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Fight Night: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump To Face Off Directly For First Time At Commander-in-Chief Forum

NEW YORK — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will face off at the same event for the first of several times this election cycle when Matt Lauer of NBC moderates the first joint event between the two Wednesday evening.

The Commander-in-Chief Forum is a first-of-its-kind event and will be broadcast live on MSNBC and most NBC stations starting at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Lauer, a former “notable member” of the Clinton Global Initiative—a leadership arm of the highly controversial Clinton Foundation—will moderate the event, which is being put on by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) organization here in New York City.

“During this one-hour forum, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be on stage back-to-back taking questions on national security, military affairs and veterans issues from NBC News and an audience comprised mainly of military veterans and active service members,” MSNBC states.

On its website, IAVA says the forum “will engage a live audience of primarily veterans, servicemembers, and military family members to ask questions of both candidates on the issues that are most important to our community.”

“The first general election forum featuring Clinton and Trump, the Commander in Chief Forum, will set the tone for the 62 days leading up to Election Day,” IAVA says.

Veterans are far too often used for campaign theater, only to take a back seat after a candidate is sworn into office. Since our founding in 2004, IAVA has worked to reverse that trend by holding elected officials accountable to their campaign promises — and to their moral obligation as Americans to support and honor the sacrifice of our nation’s 22 million veterans, servicemembers and their families. IAVA advocates for veterans as a non-partisan organization and is not affiliated with any political party or candidate.

The forum is technically not a debate, since Clinton and Trump won’t be interacting directly, but it’s the first event at which both will appear. Later in September, they will engage in their first of three debates–which are in addition to one vice presidential debate between Trump’s running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)–which will happen at Hofstra University in New York. The second debate will be in St. Louis, Missouri, and the third in Las Vegas, Nevada. The vice presidential debate will be in Virginia, Kaine’s home state. 

The event comes in the wake of a contentious Tuesday on national security issues, when Clinton questioned Trump’s efficacy as a potential commander in chief of the United States armed forces, while Trump held an event with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—a lifelong Democrat and former head of President Barack Obama’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who is supporting Trump for president—and rolled out the endorsement of scores of former U.S. generals and admirals.

In Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday, Clinton ripped Trump on national security matters, saying of his plans to defeat the Islamic State: “He says he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS, but the secret is he has no plan.”

But Trump, in Greenville, North Carolina, in an event separate from the Gen. Flynn event in Virginia Beach earlier in the day, said Tuesday that he would expect the Trump administration’s senior-most military advisers to devise a plan to swiftly defeat the Islamic State within 30 days of him taking office.

“We are going to convey my top generals and give them a simple instruction,” the GOP presidential nominee said in Greenville. “They will have 30 days to submit to the oval office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS. We have no choice.”

Clinton, in her Tampa rally, also bashed Trump on military issues in general.

“His whole campaign has been one long insult to all those who’ve worn the uniform,” Clinton said of her rival, according to the Washington Post.

But again on Tuesday morning, Trump’s campaign trumped Clinton on that front too, rolling out the endorsement of 88 former U.S. generals and admirals.

“The 2016 election affords the American people an urgently needed opportunity to make a long-overdue course correction in our national security posture and policy,” the 88 retired senior military officials wrote in their letter.

As retired senior leaders of America’s military, we believe that such a change can only be made by someone who has not been deeply involved with, and substantially responsible for, the hollowing out of our military and the burgeoning threats facing our country around the world. For this reason, we support Donald Trump’s candidacy to be our next Commander-in-Chief. For the past eight years, America’s armed forces have been subjected to a series of ill considered and debilitating budget cuts, policy choices and combat operations that have left the superb men and women in uniform less capable of performing their vital missions in the future than we require them to be. Simultaneously, enemies of this country have been emboldened, sensing weakness and irresolution in Washington and opportunities for aggression at our expense and that of other freedom-loving nations. In our professional judgment, the combined effect is potentially extremely perilous. That is especially the case if our government persists in the practices that have brought us to this present pass. For this reason, we support Donald Trump and his commitment to rebuild our military, to secure our borders, to defeat our Islamic supremacist adversaries and restore law and order domestically. We urge our fellow Americans to do the same.

Trump, in a statement, celebrated the endorsement from the senior military officials.

“It is a great honor to have such amazing support from so many distinguished retired military leaders,” Trump said.

I thank each of them for their service and their confidence in me to serve as commander-in-chief. Keeping our nation safe and leading our armed forces is the most important responsibility of the presidency. Under my administration, we will end the weak foreign policy of the last eight years, rebuild our military, give our troops clear rules of engagement and take care of our veterans when they come home. We can only Make America Great Again if we ensure our military remains the finest fighting force in the world, and that’s exactly what I will do as president.

It’s also worth noting that the letter was organized in part by Major General Sidney Shachnow, who the Trump campaign noted in its release “is the only Holocaust survivor to become a U.S. General” and served with the Green Berets for 32 years of his illustrious 40-year military career. Shachnow organized the letter with Rear Admiral Charles Williams, who over his career led five different organizations and received the Legion of Merit.

Gen. Flynn, who appeared with Trump in Virginia Beach on Tuesday, also said that Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president—and that Trump has widespread support in the military.

“Hillary Clinton has made clear she is running as a staunch defender of the status quo when it comes to the issues facing our military, and she has shown through her foreign policy decisions and her mishandling of classified information that she lacks the judgment to do the job,” Flynn stated. “Mr. Trump’s deep and growing support in the military community and his thoughtful proposals show he’s the right person to lead our men and women in uniform.”

In the event here on Tuesday night—which will take place aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, a World War II era aircraft carrier, now the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum—Trump and Clinton can only be expected to escalate their battles with each other.

The all important veteran vote, however, does appear to be breaking in Trump’s direction, as a new NBC News/Survey Monkey poll shows veterans breaking by nearly 20 points toward Trump over Clinton. Trump leads Clinton among military and veteran voters by 55 to 36 percent in the survey.

“According to a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey online poll, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is favored among voters who are currently serving or have previously served in the U.S. military, leading Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 19 points,” NBC News said in a Wednesday morning release.

53 percent of these voters feel comfortable in Trump’s ability to be an effective commander-in-chief of the nation’s military; comparatively, just 35 percent feel comfortable in Clinton’s ability. When broadened to all registered voters, voter confidence in Trump’s ability lowers to 39 percent and grows to 46 percent in Clinton’s ability. Trump also leads Clinton among military and veteran voters when it comes to veterans issues: 53 percent to 28 percent. However, the lead dwindles to one point among all registered voters: 40 percent to 39 percent. More voters trust Clinton over Trump to make the right decisions about the use of nuclear weapons: 34 percent of military and veteran voters (a one-point advantage over Trump) and 44 percent of all registered voters (a 20-point lead over Trump).

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