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Trump derides military brass as war lovers in league with arms makers

President Donald Trump at a news conference Monday

President Donald Trump at a news conference Monday at the White House North Portico. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

Guns and bitter

President Donald Trump — openly speculating the other day on the sources for the stories that he repeatedly voiced disrespect for America's war dead — said, “It could have been a guy like a John Kelly," the retired four-star Marine general who served him as homeland security secretary, then chief of staff.

Trump has hotly denied the stories that appeared last week in The Atlantic and elsewhere. From his remarks at a White House Labor Day news conference, it's quite possible that he suspects the sources for those stories include others who wore stars on their uniforms, or still do. He acknowledged that some military leaders aren't fans of his.

"I'm not saying the military’s in love with me — the soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t, because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy."

It's an odd statement from a president who has boasted of securing huge increases in military spending — “$2.5 trillion in all of the greatest equipment in the world,” he told workers at a Wisconsin shipyard in June. As for love from the ranks, a Military Times poll published Aug. 31 found 50% of the enlisted personnel and officers surveyed had an unfavorable view of Trump, while 38% regarded him favorably. The survey was conducted before The Atlantic published allegations that the commander in chief called America's war dead "losers" and "suckers."

Kelly was a central figure in one of the alleged incidents described in The Atlantic — some of which were corroborated by CNNFox News, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post in part. Trump was described as asking Kelly, while on a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for Kelly's son who was killed in Afghanistan: “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”

Kelly hasn't commented on the stories, and Trump said no when asked at his news conference if he asked his former chief of staff to debunk them. Instead, Trump pointed to a statement from Zachary Fuentes, a former deputy chief of staff under Kelly, who was on the trip to France in 2018 when a Trump visit to an American military cemetery there was scrubbed on a rainy day.

A statement from Fuentes to the Times said he did not hear the president call anyone “losers when I told him about the weather” and claimed that Kelly would not have “stood by and let ANYONE call fallen Marines losers.” A similar but separate earlier Fuentes statement to the pro-Trump Breitbart news site said the sources for The Atlantic story likely were “conflating those people from something the day after.” He didn't further explain the "day after" reference.

Trump: Dems are with 'stupid'

Trump's news conference at the White House was devoted mainly to unloading a sack of campaign attacks against his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

"Biden's a stupid person, you know that," Trump said. "You’re not going to write it, but you know that.”

He said Biden would “destroy this country and would destroy this economy.” Under Biden and the "radical, socialist Democrats … stocks will crash like you’ve never seen before." Biden will "demolish the U.S. energy industry and implement the same policies causing blackouts in California. He wants to have things lit up with wind."

Also, Biden's "plan for the China virus is to shut down the entire U.S. economy." He "wants to surrender our families to the violent left-wing mob." "If Joe Biden becomes president, China will own the United States." Trump revived his allegation involving Biden's son Hunter's former job with a business in Ukraine while offering a flashback of his impeachment defense — that there was no "quid pro quo." And "they spied on my campaign."

Trump belittled Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris, as "not a competent person" — "She will never be president, although I have to be careful, because Obama used to say that about me" — and then moved on from that to questioning Biden's health. "You have to look at her a little bit more closely, because obviously Joe is not doing too well," he said.

Trump takes vaccine shots

The president slammed Harris for her comments that she wouldn't trust a coronavirus vaccine on Trump's say-so. Democrats should "immediately apologize for the reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric that they are talking right now," Trump said. 

He also made clear that his eye is on the political calendar as he waits for a vaccine to be at hand. "We're going to have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I'm talking about," Trump said Monday.

Trump even took a pre-victory lap on vaccine development, praising himself as on the way to delivering it "in record time." He asserted, "By the way, if this were the Obama administration, you wouldn't have that vaccine for three years, and you probably wouldn't have it at all."

Biden told reporters Monday in Pennsylvania that Trump was "undermining public confidence" and "I would want to see what the scientists said." But Biden added: "Pray God we have it. If I could get a vaccine tomorrow, I'd do it. If it cost me the election, I would do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now. We have to listen to the scientists."

Biden on Trump: 'lies, greed and selfishness'

Biden spoke to a small group of labor leaders on Labor Day in a backyard in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he criticized Trump for “refusing to deal with the problems that affect ordinary people” and called for strengthening unions.

