Clinton, Trump strive to be trusted with hand on button
WASHINGTON — A terse, defensive Hillary Clinton tried to show she can be trusted as commander in chief, vowing she did nothing to compromise national security on her personal email server.
A tough-talking Donald Trump aimed to demonstrate he’s got the temperament and judgment to lead the nation, but offered few details about what he might do differently.
The two presidential candidates tried hard to polish their tarnished images as they appeared back to back Wednesday for the first time since they were nominated in July, at a forum on military and national security issues hosted by NBC.
This much was obvious during the hourlong forum, which was a preview of sorts of their three upcoming debates: Both face a hard sell.
A big chunk of Clinton’s appearance featured her steely, lawyer-like insistence that she did nothing improper with her private email server while secretary of state. Polls show Clinton is widely viewed as untrustworthy by voters, and the email furor is often cited as evidence why.
The FBI has said she was “extremely careless” in handling sensitive information. It presented her with eight separate emails, each highlighted with a capital C, indicating it was classified at the level of confidential. Clinton said she was unaware what that meant.
Asked by investigators about a Pentagon employee’s email about a drone strike, Clinton said the employee was familiar with handling classified information and therefore was not concerned about the source of the email.
Host Matt Lauer on Wednesday asked about the classified information. “Of course there were no discussions of any of the covert actions in process, being determined whether or not to go forward,” Clinton said.
She said of classified material, “There is a header so there is no dispute at all so what is being communicated to or from someone is marked classified.”
Trump, who followed Clinton at the forum on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier turned museum berthed on the Hudson in New York, was asked about his qualifications for office. The businessman, who has never held public office, said he had “great experience dealing on an international basis.”
Asked what he had done to prepare himself to send men and women in harm’s way, Trump said, “I have great judgment.” Clinton, he said, “has a happy trigger.”
Trump is eager to establish credentials as a leader who can steer foreign policy in a reasonable way. A CNN/ORC survey Sept. 1-4 found that by 56 percent to 36 percent, voters saw Clinton as having the proper temperament to be president. They also said, by 50 percent to 45 percent, that she is better suited to be commander in chief. Clinton, secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, had a decided advantage in handling foreign policy.
Trump was asked about temperament, as Lauer recited some of the inflammatory statements he’s made throughout his campaign. He defended his comments in November that he knows more than generals about the Islamic State.
He was asked his plan if he fulfills his pledge to defeat the Islamic State. Trump criticized the Obama administration for its handling of the situation, and said the U.S. should “take the oil.”
Trump continued to insist he was opposed to the Iraq War. Clinton, then a U.S. senator from New York, voted for the war, but reiterated Monday she’d made a mistake. But Trump, in a 2002 interview with radio host Howard Stern said, “Yeah, I guess so” when asked if he backed the war.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump outlined his military plan, including:
—Increasing the Army to 540,000, up about 65,000.
—Increasing the Marine Corps to 36 battalions, up from 24.
—Building up the Navy to 350 surface ships and submarines from the current 280.
—Increasing the number of Air Force fighter aircraft to 1,200 from what he pegged at 1,113.
—Developing a state-of-the-art missile system.
His numbers come from a variety of sources, including military officials and conservative research groups.
He would boost spending to pay for the buildup, lifting spending caps called the sequester that passed with bipartisan support in 2013. Both Clinton and President Barack Obama also support ending the sequester.
Trump said he would offset the military buildup by eliminating federal waste, fraud and abuse, a concept that politicians have cited for decades as a painless way to cut spending but that has routinely either been rejected or fallen far short of the goals. He spoke of “common-sense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks.”
“Any sort of major military buildup can’t be done through waste, fraud and abuse or uncollected taxes,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group.
“It’s just not out there,” he said, “and besides that, Trump has a tax cut plan on the table.”
Bixby noted that Trump has already promised to preserve social programs such as Medicaid, in part, by cutting waste, fraud and abuse.
Another Trump idea is to cut the federal workforce through attrition. A 2013 Congressional Budget Office study of an attrition plan projected about $42 billion in savings over 10 years.
But, the agency warned, the cuts “would probably reduce the quality and quantity of some of the services provided and could have other negative effects,” notably an increase in fraud and abuse of government programs.
What’s unusual is that Trump is advocating a larger military while he’s talked about U.S. allies bearing a greater burden, said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Trump has talked about drastically changing the U.S. relationship with NATO if allied countries don’t pay their contractual fair share in the security pact. During the Republican primaries, he also talked about Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia having nuclear weapons to better defend themselves.
“The odd thing is Trump is advocating this,” Cancian said. “Trump has talked about putting more responsibilities on our allies. He’s in line with other Republicans have proposed, but not consistent with the strategies that he’s proposed.”