WILMINGTON, Del. — A visibly angry Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday lashed President Trump over reporting that Mr. Trump had made extraordinarily disrespectful remarks about fallen soldiers, suggesting that such words further confirm his view that the Republican is unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.
In a fiery speech and subsequent news conference, Mr. Biden strained to contain his outrage about a report by The Atlantic that Mr. Trump had referred to American soldiers killed in combat during World War I as “losers” and “suckers” and had repeatedly shown disdain for military service at other points in his presidency. Mr. Trump and a number of his aides have denied the reporting, which cited several sources but did not name them.
“If what is written in The Atlantic is true, it’s disgusting,” Mr. Biden said in remarks he delivered in a gymnasium a short drive from his home. “It affirms what most of us believe to be true: that Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief.”
Ticking through a list of other well-documented instances in which Mr. Trump has dismissed the sacrifices of military veterans, including those of the late Senator John McCain, Mr. Biden continued, “President Trump has demonstrated he has no sense of service, no loyalty to any cause other than himself.”
Mr. Biden, who noted at times that he was trying to keep his language in check in an effort to strike a presidential tone, spoke in strikingly personal terms on Friday about the military service of his late son, Beau Biden, who served in the Iraq war and died in 2015 of brain cancer.
With barely concealed fury, he said that Beau Biden “wasn’t a ‘sucker,’” adding, “The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not ‘losers.’”
He called the reporting “damning” and said that it appeared to be true, adding, “I’ve just never been as disappointed in my whole career with a leader.”
“It is sick,” said Mr. Biden, who is keenly attuned to the death toll of American troops and often concludes his remarks with the phrase, “May God protect our troops.” “It is deplorable. It is so un-American. It is so unpatriotic.”
Military veterans often lean Republican, and they supported Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton by a large margin in the 2016 election, according to exit polls. But in 2018 a number of the most prominent Democratic House candidates were veterans, and Mr. Biden, who has been endorsed by a long list of Republican national security experts, hopes to appeal to more voters with ties to the military.
Mr. Biden’s criticism of Mr. Trump came in a speech that was otherwise focused on the economy, an area that has been a source of political strength for the president, though the ravages of the pandemic have threatened his standing on the issue. In a national Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, likely voters were evenly split on whether Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden would do a better job handling the economy.
But Mr. Biden’s comments about the president set the tone for his event. Asked about supporters of QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory, Mr. Biden replied: “I’ve been a big supporter of mental health. I’d recommend the people who believe it maybe should take advantage while it still exists in the Affordable Care Act. It’s bizarre. Totally bizarre.”
Before Mr. Biden’s speech, the Labor Department provided a snapshot of the virus’s continuing economic toll. Job growth slowed in August, the department said, as the economy added 1.4 million jobs, fewer than in the previous three months. Payrolls remain more than 11 million jobs below their level before the pandemic. The unemployment rate declined to 8.4 percent, down from 14.7 percent in April.
“You can’t have an economic comeback when almost 1,000 Americans die each day from Covid,” Mr. Biden said in his speech, faulting the president over his handling of the virus. Flipping an attack that Republicans have used against him, he declared, “You are not safe in Donald Trump’s America.”
In response to the jobs report, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, Tim Murtaugh, said in a statement that Mr. Biden “hopes for economic ruin to buoy his political fortunes.”
“While the work is not finished,” he said, “President Trump’s policies positioned us to fight through the coronavirus crisis and reopen faster than doomsayers like Biden predicted.”
Thomas Kaplan reported from Wilmington, and Katie Glueck from New York.