ASHLAND, Ohio — Donald Trump’s in the public dispute with the parents of a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq has once again left Republican leaders facing demands to denounce their party nominee and overshadowed Clinton’s campaign message with controversy.
“He is a black soul,” said Khizr Khan, whose son Humayun Khan received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart after he was killed in Iraq in 2004. “And this is totally unfit for the leadership of this beautiful country.”
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he said, “It is majority leader’s and speaker’s moral, ethical obligation to not worry about the votes, but repudiate him, withdraw the support.”
Trump has refused to back down from his criticism of the Gold Star parents’ remarks.
“Am I not allowed to respond?” Trump had tweeted. “Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!”
At last week’s Democratic National Convention, Pakistan-born Khan told his son’s story and questioned whether Trump had ever read the Constitution and said “you have sacrificed nothing.”
During the speech, Khan’s wife, Ghazala, stood quietly by his side.
“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say,” Trump said, in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.”
Ghazala Khan responded Sunday in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, saying talking about her son’s death 12 years ago is still hard for her. When her husband asked if she wanted to speak at the convention, she said she could not.
“When Donald Trump is talking about Islam, he is ignorant,” she wrote.
At one point, Trump had disputed Khan’s criticism that the billionaire businessman has “sacrificed nothing and no one” for his country.
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures,” Trump said.
“Like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed. We believed in American democracy; that with hard work and goodness of this country, we could share in and contribute to its blessings,” the father, Khizr Khan, said during his speech at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night.
“We are blessed to raise our three sons in a nation where they were free to be themselves and follow their dreams.”
The family settled in Maryland, where the boys seemed to have a knack for academics.
Khan enrolled in the ROTC program at the University of Virginia after completing high school. He graduated with a degree in psychology
He aspired to be a military lawyer, and wanted a career advocating for veterans. He decided to join the Army first to pay for law school.
Trump, who had no campaign events scheduled this weekend, released a statement late Saturday night calling Humayun Khan “a hero” but disputing his father’s characterization.
“While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr. Khan who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things,” said Trump.
Trump’s rebuke was unusual in the world of politics where officials only speak well of families whose loved ones die in service to their country. When Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq, staged prolonged protests on the war, then-President George W. Bush responded by saying that the nation grieves every death.
On the day he died, Khan was overseeing soldiers as they conducted routine vehicle inspections. It was June 8, 2004 – the height of the insurgency when attacks on American forces were constant. Khan was an ordnance officer with the 201st Forward Support Battalion, 1st Infantry Division. His unit made sure the camp stayed secure and things ran smoothly. While serving, he also participated in a U.S. Army program that helped Iraqi citizens earn money to support themselves.
When the taxi drove through the gates, Khan told the soldiers to take cover. He walked toward it, signaling for it to stop. The car, with 200 pounds of explosives, blew up, killing him. Khan’s actions saved the lives of several others. For that, he was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He was given full military honors and buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where the marble headstone bears the star and crescent of his faith. He was 27.
In statements released Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned any criticism of Muslim Americans who serve their country and rejected the idea of a Muslim travel ban — an idea proposed by Trump earlier in the campaign. But neither statement mentioned Trump by name or repudiated him.
McConnell praised Capt. Khan as an “American hero,” while Ryan noted that many Muslim Americans have served “valiantly” in the U.S. military.
“Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period,” Ryan said.
Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader, issued a blistering statement of his own, saying anything short of revoking their endorsements of Trump was “cowardice” on the part of McConnell and Ryan.
“This shouldn’t be hard,” Reid said. “Donald Trump is a sexist and racist man who insults Gold Star parents, stokes fear of Muslims and sows hatred of Latinos. He should not be president and Republican leaders have a moral responsibility to say so?.”
On a post-convention bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton said Trump has a “total misunderstanding” of American values and has inflamed divisions in American society.
“I don’t know where the boundaries are. I don’t know where the bottom is,” she told reporters during a campaign stop at a cheese barn in Ohio.
“I do tremble before those who would scapegoat other Americans,” she told parishioners in a Cleveland church on Sunday morning. “That’s just not how I was raised.”
When asked about the mother of a State Department official killed in Benghazi, Libya, who blamed Hillary Clinton for her son’s death, Clinton told “Fox News Sunday” that her “heart goes out” to the families and that she didn’t “hold any ill feeling for someone” who has lost a child and recalls events differently.
Across the country, veterans and their families closely watched the political back-and-forth.
“It was inappropriate on both sides,” said Mark Farner of Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, as he stood a few feet from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. “For one to use it as it as the Democrats intended it to be used, and I don’t think Trump handled it the way he should have on his end.”
Farner had just made a rubbing of the name of his cousin, Calvin Wilson, who was killed in action in February 1967.
Romell Short of Washington, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said he has no problem with veterans’ families being politically active and speaking about their experiences.
“America should know the suffering and the cost of war and part of that is the sacrifice of American troops and the sacrifice of American families,” Short said.
But he cautioned that the views of families should be read separately from their family member who served.