NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP/WAVY) — President Donald Trump pledged to boost defense spending as he basked in the nation’s military might aboard a next-generation Naval aircraft carrier on Thursday.
Wearing an olive green military jacket and blue ball cap, Trump vowed to mount “one of the largest” defense spending increases in history.
“Hopefully it’s power we don’t have to use, but if we do, they’re in big, big trouble,” Trump said.
Trump spoke from the Gerald R. Ford, a $12.9 billion warship that is expected to be commissioned this year.
Unlike his criticisms of the F-35 and Air Force One, President Trump had nothing but praise for the Ford, despite its budget overruns, time delays and technical issues.
“This warship and all who serve on it should be a source of shared pride for our nation,” Trump said.
He did, however, say that he could do better.
“We’ve got to do a good deal. The same boat for less money, the same ship for less money, the same airplanes for less money. That’s what we’re doing.”
The president said those savings would mean adding more ships to the fleet: “Expansion to the Navy fleet, including having the 12 carriers we need.”
Congress mandates the Navy at 11 carriers. Right now, there are now 10 in operation. The Ford will make 11. Trump did not speak to any plans to pay for an additional carrier.
Trump touted his spending plans, saying he would provide “the finest equipment in the world” and give the military the “tools you need to prevent war.”
“We will give the men and women of the armed services the resources to keep us safe,” Trump said.
The president also toured the carrier and met with sailors and military leaders. He saluted the sailors as he arrived on the carrier.
During the visit, protesters gathered outside the shipyard gates. In Virginia Beach, about a dozen people marched to Congressman Scott Taylor’s office to show him they’re not happy about President Trump’s agenda.
“As a Filipino American, I just feel the lack of concern for the diversity of our community and the focus of political corruption is a concern to me,” Heidi Joy Delacruz said. “I really hope that our president can be more representative to us than Russia.”
Before his remarks, Trump was asked about the revelation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions twice talked with Moscow’s U.S. envoy during the campaign, contact that seems to contradict Sessions’ sworn statements to Congress during his confirmation hearings.
While there were mounting calls for Sessions to resign or recuse himself, Trump stood by Sessions on Thursday, saying he had “total” confidence in his attorney general. Asked if Sessions should recuse himself, Trump said: “I don’t think so.”
Trump also said he “wasn’t aware” that Sessions had spoken to Russia and said that he “probably did” speak truthfully to the Senate.
During his trip to Newport News, Trump was joined aboard Air Force One by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
A draft budget plan released earlier this week by the White House would add $54 billion to the Pentagon’s projected budget, a 10 percent increase.
Local experts say Hampton Roads could see a big chunk of the money, considering the large military presence. They say this type of increase could help our region in a big way.
ODU Economics Professor Vinod Agarwal said, “If we do increase the DOD spending by $54 billion nationally, it would have significant impact for this economy. Not necessarily in (2018), but you’ll start seeing it in ’19, ’20 and so on.”
Agarwal says 40 percent of the local economy depends on Department of Defense spending. He says the recession and sequestration have led the local economy to be stagnant in recent years.
The U.S. currently spends more than half trillion dollars on defense, more than the next seven countries combined.
“To keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war,” Trump said in his address to Congress on Tuesday night.
Trump, in his 2016 campaign, repeatedly pledged to rebuild what he called the nation’s “depleted” military and told supporters at Regent University in Virginia Beach in October that the region’s naval installations would be “right at the center of the action with the building of new ships.”
He often argued that the U.S. military is too small to accomplish its missions and pledged to put the Navy on track to increase its active-duty fleet to 350 ships, compared to the current Navy plan of growing from 272 ships to 308 sometime after 2020.
The PCU Gerald R. Ford CVN 78, located at Newport News Shipbuilding, will be the first of the Navy’s next generation of aircraft carriers and is expected to accommodate some 2,600 sailors.
Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress, his first as president, included his past calls for repealing the “defense sequester,” or across-the-board budget cuts instituted by Congress. He will need the repeal to achieve the kinds of increased defense spending that he is seeking.
WATCH: President Donald Trump visits Newport News Shipbuilding.
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