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Biden visits a military cemetery that Trump reportedly said was 'filled with losers'

President Biden visits the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery to pay his tribute to fallen US soldiers of the World War I, in Belleau, Northern France, on June 9, 2024.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
President Biden visits the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery to pay his tribute to fallen US soldiers of the World War I, in Belleau, Northern France, on June 9, 2024.

Updated June 09, 2024 at 19:41 PM ET

BELLAU, France — President Biden on Sunday paid tribute to fallen U.S. Marines at an American cemetery outside of Paris, a resting place that features prominently in his case against former President Donald Trump.

More than 2,200 Americans who fought and died in World War I are buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. "Every Marine I know, knows about the Battle of Bellau Woods," Biden told reporters after a short wreath-laying ceremony.

"More Marines were lost here than any battle until the middle of World War II. The idea that I come to Normandy and not make the short trip here to pay tribute..." Biden said.

Trump had been scheduled to visit the cemetery in Nov. 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. But he scrapped those plans. The White House blamed the weather, saying it was too rainy for helicopters to fly, and arguing that a motorcade would have been too disruptive for traffic and the schedule.

A different and much more damning story emerged two years later in The Atlantic, one that Biden often highlights on the campaign trail to show that his predecessor is not fit to be commander in chief.

What The Atlantic said happened with Trump

The Atlantic said Trump canceled the trip because he didn’t want to get his hair wet in the rain, telling senior staff members “‘Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.’”

The magazine said that Trump separately referred to Marines who lost their lives in the Battle of Belleau Wood as “‘suckers’ for getting killed.”

At the time the article came out, the Trump campaign strongly disputed its claims. Last year, Trump’s then-chief of staff John Kelly confirmed much of it in an on-the-record statement to CNN. Kelly last week told NPR that Trump declined to go to the cemetery, so Kelly went with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford. A photo of Kelly’s visit is on the cemetery website: it was overcast, but no umbrellas were visible.

John Kelly visits the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery on Nov. 10, 2018. Kelly, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, was chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump at the time.
GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
John Kelly visits the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery on Nov. 10, 2018. Kelly, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, was chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump at the time.

On Sunday, the Republican National Committee criticized Biden for what it described as a "debunked" story, citing Navy documents saying the trip was canceled due to rain and a series of denials issued in 2020 from former Trump White House officials.

How Biden uses this story in his campaign

At a recent campaign stop in Scranton, Penn., Biden brought up Trump’s snub of the Aisne-Marne cemetery.

“I have to say, there are a lot of things that Donald Trump has said and done that I find extremely offensive. But one that offends me the most is when he refused, as president, to visit an American cemetery outside of Paris when he was president,” Biden said.

“He said that those soldiers who gave their lives were, quote -- it was his quote -- ‘suckers’ and ‘losers,’” Biden said.

Over applause, Biden shouted: “Who does he think he is? These were heroes.”

Biden brings it up regularly, as he did at a fundraiser in New York earlier this week.

President Biden pays tribute to fallen U.S. soldiers of World War I in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France, on June 9.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
President Biden pays tribute to fallen U.S. soldiers of World War I in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France, on June 9.

“This guy does not deserve to be president, whether or not I was running,” Biden said.

What Biden said — and didn't say — about the politics of this stop

At Aisne-Marne, Biden did not name-check Trump, and he pointedly did not answer a question about what message he was trying to send to voters by visiting the cemetery.

Biden has staked his campaign on protecting democracy and freedom – two themes that came up a lot during his official visit to France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when U.S. and allied troops pushed into France in a battle that led to the end of World War II.

He told reporters on Sunday that he hoped Americans would take away from his trip "the knowledge that the best way to avoid these kinds of battles in the future is to stay strong with our allies."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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