President Donald Trump visited the Coast Guard station in Riviera Beach, Florida, on Thanksgiving morning, thanking members of the Coast Guard for rescuing thousands of people in the hurricanes that hit the U.S., and saying the country is getting stronger.
“We want to have a strong country,” he said. “We want to have a country where I can buy new Coast Guard cutters and not have to worry about it, all right? And that’s what we’re doing, we’re building up wealth so that we can take care of our protection.”
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The president told the Coast Guardsmen that as of Friday, the stock market was at a record high, and went on to talk about investments in the military, saying, “We’re ordering tremendous amounts of new equipment.”
“We’re at $700 billion for the military,” he said. “And, you know, they were cutting back for years. They just kept cutting, cutting, cutting the military. And you got lean, to put it nicely. It was depleted, was the word. And now it’s changing.”
It was a return to the promises Trump expressed during the campaign to make the U.S. military stronger than it has ever been.
“The Navy — I can tell you — we’re ordering ships,” he said. “With the Air Force, we’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is, you know, almost like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, ‘How good is this plane?'”
“They said, ‘Well, sir, you can’t see it.'”
“I said, ‘Yeah, but in a fight — you know, a fight, like I watch in the movies, they fight, they’re fighting — how good is this?'”
“They say, ‘Well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it.'”
“I said, ‘That helps. That’s a good thing,'” he told members of the Coast Guard, to laughs.
The president started out by thanking the Coast Guard for its work in rescuing thousands of people from flooded homes in Texas after Hurricane Harvey in August.
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“It is an honor to be here, I have to tell you,” he said. “You know, the Coast Guard, always respected. But if you were looking at it as a brand, there’s no brand that went up more than the Coast Guard, with what happened in Texas. And I would say, in particular, Texas has been incredible. You saved 16,000 lives — nobody knows that — 16,000 lives.”
The president went on to say that he’d asked whether that number could be right.
“In fact, when I first heard the number, I said, ‘You mean like, 600? Five hundred?’ Sixteen thousand lives in Texas,” he said.
Harvey hit southern Texas on August 25 and brought with it record rainfall over several days that flooded more than 100,000 homes in the state, many of them in and around Houston. More than 77 were killed. It was the first hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since 2005, but was closely followed by another — Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Florida Keys on September 10.
“And then Florida hit, and you know that one very well,” said Trump. “You knew that one pretty well, right? The job you did in Florida. And then, Puerto Rico … and I really mean that. I think that there is no brand, of any kind — I’m not just talking about a military brand — that has gone up more than the Coast Guard. Incredible people. You’ve done an incredible job. And I love coming in here and doing this with you today.”
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The president asked if anyone had questions. Then he had some fun poking at reporters.
“Now, should we leave the media here to do the questions?” he asked the Coast Guardsmen, and got a good laugh from them. “Or should we tell them to leave? You know what, it’s Thanksgiving, so let’s let the media stay. OK?”
And then he took another jab.
“The press, I know, doesn’t have any questions. If you do, we won’t take them, but that’s all right,” he said, to laughter.
The president also made references to the sale of U.S.-made military equipment to U.S. allies, which is overseen by the government, seeming to hint at increased scrutiny of arms sales to foreign countries, and perhaps restrictions on the sale of U.S.-made arms to some countries.
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“But, I mean, we have equipment that — nobody has the equipment that we have,” he said. “And it’s sad when we’re selling our equipment to other countries but we’re not buying it ourselves, OK? But now that’s all changed. And the stuff I said — the stuff that we have is always a little bit better, too. You know, when we sell to other countries, even if they’re allies — you never know about an ally. An ally can turn. You understand. You’re going to find that out. But I always say, make ours a little bit better. You know, give it that extra speed. A little bit — keep a little bit — keep about 10 percent in the bag, because what we have — nobody has like what we have, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The president returned to Mar-a-Lago at about midafternoon, and enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner in the evening with friends and family.
A spokesperson for first lady Melania Trump had announced the menu was to include turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a variety of baked goods, local produce and cheeses, and also red snapper and Florida stone crab. Dessert was to include various cakes and pies.