President Trump on Friday kicked off a nearly two-week Asia trip with a stop in Hawaii, visiting military and historic sites amid protests and growing concern over security threats in the state and U.S. Pacific territories.
The president, who was visiting Hawaii for the first time since his inauguration, appeared at times humbled and excited as he stopped for a briefing at Pacific Command, the U.S. military’s headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region, and later toured the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
The visit to a site honoring those killed in an attack that led the U.S. into a war in which it would drop nuclear bombs on Japan had new symbolism compared with previous presidential visits, due to the growing nuclear standoff with North Korea. Trump is expected to spend part of his five-nation tour in Asia honing security alliances as well as pushing U.S. economic ties. The president was also meeting Friday with governors of U.S. states and territories in the Pacific to discuss the North Korean threat.
Melania Trump to the Arizona memorial, where he took part in a wreath-laying ceremony. White House Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Kelly, national security advisor H.R. McMaster and Adm. Harry Harris of Pacific Command joined the president, who said it would be “exciting” to see Pearl Harbor.
“I’ve read about, spoken about, heard about, studied, but I haven’t seen” the site, he said.
At the memorial, built above the Arizona’s sunken hull, the president saluted as he entered and watched as sailors placed a wreath of white flowers near a wall bearing the names of those who died in the attack. Afterward, the couple threw white flower petals into the water outside. The president did not make a public statement at the ceremony.
About 100 supporters — a mix of military service members and civilians — cheered the president and first lady, who had been given traditional Hawaiian leis upon their afternoon arrival at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Trump supporters also gathered at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in tourist-heavy Waikiki, where the overnight presidential visit closed streets and snarled traffic before an expected early-morning departure.
President Obama was not born in Hawaii.
“Welcome to Kenya” and “No, Trump, HI is Obama’s birthplace,” some of the signs read. “Aloha also means goodbye” and “So bad you make Bush look good,” said others.
Kaniela Ing, a Democrat from the state’s House of Representatives, was among the protesters.
“The idea of the aloha spirit is that we welcome everyone who comes here. But when there’s a leader whose whole M.O. seems to be making America a less welcoming place for whole groups of people, that’s where we need to draw the line,” said Ing, a 28-year-old Native Hawaiian. “He’s simply not welcome.”
Honolulu resident Joe Dallin held a poster showing the president’s name in a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud.
“This is life or death in many ways. We’re scared he’ll provoke nuclear war, and we’re out here living in the Pacific,” said Dallin, a 44-year-old massage therapist.
Across the street, Edward Odquina, 42, was among about a dozen people who showed up to support the president. He wore a “Make America great again” red hat and held a sign with the slogan as he gave military salutes to cars passing by.
He said he came out to show that, even in liberal Hawaii, Trump has fans. “I like what he’s doing to support the troops,” Odquina said.
Trump’s schedule Friday included face time with the governors of Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to discuss nuclear threats. North Korean officials have said their nation could bomb Guam, and Trump has suggested that the U.S. may attack North Korea.
Tensions have grown in Hawaii, which next month will start testing a statewide bomb warning system that hasn’t been used since the Cold War. Emergency preparedness officials in the state are holding seminars for residents in case North Korea develops the capability to hit the islands with nuclear missiles.
“We always look for the opportunity to engage the president. As you know, the people of island nations always have unique and different challenges,” said Hawaiian Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, before his scheduled meeting with the president.
“The people of Hawaii are safe.… We have a very good defensive team,” he said.
Trump was scheduled to depart Saturday morning for Japan, where he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and attend state events before traveling to South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. In Asia, the president will join meetings with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders group and the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations.
10:15 p.m.: This article was updated with details of Trump’s visits to military and historic sites and quotes from locals demonstrating in support of and against the president.