Trump Reportedly Nixed White House Plans For Laudatory Statement About McCain
President Trump reportedly vetoed a plan to issue a statement lauding Senator John McCain after he died on Saturday.
After Senator John McCain died on Saturday, the White House staff apparently drafted a statement for the President that was quite laudatory toward the late Senator, but President Trump nixed it in favor of a bland tweet from the President:
President Trump nixed issuing a statement that praised the heroism and life of Sen. John McCain, telling senior aides he preferred to issue a tweet before posting one Saturday night that did not include any kind words for the late Arizona Republican.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and other White House aides advocated for an official statement that gave the decorated Vietnam War POW plaudits for his military and Senate service and called him a “hero,” according to current and former White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. The original statement was drafted before McCain died Saturday, and Sanders and others edited a final version this weekend that was ready for the president, the aides said.
But Trump told aides he wanted to post a brief tweet instead, and the statement praising McCain’s life was not released.
“My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!” Trump posted Saturday evening shortly after McCain’s death was announced.
Sanders declined to comment Sunday afternoon.
“It’s atrocious,” Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team and a longtime Republican strategist, said of Trump’s reaction to McCain’s death. “At a time like this, you would expect more of an American president when you’re talking about the passing of a true American hero.”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1033515425336885248
The break with precedent of previous presidents — who have typically released effusive official statements for noteworthy Americans upon their death — underscored the bitter relationship between the two men, Trump’s continued anger toward McCain, and the substantive and stylistic differences between them, people close to both men said.
White House aides instead posted statements from officials other than the president praising McCain. By Sunday afternoon, the vice president, secretary of state, homeland security secretary, defense secretary, national security adviser, White House press secretary, counselor to the president, education secretary, interior secretary and others had posted statements lauding the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush issued glowing eulogies as well.
Other world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, released similar statements.
“John McCain was a true American hero. He devoted his entire life to his country. His voice will be missed. Our respectful thoughts go to his beloved ones,” Macron posted on Twitter.
As tributes poured in, the president who said McCain was “not a war hero” spent much of Sunday at his golf course in Virginia and did not utter a word publicly. In the afternoon, he returned to the White House, where the flags were lowered to half-staff in honor of McCain.
Trump’s Twitter account was silent Sunday other than reprising screeds against the investigation into Russian election interference and boasting about a buoyant economy. “Fantastic numbers on consumer spending released on Friday!” Trump posted en route to the Virginia course Sunday morning. “Stock Market hits all time high!” Later Sunday, he accused the news media of giving Obama credit for his accomplishments, posting an excerpt of a weeks-old piece from the Washington Times.
As The New York Times notes, Trump’s behavior stands in stark contrast to what was is being said about the late Senator McCain by the nation as a whole:
As leaders of both political parties and foreign dignitaries publicly mourned John McCain on Sunday, President Trump conspicuously avoided a national moment of tribute to a senator whose death seemed to be its own metaphor for the demise of civility and unity in the Trump era.
The president did not make even the most cursory public show of respect on Sunday for Mr. McCain, against whom he had continued to indulge a personal grievance even as it was apparent that the Arizona Republican was losing his battle with brain cancer. The president spent much of the day golfing and attacking his usual enemies on Twitter.
It was the start of what promises to be a difficult week for Mr. Trump. Mr. McCain quietly declared before his death that he did not want Mr. Trump to take part in his funeral, a decision that will render the president a virtual pariah as the senator is eulogized by former presidents and other luminaries as a principled war hero and dedicated public servant.
But more than just the culmination of a political feud, the specter of Mr. Trump’s highly visible absence from Mr. McCain’s funeral on Saturday morning at Washington National Cathedral underscored the degree to which the president has veered from the norms of his office, unwilling to act as a unifying force at major moments in the life of the country.
“Everyone, including him, is more comfortable with him not there, and that’s a striking thing on its own, given that he is the president of the United States, and this was a sitting senator who is respected by both sides,” said Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator and editor at large of The Weekly Standard. “For better or worse, he’s outside what would have been the bipartisan boundaries, you might say, of American presidents.”
The dynamic reflects a president who wants nothing to do with the establishment and views almost everything as a zero-sum game that revolves around himself.
It also highlights the country’s rabid political polarization, which helped propel Mr. Trump to the White House. On Sunday, an admiring tribute to Mr. McCain tweeted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democratic candidate for a New York congressional seat, was greeted by hundreds of vitriolic replies attacking the dead senator and branding Ms. Ocasio-Cortez a sellout and a panderer for praising him.
Some of Mr. Trump’s supporters, for their part, savaged Mr. McCain on social media, calling him a spiteful person who had betrayed his own party and blackballed the president as his dying wish. Mr. McCain — whom Mr. Trump once mocked for his five and a half years as a prisoner of war — spent the final months of his life as an outspoken Republican voice challenging Mr. Trump at a time when many in his party would not.
