Democratic Party leaders on Tuesday laid out their case for former Vice President Joe Biden to replace President Donald Trump as America’s commander in chief, arguing that the last four years have brought unprecedented turmoil to military families and veterans.
“Usually, we should be able to count on our leaders … to understand the sacred duty they have to do right by those who serve. That’s not happening now,” said former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — Biden’s former presidential rival turned supporter — during a veterans and military families event Tuesday afternoon.
“The president sat on information that there were bounties on the heads of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. This is a president who used his wealth to avoid serving. He’s the most unfit commander in chief we’ve ever had.”
The afternoon online caucus meeting and the prime-time speeches on the second night of the week-long Democratic convention represented the party’s most aggressive national security argument of the presidential campaign thus far, with a long list of veterans and military advocates offering strong support for Biden’s candidacy.
“I’ve worked closely with Joe Biden dealing with some of the toughest national security challenges,” said Susan Rice, national security adviser for President Barack Obama. “He will not send troops into harm’s way without a clear mission, without a necessary mission.”
The push included numerous military and veterans issues Biden was involved in during his Senate career and time in Obama’s administration: the expansion of Agent Orange benefits, reductions in veterans homelessness, the founding of veterans cemeteries in Delaware and the continued investment in military personnel.
They also noted his personal experience as a military father. His son, Beau, deployed to Iraq shortly after Biden assumed the vice presidency.
“In Joe Biden, we have someone who knows what it means to hug their son goodbye as he goes to war,” Buttigieg said.
Convention speakers contrasted that resume with Trump’s record over the last few years.
“President Trump has degraded and debased the presidency and our country in the eyes of the world,” said former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “It’s a dereliction of duty. (He’s) failing the troops, (he’s) failing in his country.”
Critics — which included former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell and a host of former Obama-era foreign policy leaders — put a particular emphasis on the recent scandal of reported Russian bounties on U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.
Trump has dismissed the reports as baseless. Critics have accused him of siding with Russia over American troops.
“Donald Trump pretends Russia didn’t attack our elections. And now, he does nothing about Russia putting a bounty on our troops. So he won’t defend our country,” said former Secretary of State John Kerry, the party’s presidential nominee in 2004, during the main convention presentation Tuesday night.
“He doesn’t know how to defend our troops. The only person he’s interested in defending is himself.”
The critics also attacked Trump for his recent suggestion of using active-duty troops to suppress racial equity protests, his past attacks on Gold Star father Khizr Khan (featured both in the 2016 convention and this year’s), his pardons of controversial military figures and his continued insults against the late Sen. John McCain, one of the most prominent national security voices of Trump’s own party in the last few decades.
McCain’s widow, Cindy, appeared at the virtual convention on Tuesday to praise Biden as a close friend of her husband despite their political differences, and a man of character.
Democrats are expected to echo those military themes again later this week, when Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., delivers her own prime-time address and when Biden accepts his nomination late Thursday night.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.