White House Aide Jokes About McCain Dying

When it comes to the Trump White House, the fish rots from the head down.

As if to double down on the repulsive comments made on Fox Business Network by retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney that James Joyner wrote about earlier today, a White House aide reportedly dismissed Senator John McCain’s opposition to Gina Haspel’s nomination to be C.I.A. Director by joking about the fact that he’ll be dead soon:

White House aide Kelly Sadler responded to Sen. John McCain’s opposition to President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director by saying Thursday morning that “he’s dying anyway,” a White House official told CNN.

The official said Sadler, who is in charge of surrogate communications, meant it as a joke, “but it fell flat.”

McCain announced last year that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and he issued a statement Wednesday calling on his fellow senators to oppose Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee for CIA director, whose ties to the use of interrogation methods widely considered torture have drawn significant criticism.

Asked about Sadler’s comment, a White House official said, “We respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation, and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”

Sadler called the senator’s daughter Meghan McCain on Thursday to apologize for the remark, a source close to the situation told CNN, although it’s unclear what her response was.

The Hill first reported on Sadler’s remark.

McCain called Haspel a “patriot” in his statement in Wednesday but referenced her record and testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee to implore the Senate to vote down her nomination.

Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing,” McCain’s statement read. “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”

Haspel said in a statement Thursday evening that she has the “utmost respect” for McCain.

“I have the utmost respect for Senator McCain, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which he has approached this nomination process.”

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend of John McCain, said of the White House aide’s comment, “Ms. Sadler, may I remind you that John McCain has a lot of friends in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. Nobody is laughing in the Senate.”

Sadler’s remark about the Arizona Republican echoed Trump’s remark at the outset of his campaign for president, when he mocked McCain’s time as a prisoner of war by saying, “I like people that weren’t captured.”

McCain’s wife had a message of her own for Sadler via Twitter:

The roots of all of this lie, of course, in McCain’s opposition to Haspel’s nomination, which is rooted in his long-standing opposition to the use of torture by the C.I.A. during the period after the September 11th attacks and his own experiences as a Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War. Just days after Haspel’s nomination was announced, McCain expressed doubts about her nomination and earlier this week issued a statement urging the Senate to reject her nomination. It all comes at a time when McCain is back home in Arizona recovering from both chemotherapy and radiation treatments related to the brain cancer he announced he was diagnosed with last year and from apparently unrelated intestinal surgery. While there have not been any recent updates on McCain’s condition, the Senator has said in the past that his prognosis is poor, and it’s worth noting that the form of cancer that he is dealing with has a high mortality rate, especially in patients of his advanced age.

More recently, McCain has been the subject of a long profile in The New York Times. It has also been reported that McCain was visited by his longtime friend former Vice-President Joe Biden recently and was also visited by another longtime Senate friend, former Senator Joe Lieberman. During that visit, it’s been reported that McCain told Biden that he’s concerned about the future direction of the country and urged his friend to stay involved in politics, possibly a reference to a potential Presidential run on Biden’s part in 2020. Also, McCain’s daughter Meghan visited him in Arizona again last weekend, although one suspects that she has been traveling there quite frequently anyway. Finally, it’s worth noting that McCain had said last year that he hoped to return to Washington in January. That didn’t happen, obviously, and at this point, it’s unclear when, or if, McCain will be able to resume his Senatorial duties.

Obviously, Sadler’s remarks are inexcusable and the fact that she has apparently reached out to Cindy McCain to apologize doesn’t excuse her “joke” or the fact that, according to some reports, several people in the West Wing meeting in question laughed at her bizarre and offensive attempt at humor. In another White House, of course, it’s unlikely that we’d see something like this, but this is yet another example about how Trump’s leadership by example has impacted his whole Administration. With respect to McCain individually, Trump has often been especially horrible. Just weeks after he declared his candidacy, for example, Trump mocked the notion that McCain was a hero by saying that he likes heroes who weren’t captured. Given the controversy that had erupted when Trump first flirted with the idea of running for President regarding Trump’s avoidance of the draft during the same Vietnam War that McCain served in, the comment was particularly galling and was the first of many times during the course of the campaign that Trump would be condemned by many mainstream Republicans for something he said. The animosity only intensified when Trump became President and McCain became one of the few Senators willing to speak out against the President and he has often been a thorn in Trump’s side on legislative matters over the course of the past fifteen months. The most memorable example of that, of course, was late in the summer last year when McCain returned to the Senate after his initial cancer diagnosis to famously deliver a “thumbs down” that led to the defeat of the effort to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act. More recently, McCain has reportedly told friends and colleagues that he feels more liberated to speak out against the leader of his party, and this liberation is no doubt enhanced by the report that McCain has said that he will not run for re-election in 2022 even if he does manage to win his battle with cancer.

