U.S. President Donald Trump speaks following the ceremonial swearing-in of James Mattis as secretary of defense on January 27, 2017, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Surrogates for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, including two military veterans and a Gold-Star father, ripped into President Donald Trump on Friday following reports he called slain U.S. service members “suckers” and “losers” while in office.
“He is incapable of understanding service, valor and courage. His soul cannot conceive of integrity and honor,” said Khizr Khan, whose son had died in 2004 during the Iraq War, in a campaign call with reporters.
“His soul is that of a coward,” Khan said. Trump had previously criticized Khan following his appearance at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
“I’m not shocked, but I am appalled,” said Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Purple-Heart veteran who lost her legs in Iraq when her helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“I take my wheelchair and my titanium legs over Donald Trump’s supposed bone spurs any day,” Duckworth said on the call, sniping at Trump’s excuse for not serving in the Vietnam War. Duckworth earlier this year had been viewed as a possible vice presidential pick for Biden, who ultimately selected California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, a Marine Corps reservist, also spoke on the call.
The attacks from the Biden camp came after The Atlantic reported Thursday that Trump declined to visit an American cemetery near Paris in 2018 and referred to U.S. Marines buried there as “losers” and “suckers.” He also reportedly expressed concerns that the rain would mess up his hair.
“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” Trump told aides after scrapping the visit to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, according to The Atlantic. Trump later referred to the more than 1,800 U.S. Marines who lost their lives in the Battle of Belleau Wood in France as “suckers” for getting killed, the report said.
The 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood dragged on for 20 days and ended with U.S. Marines successfully clearing out German camps. The Allied victory became an enduring symbol in U.S. Marine Corps history.
Biden himself criticized Trump in a statement Thursday evening.
“If the revelations in today’s Atlantic article are true, then they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the President of the United States,” Biden said. “If I have the honor of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honor their sacrifice always,” he added.
Trump, who is running for reelection in November, told reporters that the story from the magazine was “a total lie” and “a disgrace.”
“To think that I would make statements negative to our military and fallen heroes when nobody has done what I’ve done,” for the U.S. armed forces, Trump told reporters. “It’s a total lie … It’s a disgrace,” he added.
Members of the Trump administration also denied that the president spoke disparagingly about fallen U.S. military personnel buried at the cemetery.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an interview on “Fox & Friends” that he has “never heard the president use the language that is certainly said in that article about him calling military suckers and losers.”
“Indeed, just the contrary, he has always had the deepest respect. I’m a veteran too. I care deeply about these young men and women and I have watched the president honor them and every situation that I’ve been in with him as well,” Pompeo said.
“I wasn’t in Paris, but it never happened,” Vice President Mike Pence told CNBC on Friday when asked about the report. “I talked to the president that day, I know how disappointed the president was that there was a bad weather call. I’ve never been with anyone who cares more deeply about the men and women of our armed forces or respects them and their families than President Donald Trump,” Pence added.
The Pentagon has yet to respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The forceful, all-hands response from Trump and his officials underscores the potential damage that the reports could inflict on the president’s standing among supporters of military families, with just two months left before the 2020 election.
Republicans are more likely to see themselves as being more patriotic than Democrats, polls have shown, and supporting the troops for many Americans is synonymous with supporting the country itself. But Trump’s popularity among active-duty U.S. service members is slipping, according to a recent Military Times survey that showed Biden leading the incumbent.
The Atlantic also reported that following the death of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in August 2018, Trump told aides that he was “not going to support that loser’s funeral.” Trump, who was not invited to McCain’s funeral, reportedly became furious when he saw U.S. flags had been lowered to half-staff to honor McCain.
McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, spoke out against the president on social media Thursday night.
“I just got through two years without my Dad a few days ago. The loss is still incredibly painful and raw,” McCain tweeted. “No one is more acutely aware of how vile and disgusting Trump has been to my family, it is still hard to understand – America knows who this man is.’
Trump has previously slammed McCain, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, when he was a Republican candidate for president.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said during a town hall in Iowa in 2015. “I like people who weren’t captured.” At the same event, Trump said “I don’t like losers” after having talked about McCain’s losing the 2008 presidential election.
In a series of tweets Thursday night, Trump vowed to “swear on whatever, or whoever, I was asked to swear on, that I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES.” He also falsely claimed he never called McCain a “loser.”
In fact, while speaking in 2015 about McCain’s loss to former President Barack Obama in 2008, Trump said, “He lost, he let us down. But, you know, he lost. So I have never liked him as much after that, because I don’t like losers.”
That same day, Trump tweeted an article on his comments, the headline of which read, “Donald Trump: John McCain Is ‘A Loser.'”