Tepid clapping greets unpopular Obama’s VA speech at American Legion convention in his first speech to group since 2011
- President fell flat as audience of thousands responded to military pledges with anemic ovations
- Some applause lines met with awkward silence while others earned only three seconds of feeble clapping
- Crowd came to life to honor fellow veterans, not Obama
- President announced 19 ‘executive actions’ aimed at restoring faith in failed VA system and providing better health care outcomes to war veterans
- Obama flopped with messages defending his cautious approach to battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria
President Barack Obama faced a tough crowd on Tuesday – American military veterans – and fell flat on his applause lines as he failed to win over the American Legion’s convention-goers.
His 35-minute speech seemed to have reminded the audience of the stark divide between the White House’s policy choices and the feelings of the men and women often called on to carry them out.
A Virginia legionnaire who served in the U.S. Marine Corps told MailOnline that ‘a small group of Obama’s admirers – and there are some here – sat near the front and tried to generate applause for him about 10 times.’
‘They didn’t get much pickup,’ the retired lieutenant colonel said of the ‘instigators’ gathered at the Charlotte, North Carolina event, but ‘they were persistent. You could tell when the applause was genuine and when it wasn’t. It was obvious to everyone here.’
Most of the veterans sat on their hands, leaving awkward silences where White House speechwriters expected ovations.
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Not buying it: An estimated 10,000 American Legionnaires registered to attend the convention in Charlotte, but few of them were on their feet clapping for the commander-in-chief
Silence: President Barack Obama couldn’t pull the trigger on applause lines that usually succeed with his more reliably partisan audiences
Salute! The president offered respect to a female airman after his speech, but he got little respect from thousands of men and women who had already served in the armed forces
‘Some of these guys – well, most of them – remember that Obama sent Biden to speak to us last year in Houston, and blew us off entirely during his 2012 campaign.’
That year, the president sent a 3-minute video message instead of coming to Indianapolis. Mitt Romney, his Republican rival, flew 1,000 miles to speak in person.
The veteran asked MailOnline to conceal his identity. ‘I don’t need that kind of trouble,’ he said. ‘I work for a government contractor.’
After the customary introductions and thank-yous to dignitaries, Obama spoke for nearly eight full minutes on Tuesday without a single clap.
He touted his foreign policy bona fides, boasting that ‘even countries that criticize us – when the chips are down and they need help, they know who to call. They call us. That’s what American leadership looks like.’
‘Sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure, means we have to use our power wisely,’ Obama cautioned, in keeping with his slow approach to battling ISIS and other terror groups overseas.
‘History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.’
‘You know that we should never send America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan and we are resourcing it and prepared to see it through.’
Tepid clapping followed pregnant seconds of emptiness.
‘We removed more than 140,000 troops from Iraq and welcomed those troops home. It was the right thing to do.’
Obama couldn’t muster sustained applause for a declaration that ‘in just four months we will complete our combat mission in Afghanistan and America’s longest war will come to a responsible end.’
Not even when he paused to honor ‘every American who served to make this progress possible, every single one, especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to keep us safe.’
EXECUTIVE ACTIONS: OBAMA POLICIES HIT PENTAGON AND VETERANS AFFAIRS DEPT
The White House is touting a package of 19 ‘executive actions’ designed to improve the lot of servicemen and women after they return to civilian life.
Many are symbolic or represent minor changes. A few indicate significant moves in the direction veterans groups have demanded for decades:
- The Pentagon will automatically enroll service members who receive mental health care in similar programs at the VA and guarantee insurance coverage will continue for medications they were on
- The VA and the Pentagon are expanding suicide prevention training for healthcare providers and chaplains
- They will both launch new programs to encourage firearm safety and reduce the risk of drug overdoses
- Five-year, $78.9 million research program will target minimally-invasive neurotechnologies to help the body and brain heal – a move that could impact treatments for PTSD
- Pentagon is providing specialized medical kits to every first-responder on military bases to help reverse opiate overdoses
After he pledged to ‘partner with Afghans so their country can never again be used to launch attacks against the United States,’ four seconds elapsed before a weak round of clapping could be heard in the hall.
Obama did hit his stride, eventually. A louder but brief ovation rang out after he laid down an ultimatum to ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
‘Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple,’ he said, calling to mind last week’s beheading video of American photojournalist James Foley.
‘American does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans – to go after those who harm Americans.’
But the legionnaires held back their heartfelt acclaim for a full 17 minutes until the president mentioned the cure for what ails them.
Obama’s first and only truly robust applause line came with a pledge to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, which has come under fire for months-long medical wait times and a scheme that buried appointments in order to artificially inflate success numbers.
‘The misconduct we’ve seen of too many facilities, with long wait times and veterans denied care, and folks cooking the books, is outrageous and inexcusable,’ Obama said, waking up the crowd’s enthusiasm.
‘We’re focused on this at the highest levels. We are going to get to the bottom of these problems, we are going to fix what is wrong.’
‘We are going to do right by you and we are going to do right by your families,’ he said, earning his only spontaneous hoots and shouts. ‘And that is a solemn pledge of commitment that I’m making to you here.’
The VA, he said, has been given ‘the authority to more quickly remove senior executives who don’t meet our high standards. If you engage in unethical practices or cover up a serious problem, you should be and will be fired.’
Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republicans’ top dog on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told the Washington Examiner after Obama spoke that despite the president’s rhetoric, the White House has stymied Congress in its attempts to clean up the VA.
‘No one has been fired as a result of the VA scandal,’ Miller said. ‘The department is still sitting on 113 outstanding information requests from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and VA whistle-blowers who tried to expose problems are still enduring retaliation.’
Not impressed: American Legionnaires only rose to their feet to praise fellow veterans and hoot about firing VA miscreants, whiel they sat on their hands for Obama’s applause lines about his military strategy
Is this thing on? Obama spoke for nearly 8 minutes without a single applause line, despite pausing several times in hope of an ovation
Nuclear: Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan (L) is in the fight of her life in North Carolina, and greeted Obama at the airport but DIDN’T appear on stage with him
Daggers: Republican US Senator Richard Burr is no fan of Obama and hopes his flagging numbers drag down Hagan to provide his state with a GOP replacement
Obama’s speech described a set of 19 ‘executive actions’ – mostly small policy shifts, but including a few major tacks – designed to quell criticism of how his administration has cared for veterans since January 2009.
They include expanded suicide prevention programs, new research funding for science that could change treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a mandate that the Pentagon and VA provide a seamless transition for servicemen and women who receive mental health treatment and medications.
The Republican Party took shots at the president on Tuesday for allowing problems to fester on his watch. The GOP also aimed at North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, who is in a tough battle to keep her seat this November.
‘It’s been six years and President Obama and Senator Hagan have failed to deliver on the promises they’ve made to our veterans,’ said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short.
‘On their watch the systemic problems at the VA have only gotten worse, despite lofty campaign promises to fix the problem. But instead of delivering results for our veterans, Hagan has delivered for President Obama 96 percent of the time while failing to get a single bill she’s authored passed into law.’
Hagan addressed the legionnaires separately from Obama. The two joked and hugged after the president deplaned from Air Force One, but did not appear on stage together.
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