VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Making a play for veterans and evangelical voters in this conservative military community, Mitt Romney pounded President Obama for failing to stop defense spending cuts that were part of a deficit-cutting deal and accused him of straying from the nation’s founding principles.
At a military museum here Saturday afternoon, the Republican presidential candidate tried out a new version of his stump speech that, compared with past speeches, was unusually heavy with references to God and centered on the Pledge of Allegiance. Televangelist Pat Robertson, the host of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club,” met with Romney briefly before the event, but a Romney aide said the two men did not discuss Romney’s remarks.
After spontaneously reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in his speech, Romney noted that U.S. coins bear the motto “In God We Trust” and said he would resist any move to change that. (It was unclear what prompted the remark because striking the motto has not been proposed in recent memory by anyone in mainstream politics, including the president.)
He then segued into a criticism of Democrats for initially removing a reference to God in their party platform this week at the Democratic National Convention. (The reference to God was later restored, at the insistence of Obama.)
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“For me, the Pledge of Allegiance and placing our hand over our heart reminds us of the blood that was shed by our sons and daughters fighting for our liberty and sharing liberty with people around the word,” he said. “The promises that were made in that pledge are promises I plan on keeping if I’m president, and I’ve kept them so far in my life. The pledge says ‘under God.’ I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coin,s and I will not take God out of my heart. We’re a nation that’s bestowed by God.”
Romney Advisor Kevin Madden said Romney made the reference to U.S. coins as an “example of where a principle like ‘In God We Trust’ is already on public display.”
Before an audience filled with veterans, Romney and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who introduced the Republican nominee at the event, said Obama had not done enough to halt pending defense cuts that are slated to take effect next year.
As part of the agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling last summer, Democrats and Republicans in Congress, including Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), agreed that automatic cuts in both defense and domestic spending, known as sequesters, would take effect next year unless Congress agreed on a better way to reduce the deficit.
Congress has not agreed on a better plan, so the cuts are still scheduled to take effect. Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have both said they oppose the planned cuts in defense. The administration and Senate Democrats have insisted, however, that any plan to reduce the deficit and eliminate the sequester must include new revenues from an increase on upper-income taxes.
In his introduction, McDonnell noted that Panetta said the cuts would be devastating to the United States military, but did not mention that Obama opposes them. Romney picked up where McDonnell left off, tying his remarks to the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance: “liberty and justice for all.”
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“I will not forget that for us to have liberty here, for us to be able to protect ourselves from the most evil around the world, for us to share liberty with our friends around the world,” he said. “We must have a military second to none, so strong no one would ever think of testing it.”
Romney, who was criticized for not explicitly mentioning the war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech last week at the Republican National Convention, added that U.S. “troops have been stretched to the breaking point in the conflicts they’ve been enduring.” He added that, “our hearts go out to those that are in far-off places today, particularly those in Afghanistan who are in harm’s way.”
“We love them, we respect them, we honor their sacrifice,” Romney continued. “But to preserve liberty we must have a commitment, not just to more ships and more aircraft, but also, in my view, to more members of our armed forces.”
Romney said he would not cut the U.S. military and referenced McDonnell’s remarks about “the sequestration cuts that the White House came up with” — citing the White House as the origin of those cuts according to information in a new book by Bob Woodward.
Neither Republicans nor Democrats viewed the mandatory military cuts as desirable. The notion behind the sequester concept was to come up with something so unpleasant for both parties that Congress would be forced to look seriously at coming up with a better deficit reduction plan. But so far, the two side still haven’t come together to avoid the cuts scheduled to take place next year.
“It was their idea, so we’re talking about a trillion dollars in cuts,” Romney said. “The estimates of the kind of numbers of jobs lost in Virginia from these cuts is between 100,000 and 200,000. It’s unthinkable. It’s unthinkable to Virginia — to our employment needs — but it’s also unthinkable to the ability and the commitment of America to maintain our liberty, with liberty for all.”
Staff writer David Lauter contributed to this report.
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