Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a veteran of the war in Iraq and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, falsely claimed on CNN on Wednesday that President Joe Biden has never expressed gratitude or empathy toward the American troops who have served overseas during the last two decades.
“As I visit with other veterans, as I have talked to those Gold Star spouses, those Gold Star families, many feel that they have been left behind. They’re not even part of a discussion anymore. And what I have not heard from this President is a thank you to those veterans who have served in the global war on terror,” Ernst said. “Not once has he expressed empathy and gratitude to the men and women who have put the uniform on and have fought so bravely overseas the last 20 years to keep our homeland safe. And I feel that by not acknowledging his gratitude for them, he’s diminishing their service.”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper responded that he has heard Biden express gratitude and praise toward veterans.
Tapper said that maybe Biden hasn’t done so “enough for people,” and perhaps we need “more of a national moment of recognition” for these troops, but he then reiterated: “Just as a factual matter, I have heard him talk about this.”
Ernst retreated only slightly.
She acknowledged that she has heard Biden “many times” express gratitude to the troops who served at the airport in Kabul, “but he hasn’t acknowledged — as far as I know; and you might be right — but I listen very carefully. He always acknowledges those that are doing service, or have done service, at the Kabul airport during the evacuation, but not over the greater global war on terror.”
Ernst had made a similar claim on Fox News two weeks prior, saying Biden has “yet to fully, fully thank the men and women that have served in the global war on terrorism” and declaring that “Joe Biden is a disgrace not to thank these men and women that have protected us.”
Facts First: Ernst’s claim is not even close to true. Biden has thanked troops who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over and over again — explicitly saying “thank you” and explicitly saying the nation is grateful to them and indebted to them. Biden has also spoken empathetically about the sacrifices made by these service members and their families.
Biden’s public words as President so clearly contradict Ernst’s assertion that, for fact-checking purposes, we don’t even need to go into detail about his eight-year tenure as vice president — during which he repeatedly expressed his appreciation for troops who had served or were still serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In an email to CNN on Thursday, Ernst spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell would not explicitly concede that Ernst was wrong. Instead, she made a different argument — that Biden has offered only “platitudes” in his words about the troops. Daniell also said veterans and others in the military community have told Ernst they are “incensed” both that Biden has “inadequately” expressed his gratitude for service members’ sacrifices in the last 20 years and because of what Daniell claimed was “his insinuation their sacrifice was all for nothing.”
Ernst and her office are entitled to argue that Biden’s words about the troops have been insufficient or insincere; that’s a subjective claim beyond the scope of a fact check. But on CNN, Ernst asserted something else: that Biden had never uttered such words at all. And that’s plain false.
An April 14 speech announcing the withdrawal
In an April 14 speech announcing that the US would soon begin its “final withdrawal” from Afghanistan, Biden spoke of the “valor, courage and integrity of the women and men of the United States armed forces who served.”
He added: “I’m immensely grateful for the bravery and backbone that they have shown through nearly two decades of combat deployments. We as a nation are forever indebted to them and to their families. You all know that less than 1% of Americans serve in our armed forces. The remaining 99% of them — we owe them. We owe them. They have never backed down from a single mission that we’ve asked of them. I’ve witnessed their bravery firsthand during my visits to Afghanistan. They’ve never wavered in their resolve. They’ve paid a tremendous price on our behalf. And they have the thanks of a grateful nation.”
A May 28 speech for Memorial Day
In a speech just prior to Memorial Day, to service members and their families at Virginia’s Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Biden told a major deployed to Afghanistan: “I want to thank you so much — your entire family’s service to our country. You’re all incredible. You so underestimate how important you are.”
Biden also said, “I know that many of you deployed yourselves, probably more than once. Over the past 20 years, our volunteer force and our military families have made incredible sacrifices for this country.” He added that Americans “owe you,” though “they have no idea the sacrifices you make in theater,” and said he wanted recognize “what all of you, the United States armed forces, have accomplished in the past 20 years.”
Later, Biden spoke of a card he carries with the number of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Total fallen angels across the board: over 7,000. Every one of these lives lost is a tragedy, an empty seat at the dinner table, a missing voice at the holidays. Every one of them left behind a whole community — not just one, a whole community. We can never repay that debt. But I promise you this — and to all the Gold Star families across the country: We will never, ever, ever, ever forget.”
A May 31 speech on Memorial Day
Speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Biden told the families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, “We will never forget what you gave to our country. We will never fail to honor your sacrifice.” Speaking again of the card he carries, he referred to the “7,036 fallen angels” and said, “And on this Memorial Day, we honor their legacy and their sacrifice. Duty, honor, country — they lived for it, they died for it. And we, as a nation, are eternally grateful.”
A July 8 speech on the Afghanistan withdrawal
In a July 8 speech on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden noted the “incredible sacrifice and dedication” of troops who served there and said, “I want to honor the significance of what they’ve accomplished and the great personal risk they encountered and the incredible cost to their families: pursuing the terrorist threat in some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet — and I’ve been almost throughout that entire country; ensuring there hasn’t been another attack on the homeland from Afghanistan for the last 20 years; taking out bin Laden.”
He continued: “I want to thank you all for your service and the dedication to the mission so many of you have given, and to the sacrifices that you and your families have made over the long course of this war. We’ll never forget those who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country in Afghanistan, nor those whose lives have been immeasurably altered by wounds sustained in service to their country. We’re ending America’s longest war, but we’ll always, always honor the bravery of the American patriots who served in it.”
A July 27 speech to the intelligence community
Speaking at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Biden said “thank you” 14 times to the intelligence community (which has also had personnel killed in Afghanistan). He also said “we’re grateful that you’re there for us.” And he mentioned the troops again.
“I know it may sound like hyperbole, but from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I thank you for all you do and continue to do. And may God bless you all. And may God protect our troops and all those patriots serving in harm’s way, because there’s a lot still there. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.
An August 31 speech on the end of the withdrawal
There is obviously some subjectivity in deciding what counts as an expression of empathy. But by any reasonable standard, Biden’s comments on Tuesday — just one day prior to Ernst’s claim — certainly qualify.
Defending the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the President said, “I don’t think enough people understand how much we have asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on, who are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation.”
Biden invoked his late son, Beau Biden, who served in Iraq before dying of cancer, and made extended remarks on the price that recent veterans and their families have paid for their service.
“A lot of our veterans and their families have gone through hell — deployment after deployment, months and years away from their families; missed birthdays, anniversaries; empty chairs at holidays; financial struggles; divorces; loss of limbs; traumatic brain injury; post-traumatic stress. We see it in the struggles many have when they come home. We see it in the strain on their families and caregivers. We see it in the strain of their families when they’re not there. We see it in the grief borne by their survivors. The cost of war they will carry with them their whole lives,” Biden said.
“Most tragically, we see it in the shocking and stunning statistic that should give pause to anyone who thinks war can ever be low-grade, low-risk or low-cost: Eighteen veterans, on average, who die by suicide every single day in America — not in a far-off place, but right here in America.”
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