Trump makes unannounced visit to Arlington National Cemetery

Mr Trump talks to Ms Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director Army National Military Cemeteries, while visiting Arlington Cemetery.
Mr Trump talks to Ms Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director Army National Military Cemeteries, while visiting Arlington Cemetery.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - President Donald Trump made an unscheduled visit to Arlington National Cemetery on a rainy Saturday (Dec 15), following weeks of criticism for skipping ceremonial visits in the United States and abroad that other presidents have made and for his lack of meetings with US troops in combat zones.

The President spent 15 minutes at the storied Virginia cemetery, walking with two military officers dressed in camouflage and a tour guide, looking at the thousands of grave markers that had been decorated with holiday wreaths.

The visit was not on Mr Trump's public schedule, which often signals a last-minute decision.

"They're doing a great job," Mr Trump said, before saying that he wanted to expand the cemetery so more service members could be buried in the hallowed grounds.

He said little else publicly, appearing to intently listen to his tour guide.

He did not lay a wreath but walked along a long row of tombstones, appearing to examine them while holding a large black umbrella. He appeared to be wearing waterproof boots as he traipsed the muddy grounds that have been the resting place for the nation's honoured dead since the Civil War.

He visited on Wreaths Across America Day, where thousands of volunteers in the US visit graves at military cemeteries across the nation.

 

The President has faced weeks of criticism for his interactions with the military. He was mocked by Democratic opponents, and some Republicans, too, for skipping a visit to honour Americans killed in battle during his visit to France last month, during the commemoration of the end of the World War I.

White House aides said it was impossible for the President to visit the cemetery because weather conditions were too bad for his helicopter to fly.

Mr Trump later berated outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly - who went to the cemetery - and Mr Zach Fuentes, Mr Kelly's deputy, over the skipped trip.

Mr Trump did not visit Arlington on Veterans Day. He later made a rare public apology, saying he should have gone but was too busy making calls from the White House. He spent much of that day meeting with his lawyers, White House aides later said.

The President has also come under criticism for not visiting troops in war zones during his first two years of the presidency. The President has said he plans to do so, but has not announced particulars, citing security.

After retired admiral William McRaven criticised him, Mr Trump attacked the officer who led the raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. The President said the terrorist should have been caught sooner and called Mr McRaven a supporter of Mrs Hillary Clinton, in comments that brought a bipartisan rebuke.

Mr Trump on Saturday also commented on a Texas judge's Friday ruling that the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act was not constitutional, telling reporters that he wanted to work with Democrats to pass a new law - without offering specifics or saying how he would do it.

"We'll get great healthcare for our people, that's a repeal and replace, handled a little bit differently, but it was a big, big victory by a highly respected judge, highly, highly respected in Texas," Mr Trump said.