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AFL-CIO Now

Obama Builds Modern Navy, Romney Stuck in 1916

This is one of the Virginia class nuclear submarines being built at Newport News Shipyards. Newport News Shipyard photo.

In Monday night’s presidential debate, when Mitt Romney boldly proclaimed that the U.S. Navy has fewer ships today than it did in 1916, President Obama reminded him that the Navy’s 21st century mission is far different and the fleet’s capabilities are far greater.

But with the election in two weeks, Republicans twisted President Obama’s barbed response to Romney as a grievous insult to the Navy and a threat to the men and women who are continuing to build the world’s most modern naval warfare force ever.  

First, here’s what President Obama said, and then we’ll hear from the shipyard workers.    

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed. We had these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines. So the question is not a game of battleship, where we're counting ships. It's 'What are our capabilities?'

The only insult I see here is to Romney’s grasp of modern warfare.

Much of that modern warfighting capability—including aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines—is built at the Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News (Va.) shipyard by more than 7,000 members of United Steelworkers Local 8888. Says Local 8888 President Arnold Outlaw:

Mitt Romney and his surrogates are conveniently ignoring the point of President Obama’s comments in last night’s debate. Our members know first-hand that President Obama believes in equipping our military with the resources it needs to protect our nation’s 21st century security interests while creating jobs in the process.

Ron Ault, president of the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department that represents workers at Newport News, other Navy shipbuilding and repair facilities and private shipyards that build naval warships, said:

President Obama correctly pointed out it is about the capability of our naval warships—not just the quantity of ships. We are building the most versatile, most capable technologically advanced warships in the world, fully capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously.  

Former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig says Navy shipbuilding is up under the Obama administration after declining under the previous Republican administration.   

The basic point that didn't get mentioned, that I would add, is the number of ships actually went down during the years of George W. Bush and have gone up in the Obama years. So the notion that Republicans are more effective in building the Navy is not a correct one. The Navy is stronger than it's ever been.

Ault pointed to the recent christening of the USS America, a new class of big deck amphibious aircraft carrier designed to be active in the U.S. fleet until at least 2053.  

The crew that will man the America in 2053 will face yet unknown mission requirements. Our ships are designed to be adaptable and capable to successfully fight and win battles with yet unknown foes in yet unknown conflicts. There is no other Navy in the world that has the Navy America has, nor the technologies and fighting/survivability of our ships. America is far and away superior to any of the navies of any nation on earth.  

Ault said, “I took no insult from our president's remarks, nor did I see any reason for anyone in the shipbuilding or ship repair industry to. He simply spoke the truth."

Speaking of truth, Outlaw noted Romney’s recently revealed comments about nearly half of America as the truth about Romney's attitude about folks outside his Republican bubble.     

Mitt Romney is somebody who dismissed 47% of America, our veterans, seniors and working families. His policies prove that he does not care about the interests of middle-class workers, including shipbuilders. United Steelworkers Local 8888 and its 7,000-plus members proudly support President Obama’s efforts to rebuild the middle class by fighting for workers’ rights, health care, safety protections and retirement security.

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