NEW YORK (AP) — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take the same stage for the first time Wednesday night, aiming to position themselves as best prepared to lead in turbulent times and warning that their opponent would put the country at risk.
Questioned back-to-back but not face-to-face, the presidential foes will address an audience of veterans and active-duty troops – and a national TV audience – from the decommissioned USS Intrepid, which is now a floating museum in New York. The “commander in chief” national security forum, hosted by NBC, will serve as something of a preview for voters of the candidates’ highly anticipated trio of debates later this fall.
Ahead of the forum, Trump rolled out a new plan to boost military spending by tens of billions of dollars, including major increases in the number of active troops, fighter planes, Navy ships and submarines. The Republican also said that, if elected, he would give military leaders 30 days to formulate a multipronged plan to defeat the Islamic State group.
“This will require military warfare, but also cyberwarfare, financial warfare and ideological warfare,” Trump said during an address in Philadelphia.
Democrat Clinton has spent much of the summer trying to paint Trump as ill-prepared to be commander in chief and too unpredictable to make decisions that put American service members in harm’s way. Her case has been bolstered by numerous Republican national security experts who have spoken out against their party’s nominee, including former Defense Secretary William Cohen who announced his support for Clinton on Wednesday.
Said Clinton: “They know they can count on me to be the kind of commander in chief who will protect our country and our troops, and they know they cannot count on Donald Trump.”
Trump did get a vote of confidence from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was asked Wednesday whether the GOP nominee can be trusted with nuclear weapons.
“The answer is yes,” McConnell told reporters.
Trump is trying to turn questions about commander in chief qualifications around on Clinton, who spent four years as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. He’s zeroed in on her controversial email practices at the State Department, calling her private email server “reckless.”
Clinton could also be vulnerable to Americans’ worries about terrorism – particularly the Islamic State’s designs on the West – and criticism that Obama hasn’t done enough to combat extremism emanating from the Middle East. While she’s articulated an anti-Islamic State plan that is more aggressive than Obama’s, she’s largely in line with the president on foreign policy.
Trump’s address in Philadelphia also included plans to eliminate deep spending cuts known as the “sequester” that were enacted when Congress failed to reach a budget compromise in 2011. Republicans and Democrats voted for the automatic, across-the board cuts that affected both military and domestic programs, though the White House has long pressed Congress to lift the spending limits.
Trump expressed support for the sequester in interviews in 2013 – even describing them as too small – but seemed to suggest at the time that military spending should be exempt.
A senior adviser said ahead of the speech that Trump would make sure the additional spending was fully paid for but did not explain how.
The United States currently spends more than $600 billion a year on the military, more than the next seven countries combined.
Even before promising a huge boost in military spending, Trump’s plans to cut taxes, expand infrastructure spending and leave untouched entitlement programs such as Social Security already threaten to add trillions of dollars to the federal deficit.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Erica Werner in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.