WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is making up facts about a veterans’ health care program in his latest dig at late Sen. John McCain.
He says he’s no fan of McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and tortured prisoner of war, faulting him for failing to pass a program that gave veterans the option to see a private doctor at public expense.
“He was never able to get Choice. I got Choice,” Trump said Thursday to reporters. His jab at the late senator came as he defended a Trump administration order to keep a Navy ship named for McCain hidden from view during his recent trip to Japan as likely “well-meaning,” though Trump said he knew nothing about the request.
But McCain did get it done on vets’ care.
Trump routinely takes full credit for enacting the Veterans Choice program, ignoring the fact that it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. McCain was a co-sponsor of the legislation to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs. What Trump did was expand eligibility for the program.
A look at the claims, also covering his comments on Mars and veterans:
Trump: “Prime Minister Abe and I have agreed to dramatically expand our nations’ cooperation in human space exploration. Japan will join our mission to send U.S. astronauts to space. We’ll be going to the moon. We’ll be going to Mars very soon.” — news conference on May 27.
The Facts: Not very soon. The U.S. will almost certainly not be sending humans to Mars in his presidency, even if he wins a second term.
The Trump administration has a placed a priority on the moon over Mars for human exploration (President Barack Obama favored Mars) and hopes to accelerate NASA’s plan for returning people to the lunar surface. It has asked Congress to approve enough money to make a moon mission possible by 2024, instead of 2028. But even if that happens, Mars would come years after that. International space agencies have made aspirational statements about possibly landing humans on Mars during the 2030s.
Trump: “I disagree with John McCain on the way he handled the vets, because I said you got get to Choice. He was never able to get Choice. I got Choice.” — remarks Thursday to reporters, according to a transcript released by the White House .
Trump: “We passed VA Choice and VA Accountability to give our veterans the care that they deserve and they have been trying to pass these things for 45 years.” — Montoursville, Pennsylvania, rally on May 20.
Trump: “Another one they said could never get passed, they have been trying to do it for 40 years, we passed VA Choice. Veterans Choice.” — El Paso rally on Feb. 11.
The Facts: Trump was not the first president in four decades to pass the Veterans Choice program. What Trump got done was an expansion of the Choice program achieved by McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the main lawmakers who advanced the legislation signed by Obama.
McCain, an Arizona Republican, co-sponsored the legislation following a 2014 scandal at VA’s medical center in Phoenix, where some veterans died while waiting months for medical appointments. Sanders was then chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
After helping pass the program, McCain also fought to expand it in his last months before dying of brain cancer last August. Trump signed the legislation last June, which is named after three veterans. The legislation’s full name is the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018, or MISSION Act.