Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) was targeted Sunday for comments in defense of President Donald Trump, who had earlier been accused of downplaying Iran’s retaliation for the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, in which no Americans were killed.
The Iranian strike at U.S. bases in Iraq did require 34 U.S. soldiers to be evaluated for potential long-term brain injury as a result of the blasts, and Trump described the injuries as "headaches." When pressed on Sunday morning, Cotton defended Trump.
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Cotton, an Army combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, made clear he considers traumatic brain injuries in the military a serious matter, but he fended off repeated calls by CBS Face The Nation host Margaret Brennan to hit Trump, who said he'd heard the soldiers weren't seriously hurt during Iran's attack.
Cotton praised the military's handling of brain injuries compared to when he was serving, but Brennan cut him off to play Trump's remarks.
"Veterans groups are calling on the president to apologize," Brennan said. "Should he apologize for calling it not very serious?"
"He's not dismissing their injuries. He's describing their injuries," Cotton said.
Brennan repeated her question, but Cotton replied if the soldiers' injuries were on the "less serious side of the scale," then Trump had simply described what happened to them.
"So you consider [traumatic brain injuries] a serious injury?" Brennan asked.
"Yes, but again, there is a big scale of that. That can be a return to duty in one day, or have severe, traumatic, lasting injury, and I think he's describing, thankfully, what end of the scale that lies on," Cotton said.
Liberal columnists like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin pounced, saying he "even betrays the troops" to defend Trump. Vox reporter Aaron Rupar called Cotton's comments "unbelievable." Quoting him selectively, they omitted comments that made clear he takes the issue seriously.
Now Cotton even betrays the troops to continue blind obedience to Trump. I wonder how those who served with him feel. https://t.co/DCpsbCUurl
— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) January 26, 2020
On CBS, @SenTomCotton defends Trump downplaying traumatic brain injuries suffered by US troops as mere "headaches," saying, "he's not dismissing their injuries, he's describing their injuries."
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 26, 2020
Cotton served as an Army Ranger captain and has a long record of attention to military matters and foreign policy. He serves on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees.
A Pentagon spokesman said Friday 17 of the 34 soldiers diagnosed with brain injuries had returned to duty, while the other 17 are still being treated in the United States and Germany. The Pentagon had initially stated the night of the Jan. 8 attack that there were no U.S. casualties indicated.