President Barack Obama slammed the GOP presidential candidates hoping to unseat him for not speaking out when a gay soldier's question was booed during the last Republican debate in September.
"We don't believe in a small America," Obama told the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay rights group, in a speech Saturday. "We don't believe in the kind of smallness that says it's okay for a stage full of political leaders -- one of whom could end up being the president of the United States -- being silent when an American soldier is booed."
“You want to be commander in chief?” Obama said to cheers. “You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, to whom the question about reinstating "don't ask, don't tell" was directed, later said he didn't hear the booing from the stage and condemned it the following day.
Saturday's comments were the first time Obama openly criticized the Republican field over the incident, though he briefly referred to it earlier in the week during a speech at a fundraiser in California.
"You've got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don't have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they're gay," Obama said. "That's not reflective of who we are."
During an appearance last week on "The View," Vice President Joe Biden said he had a "visceral response" hearing the audience's reaction.
“Look, this kid risked his life, this kid was there for a year — and I quite frankly, I thought it was reprehensible,” he said, visibly welling up.