WASHINGTON (CN) — A group of House Democrats, many of whom have served in the U.S. military, condemned President Donald Trump on Friday for his reported remarks disparaging veterans as “losers” and “suckers.”
“It is completely unacceptable and it is completely unacceptable when it comes from our commander-in-chief,” Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, told reporters on a conference call.
The latest criticism of Trump, just two months before the presidential election, was spurred by allegations in a report published by The Atlantic on Thursday night. In it, numerous anonymous officials recounted Trump’s alleged remarks as he canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France two years ago.
A rainy day made Trump concerned his hair would be mussed, but most offensively, the Democratic lawmakers lamented Friday, the president reportedly declined the visit because it was unimportant to go to a cemetery “filled with losers.”
According to the Atlantic report, Trump referred to the U.S. Marines who fought and died at the hallowed World War I battle site Belleau Wood as “suckers.” Soldiers fought a 20-day campaign there to rout Germans from their forested stronghold a mere 30 miles from Paris. Over 1,800 Marines were killed and there were almost 10,000 total American casualties at Belleau Wood.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Trump called the Atlantic story a “hoax” and a “continuation of the witch hunt,” claiming no one from the magazine called him about the piece.
“It’s a disgrace that somebody is allowed to write things like that,” Trump said in response to reporters’ questions.
The president suggested the Atlantic’s source “could have been a guy like a John Kelly,” positing that a “disgruntled” former employee like his ex-chief of staff could have spoken to the magazine.
When asked if he regretted making comments disparaging John McCain, Trump said he “wasn’t a fan” of the late senator but “that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him.” He also argued questions asked by reporters during an earlier press conference with Democratic presidential candidate Biden were “meant for a child.”
Congressman Gil Cisneros, who served in the U.S. Navy and was deployed twice, said on Friday’s conference call he was shocked when he read the Atlantic piece.
“But then you remember the things he said about John McCain – that he was a loser who got shot down and that he doesn’t like people who got captured,” the California Democrat said, recalling Trump’s remarks about the late Arizona Republican senator’s military service on the campaign trail in 2015.
In addition to saying McCain was “not a war hero,” Trump quipped: “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Over five years, McCain was tortured and held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his plane was shot down. Trump secured a deferment during the Vietnam War thanks to a diagnosis of bone spurs, though he was otherwise in good health and an active 22-year-old athlete.
Questions on the deferment’s legitimacy have circulated for years. The president has said it was a high lottery number that kept him out of service, but late said it was a medical condition. Records in the National Archives confirm Trump was medically exempted for service for over a year before he ever received his draft number.
“McCain was a hero,” Cisneros said. “For the president to talk about our veterans as losers and suckers, it’s just appalling and not only puts down all our veterans who served but really puts down, on a personal note, my family.
He added, “My grandfather, my father, my uncle, my godfather, all are veterans who served from World War II to Vietnam… The president does not understand sacrifice or sacrifice for something more than oneself.”
Trump also said on at least two occasions that former President George H.W. Bush – shot down by the Japanese in World War II during his time as a Navy pilot – was a “loser,” the Atlantic reported. James LaPorta, a former U.S Marine reporting for the Associated Press, confirmed some of the remarks with senior officials from the Department of Defense in a report published Friday.
Miles Taylor, former chief of staff for ex-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, went on record Friday morning to corroborate another portion of the Atlantic’s story: that Trump went ballistic upon seeing flags lowered to half-staff after McCain died, even telling officials he wouldn’t support “that loser’s funeral.”
Trump has vehemently denied all allegations in the report since it emerged, calling it “disgraceful” and the product of a “dying” and “terrible” magazine.
“I was never a big fan of John McCain, disagreed with him on many things including ridiculous endless wars and the lack of success he had in dealing with the VA and our great vets, but the lower of our Nations American Flags, and the first class funeral he was given by our Country had to be approved by me, as President & I did so without hesitation or complaint,” Trump tweeted Friday.
Taylor, in response to the president, tweeted: “Mr. President, this is not true. You were angry that DHS notified federal buildings to lower the flags for Sen. McCain. I would know because your staff called and told me.”
A representative from the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return request for comment.
“Trump has a long history of making disparaging remarks about our troops and veterans and its always been abhorrent when he does it, but it is so clear before us now: he simply does not understand service,” said Congressman Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Crow, a Colorado Democrat who was one of seven House Democrats to serve as an impeachment manager during Trump’s impeachment by the House, continued: “He views the world only as a series of transactions for his own benefit.”
“Most of us took oaths under Democrat and Republican presidents and when we did, we were willing to give our lives to maintain that oath, knowing that the president, regardless of affiliation would do what was best for the country and do right by servicemembers. For the first time in history we cannot say that about our president, our commander-in-chief, Donald Trump,” Crow said.
Mark Takano, a California Democrat who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, summed up his take on Trump succinctly.
“He’s too small for this office. He’s never been big enough to take criticism. His instinct is to attack and suffocate dissent,” Takano said.
Biden, Trump’s challenger in the November election, had a strong response, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the former vice president’s son, Beau, served as a major in the Delaware Army National Guard. Beau was promoted to the rank of major in the JAG Corps under the 261st Signal Brigade and was deployed to Iraq for a year. He died of brain cancer in 2015.
“Who the hell does he think he is?” Biden said of Trump. “Is it true? Well, we’ve heard from his own mouth his characterization of American hero John McCain as a loser, and his dismissal of the traumatic brain injuries suffered by troops serving in Iraq as mere ‘headaches.’ He stood by failing to take action or even raise the issue with Vladimir Putin while the Kremlin put bounties on the heads of American troops serving in Afghanistan.”
Courthouse News reporter Erika Williams contributed to this report.