RENO — President Donald Trump sidestepped political controversy for the most part in brief remarks to the American Legion national convention on Wednesday, instead focusing on the needs of veterans and the military.
Trump delivered a patriotic 24-minute speech, telling the assembled veterans that Americans are defined not by the color of their skin, but by “our shared humanity.”
“If American patriots could secure our independence, carve out a home in the wilderness, and free millions from oppression around the world, that same sense of patriotism, courage, and love can help us create a better future for our people today,” he said.
Trump, fresh from a politically oriented rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, talked about his new plan to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and efforts to expand and improve a system to shoot down missiles in flight with increased defense spending in his budget.
The president couldn’t resist a few political comments, however, noting that the veterans he spoke to backstage before his public remarks were “much more proud than they were last year at this time.”
He also mentioned the need to enforce the nation’s immigration laws, a comment made after a visit Tuesday to Yuma, Arizona, near the border with Mexico.
Trump used the event to sign the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which passed the Senate unanimously earlier this month. The legislation was co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
The legislation aims to streamline the lengthy process that veterans undergo when appealing their claims for disability benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 470,000 veterans are still waiting for decisions regarding their appeals.
Trump’s remarks were well received by the audience of several thousand veterans.
But there was no mention of Charlottesville, the border wall with Mexico or other controversies that have captivated much of the country in recent days.
Navy veteran Ken Lembrich, from Idaho Falls, Idaho, said Trump was on point and delivered a good speech.
Focusing on unity and Americans’ shared values was the right message, he said.
“It is what veterans need, what the military needs, what the country needs,“ Lembrich said. “We need to come together.”
Army veteran Marj Goosey of California also praised Trump’s comments.
“I was impressed,” she said. “I really appreciate what he had to say, particularly about cleaning up the VA system.”
Goosey, who said she voted for neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton, added that she has been impressed with his performance as president so far.
“I think he’s doing a pretty good job,” she said.
Trump was greeted on his arrival at Reno International Airport by Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt on his first public appearance in the state since his election as president.
Trump invited Sandoval to ride with him to the event.
In a statement from his office, Sandoval said he and Trump discussed the health of the nation and Nevada’s economic recovery, local and national veterans issues and Sandoval’s role as chairman of the National Governors Association.
Sandoval expressed appreciation to Trump for visiting Nevada to “honor our nation’s veterans.”
Protesters both in support and opposition to Trump lined the streets around the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, where some roads were closed and a heavy police presence was on hand. The protests did not get out of hand.
His arrival in Nevada came amid continuing controversy over his comments that “there is blame on both sides” regarding violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The American Legion, a 2 million-member veterans group, issued a statement on the eve of Trump’s appearance announcing the organization has reaffirmed a 1923 resolution that condemns racism and hate groups.
“In 1923, The American Legion passed a national resolution at our convention in San Francisco that is as relevant today as it was 94 years ago,” National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said in a statement.
Trump’s comments about the violence that erupted Aug. 12 in Charlottesville continued to shadow him during the first stop on his western trip, an appearance Tuesday at a Phoenix campaign-style rally.
Trump lost Nevada to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 general election but won Nevada’s Republican caucuses, beating a slew of seasoned GOP politicians.
Contact Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter. Contact Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter. White House correspondent Debra Saunders contributed to this report.