President Trump commissioned the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford Saturday, celebrating the newest symbol of American military might as he called on Congress to approve a budget with a big increase in defense spending.
Addressing an audience of dignitaries and sailors on the $12.9-billion nuclear-powered carrier at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia, Mr. Trump said the new warship will deliver an unmistakable message to America’s allies and enemies.
“American steel and American hands have constructed a 100,000-ton message to the world: American might is second to none, and we’re getting bigger and better and stronger every day of my administration,” Mr. Trump said. “Everyone will know that America is coming, and America is coming strong.”
The warship is the largest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world, and was emblazoned for the event with a banner proclaiming “Made in the USA.” It’s named for the 38th president, who rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy in World War II.
Mr. Trump used the occasion to call on Congress to complete the fiscal 2018 budget that would boost defense spending by about $54 billion, an increase of roughly 10 percent. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
“For years, our government has subjected the military to unpredictable funding, and a devastating defense ‘sequester,’” the president said. “This has led to deferred maintenance, a lack of investment in new equipment and technology and a shortfall in military readiness. It’s been a very, very bad period of time for our military.”
He added, “Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve. And you will get it, believe me. But I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman, and call that senator, and make sure you get it.”
Referring to stalled Senate negotiations to repeal and replace Obamacare, the president also said in an aside, “By the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get healthcare.”
He said the USS Ford demonstrates that “we will win, win, win — we will never lose.”
“When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight,” Mr. Trump said. “We want just the opposite. We demand victory, and we will have total victory, believe me.”
Also attending the ceremony were Susan Ford Bales, daughter of the late president; former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a navy blazer and cowboy hat; former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and several lawmakers.
The president landed in Marine One on the 1,092-foot-long runway of the carrier, where he was greeted by Defense Secretary James Mattis.
In introducing the president at the ceremony, Mr. Mattis said, “Today a magnificent warship joins the best navy in the world. Mr. President, you will send this ship into harm’s way and it will happily sail into harm’s way for you.”
Among the military brass in attendance were Navy Capt. Richard McCormack, commanding officer of the carrier; Navy Capt. Brent Gaut, prospective executive officer; Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations.
Referring to President Teddy Roosevelt, acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley told Mr. Trump, “One of your predecessors famously said ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.’ We offer you, sir, a big stick.”
Mr. Trump, who also spoke at a ceremony for the ship four months ago, has criticized the project for being billions of dollars over budget and late.
Construction on the USS Ford began in 2009, and was to be completed in 2015 at a cost initially projected at $10.5 billion.
The carrier completed sea trials in April, but still will go through more tests at sea before becoming ready for deployment. The work yet to be completed is expected to cost more than $775 million and take another four years.
The USS Ford eventually will accommodate about 2,600 sailors.