Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has declared President Donald Trump "unfit" for the presidency, delivering an impassioned reaction to a report that Trump allegedly mocked American war dead.
Trump denies making any such comments and said the allegations, published by The Atlantic, are false.
The allegations, sourced anonymously, describe multiple offensive comments by the president toward fallen U.S. service-members, including calling World War I dead at an American military cemetery in France "losers" and "suckers" in 2018.
The reported comments open a new political vulnerability for the president less than two months from Election Day.
Biden is intensifying his efforts to frame the 2020 election as a referendum on the president's character.
Voice cracking, Biden told reporters on Friday that “you know in your gut” Trump’s comments, if true, are “deplorable.”
“I’ve just never been as disappointed, in my whole career, with a leader that I’ve worked with, president or otherwise,” Biden added. “If the article is true — and it appears to be, based on other things he’s said — it is absolutely damning. It is a disgrace.”
He added that "the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father, to every Blue Star family that he’s denigrated. ... Who the heck does he think he is?”
Trump, in the Oval Office, said no apology was necessary, because it was a “fake story.”
The president was alleged to have made the comments in November 2018, as he was set to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France.
The White House said the visit was scrubbed because foggy weather made the helicopter trip from Paris too risky.
Speaking Friday in the Oval Office, Trump said: “It was a terrible thing that somebody could say the kind of things — and especially to me 'cause I’ve done more for the military than almost anyone anybody else."
Biden's critique was personal. The former vice president often speaks about his pride for his late son Beau’s service in the Delaware Army National Guard.
“When my son was an assistant U.S. attorney and he volunteered to go to Kosovo when the war was going on, as a civilian, he wasn't a sucker,” Biden declared.
“When my son volunteered to join the United States military as the attorney general, he went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations, he wasn’t a sucker!”
Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015.
Returning to Washington from a Thursday visit to Pennsylvania, Trump told reporters that the Atlantic report was “a disgraceful situation” by a “terrible magazine.”
“I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes,” Trump told the reporters, gathered on the tarmac in the dark.
“There is nobody that respects them more. No animal — nobody — what animal would say such a thing?”
Biden's allies quickly seized on the reported comments in hopes they could drive a wedge between military families as well as veterans and Trump.
They also believe the issue could help win over disaffected Republican voters who are fed up with Trump’s constant controversies.
In particular, Biden's team believes his well-documented experience, both personally and politically, with military issues could help him make inroads with a population that broadly supported Trump in the 2016 election and could help sway the election this year in a number of close swing states. Biden himself has not served in the military.
Military families were broadly supportive of Trump in the 2016 election, and a Pew Research Center survey of veterans conducted in June 2019 found overall that veterans were more supportive of Trump than the general public, and that roughly 60% of the veterans polled identified as Republicans.