders and sailors aboard a next-generation naval aircraft carrier to get behind a “great rebuilding of our military might.”
In a visit to Newport News, Virginia, he envisioned a new place in the world order for a strengthened U.S. military.
“This carrier and the new ships in the Ford class will expand the ability of our nation to carry out vital missions on the oceans to project American power in distant lands,” Trump said, wearing a Navy cap and flight jacket. “Hopefully, it’s power we don’t have to use — but if we do, they’re in big, big trouble.”
Trump seeks a $54 billion hike for the Pentagon in the next federal budget.
The commander in chief found a receptive audience aboard the 4.5-acre, $14 billion vessel to be known as the USS Gerald R. Ford, while farther north in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in the hot seat over discussions last year with Russia and denial of such communications under oath in January.
Trump did not address his inner circle’s ties to the Kremlin in his Virginia speech, just as he did not mention Russia in his well-received address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress.
In the past, he has taken to Twitter to condemn news stories linking his team to Russia as “fake news,” but as of Thursday evening, he had tweeted only about economic indicators of confidence in his presidency.
“Since November 8th, Election Day, the Stock Market has posted $3.2 trillion in GAINS and consumer confidence is at a 15 year high. Jobs!” he wrote.
Trump told the shipbuilders and sailors that he seeks is “one of the largest defense spending increases in history.” He has said previously he wants cuts in domestic programs to offset costs.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had said Trump’s fiscal blueprint takes “a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle class.”
Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said what Trump wants for the military is nearly 10 percent above what is currently permitted by law and isn’t much more than former President Barack Obama had sought for the upcoming fiscal year in his six-year plan.
“Trump needs to get the public mobilized behind defense increases. It’s the only thing that will get Democrats to accept what he’s advocating,” Thompson said of winning over the senators necessary to remove the budget cap.
Hofstra Law School Professor Eric M. Freedman said, “Apart from all the obstacles, it’s very unclear that when he has to pick and choose a few priorities to get through Congress, this will make the top of the list.”
Tax reform, infrastructure investment and an Obamacare replacement will be higher on Trump’s legislative agenda, Freedman predicted.
Trump is scheduled to travel to Florida on Friday to discuss his education agenda.
Meanwhile Thursday, the University of Notre Dame announced that Vice President Mike Pence will deliver the commencement address this spring, an honor customarily reserved for newly elected U.S. presidents.
According to the Associated Press, Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, had opposed Trump over his executive order limiting travel and refugees from some Muslim-majority countries. Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne declined to say whether Trump was invited to the May 21 ceremony.