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(Reuters) –Republican presidential contender Donald Trump questioned Senator John McCain’s war record on Saturday, telling a gathering of religious conservatives in Iowa that the former prisoner in North Vietnam was only considered a war hero because he was captured.
The real estate mogul, who has been feuding with the Republican senator from Arizona for days, also criticized McCain’s work in the Senate and called him “a loser” for his defeat in the 2008 White House race to Democratic President Barack Obama.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said when the event’s host, pollster Frank Luntz, used the phrase to describe McCain. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
At a news conference later, Trump backed away from the comments, saying, “If a person is captured, they are a hero as far as I’m concerned.”
But he criticized McCain, a Navy fighter pilot who spent more than five years in a Hanoi prison after being shot down, for failing to do enough in the Senate for military veterans.
“John McCain talks a lot, but he doesn’t do anything,” Trump told reporters.
Luntz, who was hosting the summit sponsored by Christian conservative groups, launched the discussion when he questioned Trump’s recent criticism of McCain, which came after the senator said Trump’s candidacy had brought out the “crazies.”
There was no immediate response from McCain.
When a panelist characterized McCain as a “war hero,” the [Washington] Post is accurate in reporting that Trump initially said McCain is “not a war hero.” But then, Trump immediately modified his statement saying– four times– that McCain is a war hero:
“He is a war hero.”
“He’s a war hero because he was captured.”
“He’s a war hero, because he was captured.”
“I believe, perhaps, he’s a war hero. But right now, he’s said some very bad things about a lot of people.”
UPDATE: Statement from Donald Trump’s campaign on Arizona on Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
“I am not a fan Sen. John McCain because he has done so little for our Veterans and he should know better than anybody what the Veterans need, especially in regards to the VA. He is yet another all talk, no action politician who spends too much time on television and not enough time doing his job and helping the Vets. He is also allowing our military to decrease substantially in size and strength, something which should never be allowed to happen.
Furthermore, he was extremely disrespectful to the thousands upon thousands of people, many of whom happen to be his constituents, that came to listen to me speak about illegal immigration in Phoenix last week by calling them “crazies”.
These were not “crazies”—these were great American citizens.
I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.
I want to strengthen our military and take care of our Veterans. I want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN especially for those that serve to protect our freedom. I am fighting for our Veterans!”