Trump Still Won't Call McCain 'Hero,' Makes 1st Public Statement
WASHINGTON, DC — President Trump refused to release a statement praising Sen. John McCain after the longtime Arizona Republican died Saturday following a long battle with Glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, The Washington Post reports. Instead, Trump tweeted his “deepest sympathies and respect” to the McCain family and said “our hearts and prayers are with you.”
The statement would have recognized the late senator’s military service and decades in Congress, and would have called McCain a “hero” — something Trump famously disputed in the 2016 campaign when he said McCain “was only a war hero because he was captured.”
The Trump administration also disrupted long-standing White House protocol, lowering flags above the White House for the minimum amount of time under the U.S. Code — the day of and the day after the death of a member of Congress.
After an uproar, the flags were returned to half-staff and will remain at the lowered position until after Sunday, when McCain will be buried with full military honors at U.S. Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.
Two days after McCain died, Trump did finally issue his first non-Twitter statement on the senator’s death. He had been under pressure from veterans groups to show more respect for McCain, a Navy pilot who was captured during the Vietnam War and tortured for more than five years.
“The American Legion urges the White House to follow long-established protocol following the death of prominent government officials,” American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan wrote in a letter to Trump.
“Mr. President, just this year, you released presidential proclamations noting the deaths of Barbara Bush and Billy Graham,” Rohan wrote to Trump. “Senator John McCain was an American hero and cherished member of The American Legion. As I’m certain you are aware, he served five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and retired from the U.S. Navy at the rank of Captain. He then served in the U.S. Congress for more than three decades.”
The AMVETS group, which represents 20 million U.S. veterans, also lambasted the president for his two-sentence condolence tweet.
“It’s outrageous that the White House would mark American hero John McCain’s death with a two-sentence tweet, making no mention of his heroic and inspiring life,” AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly said in a statement.
Chenelly continued: “And by lowering flags for not one second more than the bare minimum required by law, despite a long-standing tradition of lowering flags until the funeral, the White House is openly showcasing its blatant disrespect for Senator McCain’s many decades of service and sacrifice to our country as well as the service of all his fellow veterans.”
According to The Washington Post’s report on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Chief of Staff John Kelly urged Trump issue a statement praising McCain. When the president did finally issue a statement late Monday afternoon, he refused to call McCain a hero, but said he respected his service to the country.
“Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment.”
Trump said he asked Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a ceremony honoring McCain at the U.S. Capitol on Friday. At the request of the McCain family, he authorized military transportation of the senator’s body from Arizona to Washington, D.C., approved military pallbearers and band support, and a horse and caisson transport during the service at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Finally, Trump said, he asked Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador John Bolton to represent the administration at McCain’s funeral.
The flag was back at half-staff before the day was over Monday.
Typically, flags over the White House are flown at half-staff until the member of Congress is interred. After Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts died in 2009, for example, Obama ordered flags at the White House be flown at half-staff for five days.
The governors in several states, including Ohio, Maryland and New York, ordered public flags in their states to remain at half-staff to honor McCain.
Trump and McCain’s long-running feud was perhaps no better crystalized than in 2017 when McCain — with a defiant “thumbs down” — cast the deciding vote that killed a Republican proposal that would have repealed Obamacare. Trump fumed for months, and even as the senator was dying at his ranch in Arizona, the acrimony continued. Trump refused in a signing ceremony to name McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a defense spending bill senators had named in his honor.
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McCain was harsh in his critique of Trump’s presidency in his memoir “The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations.” He also said in his final months that Trump shouldn’t be invited to his funeral, though Vice President Mike Pence has been invited. Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush are expected to speak.
In his memoir, McCain took aim squarely at Trump, saying the 45th president is concerned more about the “appearance of toughness” than American values.
“He has declined to distinguish the actions of our government from the crimes of despotic ones,” McCain wrote. “The appearance of toughness, or a reality show facsimile of toughness, seems to matter more than any of our values.”
McCain wrote that he’s “not sure what to make of President Trump’s convictions.”
“He threatened to deliberately kill the spouses and children of terrorists, implying that an atrocity of that magnitude would show the world America’s toughness.”
He also lambasted the president’s stance on refugees: “The way he speaks about them is appalling, as though welfare or terrorism were the only purposes they could have in coming to our country.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
Photo: Skip Siegel places flowers at the Dignity Memorial Mortuary to pay his respects to the late Sen. John McCain on Aug. 26, 2018, in Phoenix, Arizona. McCain died Saturday, Aug. 25, after a long battle with Glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)