In his promises to greatly ramp up spending on the U.S. military, president Donald Trump has generally cast the additional spending as being essential to national security, and therefore in need of little additional justification. But on Thursday, during a speech in Newport News, Virginia, Trump added a new wrinkle, suggesting that his plans will amount to a national jobs program.
“This great rebuilding effort will create many jobs in Virginia and across America, and it will also spur new technology and new innovation. America has always been the country that boldly leads the world into the future and my budget will assure we do so and continue to do exactly that.”
Trump delivered his brief remarks on board the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of a new class of aircraft carriers that he said stands as “a monument to American might that will provide the strength necessary to ensure peace.”
The ship, he added, will “project American power in distant lands ... Hopefully, it’s power we don’t have to use, but if we do they’re in big, big trouble.”
He said that the Ford and other planned carriers in production will bring the Navy up to the 12-carrier force the Pentagon wants, and were part of a massive investment that would see the total number of ships in the Navy rise to the highest level ever.
The drive to beef up the Navy is only part of what Trump described as the “great rebuilding of American military might.” The administration has already indicated that it will seek an additional $54 billion in annual funding for the Pentagon in next year’s budget, a 10 percent increase that would require Congress to do away with the sequester, which was supposed to impose spending cuts on the military every year for a decade.
Trump’s message about jobs and military spending probably won’t get the attention the administration hoped, given the circumstances under which it was delivered. As Trump made his way through the belly of the giant ship prior to the speech, he was pressed by repeated calls from reporters to comment on reports that his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, misled Congress during his confirmation hearing in January.
Sessions had been asked whether he had any contact with the Russian government during the election, and replied that he had not. It was revealed Wednesday night that in fact he met twice with the Russian ambassador.
While that would normally not be remarkable, the meetings came as U.S. intelligence agencies were investigating what they described as Russian interference in the presidential campaign, mainly in the form of hacking email accounts of Democrats. At the time of the meetings, Sessions was a senior member of the Trump campaign organization.
Democrats and many Republicans have said that Sessions at least should recuse himself from overseeing an ongoing FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the election. Some Democrats have called for his outright resignation.
After saying earlier that he has “total confidence” in Sessions, Trump was asked while on the Ford whether he believed that Sessions had testified truthfully. “I think he probably did,” Trump said. When a reporter followed up by asking him if he feels Sessions should recuse himself, Trump replied, “I don’t think so.”
The president also appeared to say that he had not known about Sessions’ meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kilyak. That would jibe with accounts coming from reporters in the White House, who say administration officials learned about Sessions’ talks with the Russians from a Washington Post report.