SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's a staggering account of callousness. The Atlantic says the commander in chief, among other things, referred to American war dead as losers and suckers. The commander in chief says the story is not true.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There is nobody that feels more strongly about our soldiers, our wounded warriors, our soldiers that died in war than I do. It's a hoax.
SIMON: But a number of outlets confirmed The Atlantic's reporting.
We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Frank Ordoñez. Franco, thanks for being with us.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: Franco, this, of course, is not the first time the president's been accused of making disparaging remarks about military personnel. The White House is responding more sharply than they have in the past. What do you make of that?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, the president has tied himself to the military in ways unlike many other U.S. leaders. He sees military families and veterans as a key part of his base, and he argues that he's the one who loves the flag and honors the country while Joe Biden and the far left do not.
Peter Feaver, who served in senior national security positions in the Clinton and Bush administrations, told me basically that these accusations, if they are true, blow a hole in that central message.
PETER FEAVER: The White House reaction makes it clear that they view this as politically toxic for the president, in part because it undermines so vividly a core plank of their reelection campaign - that he's the president who's rebuilt the military.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, the report alleges that Trump insulted service members and veterans in private and skipped a 2018 visit to an American military cemetery in France because he didn't feel it was important. I'll note, NPR has not confirmed the statements independently. The White House says Trump canceled the visit because of bad weather. And they have since provided statements from multiple officials who have said the accusations are false. Now interestingly, the president yesterday stopped short of blaming his former chief of staff General John Kelly for the report, but he did allow for that possibility and took the opportunity to criticize him.
SIMON: We just heard Mr. Feaver use the phrase politically toxic. But I wonder about how service members and their loved ones feel about these remarks.
ORDOÑEZ: We're heading into an election. And a recent poll of service members conducted by the Military Times indicated that more troops already may be planning to vote for Joe Biden. Trump had enjoyed strong support from the military. Exit polls in 2016 showed veterans voting for Trump by about a 2-1 margin over Hillary Clinton. That Military Times poll was, you know, obviously taken before this report, and it was also before the convention. So things could obviously change. But it does reflect some concern service members have about Trump. Just as one example - that survey found service members largely opposed Trump's suggestion that active-duty military personnel should be used to respond to some of the civil and racial unrest in American cities.
SIMON: And what has Joe Biden said?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, Biden called the report disgusting and said if it's true - and he emphasized that - that Trump should apologize. And he personalized it, raising that his deceased son, Beau, had served in Iraq.
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JOE BIDEN: When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the attorney general and went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations, he wasn't a sucker. The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those did not come home, were not losers.
ORDOÑEZ: Biden also pointed to when Trump called Senator John McCain, a war hero, a loser and failing to take action or confront Russian President Vladimir Putin about allegations of putting bounties on American troops.
SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thanks so much.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
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