President Donald Trump turned a Boy Scouts event into a campaign-style rally Monday, starting off by saying he’d put aside the “fake news” and other issues in Washington while addressing the Boy Scouts of America 2017 National Scout Jamboree.
“I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” Trump said.
Trump went on to dive into politics anyway — blasting the media, pushing for the repeal of Obamacare and making a pointed remark about “loyalty.”
Listing off the virtues of Boy Scouts at the West Virginia speech, Trump said: “As the scout law says, a scout is trustworthy, loyal,” Trump said, before adding, “We could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”
Trump’s comments came the same day he called Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was in the Boy Scouts, “beleaguered” in a tweet expressing his frustration over the ongoing Russia investigations.
At the event, Trump also warmly recalled his victory against Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
“Do you remember that famous night on television, November 8?” Trump asked.
He told the Scouts that Republicans had a tremendous disadvantage in the Electoral College and that the popular vote, which he lost to Clinton, “is much easier.” He went on to tell the Scouts his victory was “an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other millions and millions of people that came out and voted for Make America Great Again.”
The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement in response to Trump’s appearance on Monday, clarifying that the Scouts did not endorse Trump nor did the group support a particular “position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy,” and that the group simply always extends invitations to sitting presidents.
It concluded, “the sitting US president serves as the BSA’s honorary president. It is our longstanding custom to invite the US president to the National Jamboree.”
Trump said many of his advisers were Boy Scouts, as were 10 of his Cabinet members. “Can you believe that? 10,” Trump said.
Two of those former Boy Scouts and now-Cabinet members, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, joined Trump onstage. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who made it to Eagle Scout and was the group’s president from 2010-2012, addressed the jamboree Friday.
Trump said several times the media would downplay the size of the audience at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, which the Boy Scouts in a news release prior to the event said they anticipated would be more than 40,000 people.
When Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price came out onstage, Trump took the opportunity to mention an impending vote in the Senate that could mean the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation.
“Hopefully he’s going to get the votes tomorrow to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that’s really hurting us,” Trump said.
He went on to say that if they didn’t get votes, “I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired,'” prompting laughter as Trump reached out to Price. He also told those gathered that Price needed to get Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, to support him on health care.
As he went through the speech, talking about the importance of scouting and the lessons the Scouts were learning, Trump continued to toss barbs at “the fake media, fake news,” amid more traditional fare, with Trump remarking at length on the importance of scouting and the values one needs to live a successful life.
“As much as you can,” Trump said, “do something that you love, work hard and never, ever give up and you’re going to be tremendously successful, tremendously successful.”
Seven of 11 sitting presidents, including George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have attended the annual event, according to the organization. Since 1910, every sitting president has served as the Boy Scouts of America’s honorary president. But Trump was the first sitting president to speak at the jamboree since George W. Bush.
At one point, Trump made reference to Obama not having attended a jamboree.
“By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?” Trump asked, turning around and reaching out his hands.
Trump, who revels in addressing large crowds, most recently addressed a rally in Iowa last month, revisiting many of the talking points that made him victorious in 2016.
And during this speech, Trump offered some of his classic talking points from the campaign, including one aimed at political correctness.
“Under the Trump administration, you will be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Trump said.