In his first commencement address to a service academy, President Trump hailed momentum toward building a new Coast Guard icebreaker fleet, and the service’s role in securing the borders and fighting drug smugglers.
“The Coast Guard is truly vital to the military forces and truly vital to our great country,” Trump said in addressing the 2017 graduating class of 195 cadets at the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn.
“We will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years,” said Trump, who went on to praise the new “world-class national security cutters,” and their coordination of small boats and helicopters for drug interdiction.
“Exciting, exciting,” Trump added. “You love it. You have to love it.”
Trump’s folksy approach to his friendly audience came two months after Coast Guard supporters in Congress swiftly shot down an early move from the White House Office of Management and Budget to cut the Coast Guard budget.
First reports in March that OMB was looking for a 14% cut in the budget and cancelling a national security cutter brought an immediate, bipartisan response from lawmakers. Within a week administration budget director Mick Mulvaney denied the cuts had been considered.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, who made the rounds of Congress to advocate full funding, later credited Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly for making sure the Coast Guard got what it needed. At the commencement, Zukunft spoke warmly of the administration’s support, and his new officers.
“We just freed up money under this administration to build a fleet of heavy icebreakers,” Zukunft said before Trump’s speech. “We are a service that does more because we have the best…I can’t wait to get you out of those ensign boards.”
By way of encouraging the graduates to face adversity, Trump took a swipe at his own travails with the news media.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump said to laughter and applause. “You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. I guess that’s why I — thank you. I guess that’s why we won.”
While touting his administration’s work so far, Trump spent more time on glowing praise for the graduates, their families, and the Coast Guard’s work.
“In the Coast Guard, you don't run from danger, you chase it. And you are deployed in support of operations in theaters of conflict all around the world. But not only do you defend American security, you also protect American prosperity. It's a mission that goes back to the earliest days of the Revenue Cutter Service,” said Trump.
“Today, the Coast Guard helps keep our waters open for Americans to do business. It keeps our rivers flowing with commerce. And it keeps our ports churning with American exports. You help billions and billions of dollars in goods to navigate our country every day,” he said. “You are the only federal presence on our inland waterways. You police the arteries we need to rebuild this country and to bring prosperity back to our heartland. And we are becoming very, very prosperous again. You can see that.
Meanwhile on the Thames River, commercial fishermen from southern New England and Long Island held a welcoming boat parade — reminiscent of industry protests when former President Obama vacationed in New England, but with a more optimistic note given Trump’s promises to restore American jobs.
Banners urging “President Trump make commercial fishing great again” and “Please help us” were strung across the decks.
Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd., North Kingston, R.I., told the Westerly Sun that fishermen aimed to call Trump’s attention to regulatory issues in the fishing industry. In his commencement speech, Trump declared “I’ve loosened up the strangling environmental chains wrapped around our country and our economy, chains so tight that you couldn’t do anything — that jobs were going down. We were losing business. We’re loosening it up.”
“Every single fishing vessel is a small, mobile corporation, so if he’s seeing 15 or 20 boats, he’s seeing 15 or 20 small businesses right there and there’s thousands of them along the East Coast,” Lapp told the newspaper. “In the fishing industry, we’re dealing with a lot of over regulation and we believe there’s a lot of things that could be done to make the industry thrive again.”