Later, at an AFL-CIO virtual town hall with union president Richard Trumka, Biden called Trump’s alleged remarks about fallen troops being “losers” and “suckers” un-American and said Trump would never understand why Americans serve.

"He’ll never understand you, he’ll never understand us, he’ll never understand our cops, our firefighters, because he’s not made of the same stuff,” Biden said.

He told the union members: "You live by a code, an American code. It sounds corny, but it’s real: honor, duty, country, something bigger than yourselves. He lives by a code of lies, greed and selfishness.”

Congress returns to relief stalemate

Congress is back Tuesday, and a battle over a COVID-19 relief bill awaits lawmakers, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

The congressional battle could begin as soon as this week if Senate Republicans introduce a roughly $500 billion bill to primarily aid small businesses, schools and colleges, vaccines and contact tracing, the U.S. Postal Service and employer liability protection — but without any funding for state and local governments. Senate Republicans are deeply divided on whether to spend any more money on COVID-19 aid, making it harder for them to push through a bill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged his caucus to remain unified to beat back the latest proposal floated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — he called it “emaciated” — and to continue to fight for what he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have insisted is another bold, big spending bill.

Trump charged at his Monday news conference that Democrats "don’t want to make a deal because they know that’s good for the economy, therefore it is good for me on Nov. 3." Impugning the motives of Pelosi and Schumer, Trump said: "I know my customers" and he's “taking the high road by not meeting with" the two Democratic leaders.

Squanderlust at Trump 2020?

Trump's campaign has frittered away its once-sizeable cash advantage over Biden with lavish spending toward questionable ends, The New York Times reported. Of $1.1 billion raised through July, it has burned through $800 million, and the campaign faces a cash crunch with less than 60 days to go.

Ed Rollins, a GOP strategist who runs a pro-Trump super PAC, accused former campaign manager Brad Parscale of spending “like a drunken sailor.”

Almost half of the $800 million went to fundraising expenses. While Trump resisted appearing in online fundraisers, Biden successfully raised millions with such events, which cost almost nothing to stage.

Outsize legal bills were treated as campaign costs. More than $100 million was spent on a TV ad blitz before the Republican convention. "I think a lot of money was spent when voters weren’t paying attention,” Rollins said. Parscale had a car and driver, an unusual expense for a campaign manager.

Parscale said he operated "under the very close eye of the [Trump] family” and "no decision was made without their approval.” His successor, Bill Stepien, said, "The most important thing I do every day is pay attention to the budget.”

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, written by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here

What else is happening:

  • Veterans and active-duty military members were crucial to Trump's 2016 victory — they make up 12% of the electorate and favored him by 27 points over Hillary Clinton, according to a study cited in a CNN analysis. If there's a big shift against him, the damage could be decisive.
  • Retired Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until last year, said in a Boston Globe interview that he wouldn't discuss his personal or professional feelings about Trump. But he disagreed with Trump's America First agenda, contending that maintaining international ties such as NATO is "as critical in the future as it has been in the past.” If the United States doesn't lead, the two countries that could fill the void are Russia and China.
  • White House officials have talked to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie about becoming defense secretary should Trump decide to fire Mark Esper, NBC News reported. In June, Esper went public with his opposition to using the armed forces against protests.
  • Asked by a Pennsylvania TV reporter about Trump's suggestion that he's lost a step, Biden appeared to allude to Trump's unsteady gait after a West Point speech in June: "Look at how [Trump] steps and look at how I step. Watch how I run up ramps and how he stumbles down ramps, OK?"
  • Federal government food aid packages for people struggling during the pandemic are coming with copies of a letter from Trump that touts his administration’s response to the coronavirus, ProPublica reported.
  • Trump said he didn't object to an investigation of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who is facing scrutiny after employees of his former company said they felt pressured to make donations to Republican candidates for which they were later reimbursed, which could be illegal. “Sure, sure, let the investigations go,” the president said. He also said DeJoy should lose his job “if something can be proven that he did something wrong.”
  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) said in a statement late Monday that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which she chairs, would begin an investigation, saying that DeJoy may have lied to her committee under oath.

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