Joe Biden launched a fiery attack on President Donald Trump on Friday over reports that he privately called dead US soldiers “losers” and “suckers,” saying that, if true, the statements were “disgusting.”

It was one of the most emotional, angry outbursts to date from the Democratic presidential nominee.

“It affirms what most of us believe to be true, that Donald Trump is not fit to be the commander in chief,” Biden said Friday, speaking at the beginning of an appearance in Wilmington, Delaware, about economic news.

Biden’s late son, Beau – who died in 2015 of brain cancer at 46 – had been in the military, and Biden has repeatedly cited his death as inspiration for running for president.

“When my son volunteered and joined the United States military and went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations, he was not a ‘sucker’!” Biden said, shouting.

Trump has come under attack after The Atlantic magazine published an anonymously sourced story depicting the president as repeatedly privately questioning why US soldiers fight and die for their country, and alleging that he didn’t want to go to a World War I cemetery in France filled with American war dead because “it’s filled with losers” and “suckers.”

Trump has vigorously denied as “totally false” the various quotes in the article, which included allegations that he called the late President George HW Bush and the late US Senator John McCain, both military pilots, “losers” for being shot down during World War II and the Vietnam War, respectively.

“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,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

The anonymous sourcing of the quotes makes their truthfulness hard to evaluate, but Trump’s denial of calling his rival McCain a “loser” and attacking his military service is undercut by the fact that he absolutely has done it, including on his own Twitter account in 2015.

Trump publicly criticized McCain as “not a war hero” at a conservative forum in Iowa in 2015, telling an audience “he is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” McCain was tortured in Vietnam following his capture.

Biden said the reported comments were consistent with other Trump statements in the past, citing the president’s treatment of McCain.
“If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father and every Blue Star family that he’s denigrated and insulted,” Biden said. “Who the heck does he think he is?”

In responding to the report about Trump, Biden commented that he had come closer to losing his temper than he ever had during the campaign and that he was trying to restrain himself.

When a reporter asked why, noting that some supporters might want to see more passion from him, Biden said, “Because a president should be presidential and lead by example, as well as make clear exactly where they stand.”

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