Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday delivered a speech in Virginia that was equal parts a defense of embattled police, a plan to improve treatment of veterans, and an indictment of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Billed as a major address on veterans issues, Trump tied his comments to his broader “America First” agenda and blasted Clinton.
“Sadly, sadly, Crooked Hillary Clinton is the secretary of the status quo, and wherever Hillary Clinton goes, corruption and scandal follow. Just look at her life.”
“Sadly, sadly, Crooked Hillary Clinton is the secretary of the status quo, and wherever Hillary Clinton goes, corruption and scandal follow,” he said. “Just look at her life.”
Trump meant that generally but also pegged it specifically to the topic of the day — the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We need to clean out the corruption in government,” he said. “And Hillary Clinton will never be able to do it. She’s incompetent and has proven time and time again that she doesn’t have what it takes.”
He ridiculed Clinton’s efforts to downplay the veteran waiting-list scandal, saying, “She actually thinks that the veterans health system is well-run. That’s because she’s been part of this rigged system for a long time.”
For Trump, the speech was a departure from sometimes-erratic performances following the FBI’s decision last week not to seek charges against Clinton over her handling of classified information as secretary of state. Trump’s failure to stick to that script brought concern among allies that he has missed a golden opportunity to reinforce doubts about Clinton.
On Monday, though, he had not trouble staying on message.
“I am the law-and-order candidate,” he said. “Hillary Clinton on the other hand is weak, ineffective, pandering, and, as proven by her recent email scandal — which was an embarrassment not only to her but to the entire nation as a whole — she’s either a liar or grossly incompetent. One or the other. Personally, it’s probably both.”
Trump recounted a scandal involving the deaths of veterans who were on waiting lists for treatment at VA health centers. Congress responded by passing a law allowing veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to be able to seek taxpayer-funded care from a private doctor. Trump said he would change that “current and wrong policy” to allow all veterans to get private health care.
Dan Caldwell, vice president of political and legislative action at Concerned Veterans for America, expressed satisfaction that Trump had made veterans issues a top concern.
“We are happy to see more candidates and elected officials speaking out in favor of universal health care choice for veterans who use the VA and more accountability for VA employees — two concepts which Concerned Veterans for America has long advocated for,” he said an an emailed statement to LifeZette.
Caldwell wrote that he hope Trump and other candidates endorse ideals contained in the Caring for Our Heroes In The 21st Century Act, a reform package sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Ore.)
Trump laid out his own 10-point plan:
- He vowed to appoint a VA secretary whose personal mission is to clean up the system. “This will not be a political hack,” he said.
- He promised to remove and discipline managers who fail veterans or breach the public trust.
- He promised to ask Congress to pass legislation to ensure the VA secretary has the authority to remove or discipline any employee who risks the health or safety of any veteran.
- He said he would appoint a commission to investigate wrongdoing and present findings to Congress for bold reform.
- He pledged to protect the jobs of honest government employees and make sure they are in line for promotions.
- He said he would create a private, 24-hour White House hotline staffed by real people — “actually a person, not a computer that picks up a phone.” He said he would demand that problems are brought directly to him. “I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to,” he said. “Believe me.”
- He pledged to stop giving bonuses to people who are wasting money and start giving them to people for cutting waste, improving care, and saving lives. He said employees who come up with cost-saving ideas that improve care should keep a part of that savings as one-time bonus, with the rest returned to government.
- Tying veterans issues to immigration reform, he said he would amend America’s foreign-worker visa programs to ensure veterans are in the front of the line for jobs.
- He vowed to increase mental health facilities and professionals to address an epidemic of 20 veteran suicides a day.
- He promised to ensure that every veteran has the choice to seek care at VA facility or private health provider, at taxpayer expense.
Trump said America owes a special debt to the men and women who risked their lives defending the country.
“Now is the time to follow their example of unity, public service, and selfless devotion to our nation,” he said. “We made a promise and we have to honor the promise that we made to these great Americans. You defended America and America will defend you.”