WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he hoped that the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise would bring unity to Washington and the country at large.
"Steve, in his own way, may have brought some unity to our long divided country," Trump said at the top of an executive order signing for more apprenticeship programs in the U.S. "We've had a very, very divided country for many years and I have a feeling that Steve has made a great sacrifice but there could be some unity being brought to our country. Let's hope so."
Trump called attention to Scalise's continued battle for recovery after being shot Wednesday at a baseball practice for Republican lawmakers in Alexandria, Virginia.
"He's in some trouble," Trump assessed Scalise's condition. "But he's a great fighter and he's going to be OK, we hope."
A source familiar with the situation tells NBC News that Scalise is undergoing his third surgery consistent with the hospital statement last evening that he would need additional procedures.
Trump, whose 71st birthday also happened to be Wednesday, spent part of the evening visiting with Scalise and one of the Capitol Police officers wounded in the shooting.
"We are all united by our love of our great and beautiful country," Trump finished before pivoting into a pitch for more vocational training to close the "skills gap" and equip more Americans with the training and knowledge to fill millions of open American jobs.
Trump's executive order Thursday is aimed at stimulating more apprenticeship programs in the United States, part of an effort to put American workers on clearer paths to jobs.
"We're here today to celebrate the dignity of work," Trump said. "It's really a good term, dignity of work, and the greatness of the American worker."
In awe of today's "powerful" modern machinery, Trump depicted an image of apprenticeships that "teach striving Americans the skills they need to operate incredible machines."
"This is not the old days," he said, describing machinery today as "new," "computerized," and "complicated" before declaring "you really have to know what you're doing."
Trump, who rose to pop culture prominence with his own reality-show "The Apprentice," took that belief in mentorship and training to government Thursday. Through this executive order, Trump directed the Department of Labor to use funding to promote apprenticeship programs across a variety of sectors, as well as instructed agencies to conduct an "intensive review" of the more than 40 current apprenticeship and job training programs.
"Not only will our apprentices transform their lives but they'll transform our lives in the greatest sense," by being a part of rebuilding American roads, bridges, and cities, President Trump said.
Agencies will have to provide "proof that they work or don't," a senior administration official told reporters Thursday, part of an effort toward more accountability and effectiveness in these government-housed job training programs.
Among those already-existing programs is the Obama administration's Apprenticeship USA program, which the White House plans to use funding from to promote apprenticeship programs in new sectors, like high schools and community colleges.
The executive order also invites third-party groups to create more flexible apprenticeship programs in tandem with the Department of Labor.
"We love this earn-and-learn model, just give us some flexibility," the same senior administration official told reporters, paraphrasing business leaders who the White House consulted with on the executive order.
With the order's signing, the Department of Labor will work with trade associations, unions, and companies to develop "industry-recognized apprenticeship" guidelines which would then be reviewed and approved by the Labor Department.
"We're going to let the industry put forth its proposals as to what should make up a high-quality apprenticeship program," a second senior White House official said, briefing reporters anonymously. The Labor Department "still sits above" the process, but the executive order flips where the apprenticeship standards originate, letting industries propose and allowing Labor to respond.
The apprenticeship push comes from conversations with business leaders, unions, and CEOs, with administration officials who isolated the skills gap as "a massive problem."
"That led the president and Ivanka Trump to take this on as a major initiative of the administration," the official credited. But Trump's is not the first administration to push for apprenticeship programs, and nor do they stand alone along partisan lines. At federal, state, and local levels, Republicans and Democrats have in the past pushed to incentivize mentorship and apprenticeship programs.
The second senior White House official called the push "a truly bipartisan issue" that the administration has already made overtures to the Hill on.
"The restaurant industry fully supports the President's executive order and thanks the President and Secretary Acosta for their continued focus on apprenticeships — a proven recognized path to full and rewarding careers," Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association said in a statement.
The Trumps have taken the apprenticeship push on the road, traveling to Wisconsin on Tuesday to highlight the apprenticeship programs already taking root in the state and pushing for more apprenticeship opportunities across the country.
After all, he said Tuesday: "I love the name apprentice."