PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Saturday was a day of politics and football for President Donald Trump, who announced the departure of his chief of staff, nominated a new top military adviser and then threw fist pumps at this year’s Army-Navy football game.
The commander in chief flew to Philadelphia for the 119th meeting in the storied rivalry between the service academies, and officiated the coin toss at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Navy called “tails,” and that’s what it was when Trump’s flipped coin landed on the turf. Navy elected to kick off.
Before the game, parachute jumpers floated onto the field — the Army ones displaying the American and service flags and the Navy ones waving banners that said “Forged by the Sea” and “Fear the Goat” — a reference to the Navy’s mascot. Cheers rose up from the stands when each landed.
Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis stood silent during an invocation and a moment of silence for former President George H.W. Bush, who died recently died at age 94. Trump and Mattis both received loud cheers and applause from members of the two armed services. Military jets and helicopters flew overhead, and the teams stormed the field to a deafening roar.
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Like previous commanders in chief, Trump switched sides at halftime in a show of impartiality. During the second half, he sat between Vice Adm. Ted Carter Jr. and Richard V. Spencer, secretary of the Navy.
He sat on the Army side first between Mark Esper, the secretary of the Army, and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the current chief of the Army and Trump’s nominee to succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Trump tweeted the nomination Saturday before he left the White House.
As the theme from “Rocky” blared from speakers, Trump greeted soldiers and shook hands with Mike Thornton, a retired U.S. Navy Seal and recipient of the Medal of Honor. The first quarter was barely underway when Army scored the first touchdown of the game, prompting a thumb’s up and fist pumps from the president, who sat on the 50 yard line.
Before he left the White House, Trump told reporters that chief of staff John Kelly would step down at year’s end. The president was expected to soon name a replacement, and a White House official said Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, was Trump’s top choice.
Trump, who saw the Army-Navy contest in 2016 as president-elect, is the 10th sitting president to go to the game. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first, in 1901.
No. 22 Army (9-2) is in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1996. The Black Knights have won seven in a row and have defeated Navy (3-9) two straight years.
The series began in 1890, and Navy leads 60-51-7.
Trump has made a spate of personnel announcements. He announced Friday that he’ll nominate William Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, to the same role in his administration. Trump also announced that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is his pick to replace Nikki Haley as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
After the first of the year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Nauert, who has been criticized for her thin diplomatic resume. Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, who is in line to be the next chairman of the committee, flew to the game on Air Force One with his wife, Vicki. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., also was aboard.