VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Donald Trump delivered what was billed as a speech on veterans reform as a credo on "law and order" paired with promises to prioritize veterans and a continued rebuke of Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.
Before laying out his 10-point plan for veterans reform, Trump praised law enforcement and declared himself the “law and order candidate” who is, additionally, a “candidate of compassion — believe it.”
In written and video statements over the weekend, the candidate had once again showed his pro-police stripes as he called for an immediate end to hostility against law enforcement in the wake of the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers. But the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in Louisiana and Minnesota at the hands of police did not go unmentioned by Trump on Monday, saying these deaths "make clear that the work must be done to ensure, and a lot of work, that Americans feel that their safety is protected.”
"We were all disturbed by the images that we saw,” the businessman added, without mentioning either man by name. Trump’s previously released statement over the weekend incorrectly referenced “two motorists” killed in Louisiana and Minnesota, as only Castile was in a car when killed by law enforcement.
Trump then turned from the recent shootings to the need to discuss “the ongoing catastrophe of crime” in America’s inner cities which, the candidate says, “are rife with crime.” Trump stated that violent crime has “increased” across the United States, but the facts don’t quite bear that out. Given a short time table, Trump’s claim is true. Comparing the first six months of 2015 to that of 2014, violent crime was up. However, violent crime and murder rates have dropped by almost half over the course of the last 20 years.
In addition, Monday’s speech built upon the policy Trump released in October that pushed for vets to be allowed to seek medical care from a provider of their choosing.
“Veterans will get timely access to top quality medical care,” Trump promised again, reading from a teleprompter in a hotel ballroom. He guaranteed vets the “right to choose their doctor,” be it at VA facilities or at private medical centers.
New additions to the policy include the creation of a 24-hour, human-staffed (“a person – not a computer!”) White House hotline that would take calls of complaints about the Department of Veterans Affairs. This hotline, Trump said, would “ensure that no valid complaint about the VA” goes unanswered. The way Trump tells it, the buck will stop with him: instructing his staff that “valid” unresolved hotline issues be brought directly to him so that he can “fix it myself, if need be.”
Trump also tied improving the lives of veterans to his pledge of immigration reform. Trump promised to reform the country's visa programs to place veterans “in the front, not the back, of the line.” The Republican presumptive nominee also stated that corporations could “easily” fill low-wage jobs with veterans, and that those who served their country should “come first in the country they fought to protect.”
In addition, Trump promised to appoint a commission to investigate the Department of Veterans Affairs and promote VA employees doing a good job. "If an employee finds a smart way to save a large amount of money that also creates better outcomes for our veterans, then a small, responsible portion of the money saved will be given as a one-time bonus and the rest will be returned to taxpayers,” Trump said.
“You defend America, and America will defend you,” Trump promised veterans.
Though the speech focused on veterans policy, Trump used the opportunity to lambast Clinton and the recent FBI and DOJ decisions not to charge her for use of a private email server during her time as head of the State Department. Trump called the scandal an “embarrassment” that showed Clinton to be “either a liar or grossly incompetent.” (Trump’s personal assessment is that it’s “probably both.”)
Adding to his “Crooked Hillary Clinton” moniker — and proving those who said the nickname could disappear with the teleprompter and supposed general election pivot wrong in the process — Trump called Clinton the “Secretary of the Status Quo.” Trump alleged that Clinton was “aware of her guilt” regarding her server and that she was “probably the most surprised person” when no charges were announced last week.
Gov. Chris Christie, who joined Trump on the trail Monday for a vice presidential audition, brought his own candor to the Clinton server issue, calling last week’s statements by FBI Director Comey a “spectacle” and mimicking Trump’s support of law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Trump’s remarks in Virginia’s second district placed him squarely in the zone of Republican Rep. Scott Rigell. The outgoing congressman has said he will not support Trump for president.