President Trump made an unscheduled visit to Arlington National Cemetery on a rainy Saturday, 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 U.S. 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 Trump’s public schedule, which often signals a last-minute decision.
“They’re doing a great job,” 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 honored dead since the Civil War.
He visited on Wreaths Across America Day, when thousands of volunteers in the United States visit graves at military cemeteries.
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 honor Americans killed in battle during his visit to France last month, during the commemoration of the end of World War I. White House aides said it was impossible for the president to visit the cemetery because conditions were too bad for his helicopter to fly. Trump later berated outgoing White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly — who went to the cemetery — and Zach Fuentes, Kelly’s deputy, over the skipped trip.
Trump did not visit Arlington National Cemetery 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 Adm. William McRaven criticized him, 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 McRaven a supporter of Hillary Clinton, in comments that brought a bipartisan rebuke.
Trump on Saturday also commented on a Texas federal 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 health care 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,” Trump said.