President Donald Trump said in an interview aired Sunday that he was busy with phone calls and "affairs of state," but probably made a mistake in skipping the solemn wreath-laying ceremony on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery.
He also appeared to make a mistake in claiming that he was at Arlington last year for Veterans Day.
"And I probably, you know, in retrospect, I should have" gone to Arlington last Monday, Trump said. "And I did last year, and I will virtually every year."
However, Trump on Veterans Day 2017 was on a state visit to Vietnam, where he marked the occasion by meeting with Vietnam veterans.
At a hotel in Danang on Nov. 10, 2017, while on an 11-day visit to the region, Trump made a speech and told the seven Vietnam War veterans present that "You are the heroes who fulfill your duty to our nation," according to the White House transcript and White House media pool reports.
In an interview that aired Sunday, Trump told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace he had arrived back in Washington the night of Nov. 10 from a trip to France for meetings with world leaders marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.
Trump said "we had come in very late at night and I had just left, literally, the [Suresnes] American Cemetery in Paris and I really probably assumed that was fine and I was extremely busy because of affairs of state -- doing other things."
"But it was Veterans Day," Wallace interjected, asking why Trump didn't make the short trip from the White House "across the river to Arlington for that ceremony."
"I could have done that, [but] as you know I just left the day before the American Cemetery and I probably think -- and that was one where it was raining as hard as you can imagine -- and I made a speech at the American Cemetery the day before," Trump said.
In his absence at Arlington, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie attended the event.
Trump also faced criticism for not attending ceremonies Nov. 10 about 50 miles north of Paris at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, where more than 2,000 U.S. service members who fell in World War I are buried. He has said the Secret Service ruled out the trip, and reiterated the point in the interview with Wallace.
Trump said the Marine One helicopter could not fly in the bad weather and the Secret Service was adamant against his traveling by road to the site.
"I did have a problem in France," Trump said. "They made a big deal" of his not going to the Aisne-Marne ceremony, Trump said of the Secret Service. "They wouldn't let me do it."
On that occasion, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, went in his place.
Trump's White House schedule last Monday was clear and did not list any events for him.
Although there are no protocols calling for the president to be present at Arlington on Veterans Day, it has become semi-traditional for either the president or the vice president to attend when they are in Washington.
He spoke on veterans’ issues while also attending the first-ever "Carrier Classic," a basketball game in which North Carolina defeated Michigan State on a court set up on the carrier's flight deck.
Vice President Mike Pence was unavailable to go to Arlington in Trump's place. On Veterans Day, Pence was in Alaska, where his plane made a refueling stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska en route to Asia for a series of meetings with regional leaders.
During the stop, Pence spoke on veterans' issues and also met with service members and veterans.
During the Fox interview, Trump gave himself high marks for his performance in nearly two years as president, said veterans' concerns had his highest priority and once again left open the possibility that Kelly would be leaving the White House soon.
"I don't think anybody's done more than me" for veterans, said Trump, adding that he gave himself an "A-plus" rating as president.
"I think I'm doing a great job," he said.
As for Kelly, Trump said he got along well with him, but added, "there are certain things -- I don't like what he's done."
He did not go into detail on what he didn't like.
"I haven't even thought about John," and the possibility that he would leave, Trump said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.