Donald Trump on Sunday took his campaign promise of better treatment for military veterans to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, appealing to hundreds of Rolling Thunder bikers who rally every Memorial Day weekend in the nation’s capital.
"We have to take care of vets,” the presumptive GOP presidential nominee told the group, dedicated to remembering prisoners of war and those killed in action. “Illegal immigrants are taken much better care of in this country than our vets. … We're not going to allow that to happen any longer."
The speech at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was Trump’s latest outreach to veterans’ groups, including many angry over his comments last year about liking "people who weren't captured" in wars.
The remark was a dig at Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, who was captured and held for more than five years during the Vietnam War. Trump claimed that McCain was a "war hero because he was captured" and has refused to apologize to McCain.
Since then Trump has worked to try to repair the damage. He frequently honors veterans at his rallies and he has come out with a plan to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He also held a fundraiser for veterans' causes, in place of an Iowa debate that he skipped. However, Trump, who avoided the draft through a series of deferments, drew scrutiny for not immediately distributing the $6 million he'd claimed to raise, including $1 million he'd pledged himself.
He said Sunday that he would hold a press conference Tuesday to announce the names of the charities selected to receive the money.
In his roughly 30-minute speech honed for the audience, Trump also vowed to "knock the hell out of" the Islamic State terror group by building a bigger and better military.
Trump said his plan to cut wait times for veterans needing medical care, which in recent years has at times reached crisis levels, includes allowing such patients to see a private doctor and the government paying "the bill.”
He touted his support for the Second Amendment, pointing out his endorsement from the National Rifle Association. And he vowed to rebuild the military, which he said has been "decimated."
Trump has a loyal following with bikers, who frequently attend his rallies, where they sometimes clash with Trump protesters.
“We love the bikers?” Trump said to applause. “My people said they’re here to protect you. You’re all going to behave yourselves, right? … There won’t be any paid agitators in this group."
Among those eager to hear Trump speak was Louis Naymik, 52, of Clarksburg, Maryland, who said he served in the Ohio Army National Guard for four years.
"There's history in the air here," he said. "We're living in historic times in our country today with the election and the choosing of a new president. And I just wanted to give honor to those who have fallen and sacrificed their lives for our country."
The Associated Press contributed this report.