“For most of American history, politics stopped when you had the death of a national leader, and the fact that it hasn’t says an awful lot about the current state of our country and our politics, and in particular about Donald Trump,” said Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian. “What you’d want to see is a president acting as graciously and as large-mindedly as possible, in the John McCain spirit, but there is no sign of that yet.”
Mr. McCain had made his wishes clear during the months before his death, as he convalesced at his ranch near Sedona, Ariz., receiving visitors and fielding telephone calls from a cast of prominent well-wishers across the political spectrum and around the world.
The president was never one of them. His references to Mr. McCain in recent months were confined to contempt-filled moments at his political rallies when he would mimic the thumbs-down signal the senator had made when he voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act.
So intense was Mr. Trump’s animus for Mr. McCain that, when he traveled to Fort Drum, N.Y., this month to sign a defense bill named in the senator’s honor, the president refused to utter his name. Nor did Mr. Trump join leaders from both parties on Friday in sending sympathy to Mr. McCain and his family after it was announced that he was stopping treatment for his cancer. He died a day later.
On Sunday, flags at the White House were lowered to half-staff to honor the senator, and Vice President Mike Pence wrote on Twitter that “we honor his lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life.” But Mr. Trump issued no official statement hailing Mr. McCain. He conveyed his condolences to Mr. McCain’s loved ones on Twitter on Saturday night, but said nothing about Mr. McCain.
Here are the comments that Trump released on Twitter and Instagram:
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018
As if to add insult to injury, the White House flag, which had been lowered to half-staff over the weekend, was back to its regular position, a break with long-standing tradition upon the death of notable Americans such as McCain:
Flag back at full staff atop WH. Pres Trump did not issue proclamation on the death of @SenJohnMcCain, which usually calls for flags to remain at half-staff through the day of interment, which is Sunday at the @NavalAcademy. pic.twitter.com/NGasNPT0VB
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) August 27, 2018
The White House flag is not flying half staff today. The US Capitol flag is pic.twitter.com/YBcoLXcNiw
— Noah Gray (@NoahGrayCNN) August 27, 2018
Fairly striking image — all of the flags surrounding the Washington Monument are at half-staff, though the flag atop the White House was raised to full staff just after midnight. pic.twitter.com/BwKRbqKk0G
— Alex Mallin (@alex_mallin) August 27, 2018
It would be fairly easy for the flag atop the White House to be lowered to half-staff, of course. All that would be needed is a Presidential proclamation similar to those typically issued on the death of prominent Americans like McCain that would mandate that flags be lowered at least until after the person is buried. In the past, it is a custom that has been routinely been followed regardless of the party of the person who died or the person in the White House. It is meant to be a sign of respect. Instead of showing respect, though, President Trump is demonstrating once again how deeply narcissistic and petty he actually is.
Pettiness like this is hardly surprising coming from President Trump, of course. It is something he has demonstrated in other situations on numerous occasions and it is no surprise that he would demonstrate at the time that someone who is being lauded by pretty much all of official Washington as well as foreign leaders and officials ranging from the leaders of all of our major allies to even the former Commander of the Hanoi Hilton, where McCain was held prisoner for five years during the Vietnam War. Moreover, Trump has demonstrated from the time he became a Presidential candidate his disdain for McCain, beginning with the infamous comment in which Trump dismissed the notion that McCain was a hero and said that said he preferred people who weren’t captured. At other times, he attacked McCain as a “loser” who lost an election he should have won and sought to undermine and insult him at every turn. Even after McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer thirteen months ago, the President continued with vindictive and childish attacks against a man who has given more to his country than this President can ever contemplate. Without fail, every time I think that this President cannot sink any further he manages to demonstrate just how depraved and lacking in any sense of empathy he actually is. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the “man” he has always been. It is the “man” he will always be.
Update: After a day of criticism, the White House has again lowered its flag to half-staff:
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) August 27, 2018
The WH has now posted the presidential proclamation directing flags to half-staff until sunset of the day of Sen. McCain's interment on Sunday at the US Naval Academy cemetery. pic.twitter.com/hadsRaGNgW
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) August 27, 2018
The White House has also released a revised statement on McCain’s death:
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.
I have asked Vice President Mike Pence to offer an address at the ceremony honoring Senator McCain at the United States Capitol this Friday.
At the request of the McCain family, I have also authorized military transportation of Senator McCain’s remains from Arizona to Washington, D.C., military pallbearers and band support, and a horse and caisson transport during the service at the United States Naval Academy.
Finally, I have asked General John Kelly, Secretary James Mattis, and Ambassador John Bolton to represent my Administration at his services.
Too little, too late.