President Donald Trump said he would make a massive budget request for one of the “greatest military buildups in American history” on Friday in a feisty, campaign-style speech extolling robust nationalism to eager conservative activists.
Trump used remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an organization that gave him one of his first platforms in his improbable journey to the US presidency, to defend his unabashed “America first” policies. Ahead of a nationally televised speech to the US Congress on Tuesday, Trump outlined plans for strengthening the US military, already the world’s most powerful fighting force, and other initiatives, though he again offered few specifics.
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He said he would aim to substantially upgrade the military in both offensive and defensive capabilities, with a massive spending request that would make the country’s defense “bigger and better and stronger than ever before.” “And, hopefully, we’ll never have to use it, but nobody is going to mess with us. Nobody. It will be one of the greatest military buildups in American history,” Trump said. With appeals to people on welfare to go to work and pledges to follow through on his vow to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, Trump drew rounds of applause from the large gathering of conservatives, many of them wearing hats emblazoned with the president’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
His speech was heavy on the nationalist overtones from his campaign last year, focusing heavily on promises to boost U.S. economic growth by retooling international trade deals, rolling back regulations and boosting energy production, Trump is looking to put behind him a rocky first month in office. An executive order he signed aimed at banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries became embroiled in the courts and he had to fire his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for Russian contacts before Trump took office.
With the federal budget still running a deficit, Trump will have to square his request for a military buildup with his plans to cut taxes for most Americans and for corporations. During his speech, he complained about spending caps that were put in place on the defense budget dating back to 2011. Trump also heaped criticism on what he called purveyors of “fake news,” seeking to clarify a recent tweet in which he said some in the U.S. news media should be considered an “enemy of the people.”
“I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be out there,” Trump said. “Let there be no more sources.”
Trump has repeatedly chosen to make news media criticism a focus of his public remarks since taking office on Jan. 20. The speech allowed Trump to put his stamp firmly on the conservative political movement, even as some activists fretted that his immigration and trade policies go too far.
Trump addressed the third day of the CPAC gathering, which has addressed how to fulfill long-held Republican goals to revamp the tax code, roll back regulations on business and repeal former Democratic President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. With Trump in the White House and Republicans holding majorities in both houses of Congress, CPAC and the thousands of conservative activists who flock to the event each year from across the country are seeing their political influence rising.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump talked about imposing some form of a border tax to encourage more U.S. manufacturing. He called the Chinese “grand champions” of currency manipulation that hurts U.S. exports and he talked of expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Several CPAC attendees voiced concerns about some of Trump’s actions in his first month in office, and worried he might take the U.S. economy in the wrong direction in months ahead.
Abby Oliver, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who interns for a local Republican Party organization, said that while she wanted to see the United States better control its borders, she had concerns about the “controversial” travel ban executive order. Oliver said the order, which caused protests and chaos at airports the weekend after its enactment, was “rolled out a little bit haphazardly” and she worried that Trump could go too far on immigration policy.
“I don’t want it to become people are being ripped apart from their families,” Oliver said.