WASHINGTON — Fewer than 300 of President Donald Trump’s 3,000-plus tweets this year mentioned the military and veterans, but those scattered social media statements still had an oversized impact on his policies for both groups.
Here’s a review of some of the commander-in-chief’s most significant defense and veterans posts on Twitter this year:
** Dec. 21: “General Jim Mattis will be retiring”
The news of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' departure sent shock waves through Capitol Hill, where the former Marine Corps general was widely viewed as a critical moderating force within the administration. Trump’s tweet praised Mattis for his work at the Pentagon but made no mention of the internal strife that the outgoing Cabinet official hinted at in his resignation letter.
** Oct. 18: “I will call up the U.S. military and close our southern border”
In another of his most surprising and significant moves of the year, Trump announced just a few weeks before the midterm elections that he intended to send active-duty military members to southern states to support border security missions there.
More than 5,000 were deployed in ensuing weeks, a controversial mission that still continues today.
** Jan. 18: “A government shutdown will be devastating to our military”
The three-day partial government shutdown in January was also tied to immigration fights between Trump and congressional Democrats. The effects on military and veterans programs from the short operations disruption proved less severe than the last extended shutdown in 2013, but still resulted in training delays and some office closures on military bases.
** March 28: “The new secretary of Veterans Affairs”
Trump effectively fired then VA Secretary David Shulkin with this tweet, ending weeks of speculation over infighting at the department. Trump’s pick to replace him, White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, withdrew a month later amid controversies surrounding his professional conduct in that office.
The department would not get a permanent replacement until late July, when Robert Wilkie was confirmed for the post.
** March 25: “Our military is again rich”
After more than a year of fighting with congressional Democrats over defense spending, Trump finally reached a deal in the spring that gave the Pentagon a sizable boost in its fiscal 2018 budget plan. The agreement not only staved off another shutdown possibility for a few months, but it also allowed the defense budget to be passed on time for the first time in a decade.
** June 6: “It was my great honor to sign the VA Mission Act”
Throughout his presidential campaign and since he took office, Trump had promised to expand veterans access to private-sector health care. The Mission Act, which in part requires a rewrite of VA’s community care programs, represented a major step forward in that area, although it has also invited accusations that the president is working towards privatizing the department.
** Aug. 1: “U.S. Korean War remains are returned to American soil”
North Korean officials this summer turned over 55 boxes of what are believed to be the remains of U.S. and allied troops who fought in the Korean war. The move was connected to Trump’s negotiations with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un earlier in the year, and represented a major step forward for POW/MIA recovery efforts in the region.
** Aug. 29: “Loves our military and our vets”
This tweet was one of dozen of endorsements by Trump this year in advance of the midterm elections, many featuring the same phrase that his backed candidate “loves our military and veterans.” Conversely, he repeatedly attacked opponents for working against the military and his veterans policies, even in cases where they had previously agreed with his plans.
In this case, Trump’s endorsement did not sway McSally’s race enough for her to win.
** Feb. 22: “I never said give teachers guns”
In another surprising policy idea announced on Twitter, Trump discussed the possibility of putting armed veterans in schools to help better secure those buildings from potential shooters and criminals. The proposal drew widespread debate over realistic gun control measures, but in the end did not amount to any new policies.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.