In addition to all of that, there’s also Trump’s long history of attacking people in general including Mexicans, Muslimsdisabled Americans, and women such as Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina. In addition to all of that, there’s been the Access Hollywood tape, the credible accusations of sexual harassment and assault by more than a dozen women, and Trump’s comments in the wake of the racist rally in Charlottesville last July.  All of this has, quite obviously, set a tone in the White House that has tarnished even the most supposedly honorable people working under the President. For example, when the President came under fire for his appallingly tone deaf remarks to the wife of one of the soldiers killed in Niger last year, Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine General with a previously honorable reputation, took upon himself the task of appearing in the White House Briefing Room to defend the President and attack a Florida Congresswoman with an attack that later turned out to be utterly false. To put it bluntly, this President has basically what can only be called a reverse Midas Effect, everything he touches turns to crap. Ms. Sadler is just the latest pathetic example of that.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I’ll repeat what I had to say about this in the other thread:

    I’ve disagreed with John McCain on innumerable occasions – not the least of which was the selection of that brainless twit as his running mate – but I have an abiding sense of respect for both his personal honor and his service to the nation. This party values nothing other than winning – and it’s clear that they’ll smear anybody, attack anybody, continually find new lows to stoop to – in pursuit of that goal.

    This woman should have been escorted out of the building, and I’ll agree – in any other White House she would have been. In the Trump White House however, this vile sort of garbage is a feature, not a bug …




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  2. Kylopod says:

    And the real problem is that Michelle Wolf was mean to Huck-Sanders.




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  3. CSK says:

    “…everything he touches turns to crap. Ms. Sadler is just the latest example of that.”

    It’s possible–indeed likely–Sadler was crap to begin with. Who else would sign on with Trump?

    Apart from that, it would be interesting to know who these leakers are. Leaking seems to have become a full-time job.




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  4. Hal_10000 says:

    OK, I agree that what she said was repulsive but … if I read this correctly, it was in a closed-door meeting off the record. Are we now going after people for stuff they say behind closed doors? Has anyone never said anything stupid in private? Are we no longer allowed to? Again, I’m not excusing her remarks but it seems we are so poised to be outrageously outraged about everything, we’re now hopping up and down about something we are told someone said in a closed meeting. I’m just outraged out these days.




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  5. teve tory says:

    Interesting comment on the Twitters:

    Zakariah Johnson

    @Pteratorn
    Follow Follow @Pteratorn
    More
    Replying to @joshtpm

    Trump’s power is based on performative cruelty. That is what his supporters voted for–not for any policy, and not for any other principle than to do the worst thing to people outside the fold at every opportunity. He is loathsome, but he’s also keeping his promises.

    7:06 PM – 10 May 2018




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  6. al-Ameda says:

    We’ve had 16 months of this stuff, with Trump as the standard of behavior in the White House, and unfortunately this comes as no surprise whatsoever.

    And really, all of this is consonant with Trump’s ‘he speaks his mind’ and ‘ f*** political correctness’ persona and style. There are no boundaries, or at least none that Trump and many of his staff take seriously. Some will complain that this was leaked. So sorry but, in Washington you should always be aware that your comments are never truly off the record.




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  7. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    It’s possible–indeed likely–Sadler was crap to begin with. Who else would sign on with Trump?

    It’s possible, I suppose, that Trump brings out the inner crappiness of people rather than turning them to crap.

    In any case, it’s time to recognize the military is nothing but a prop and a tool to the GOP, not an object of reverence. They may revere the symbols, but clearly not principles they represent, and not the actual people who embody them.




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  8. Hal_10000 says:

    @Kathy:

    In any case, it’s time to recognize the military is nothing but a prop and a tool to the GOP, not an object of reverence.

    I’ve noticed that whenever any GOP legislation is in trouble, they — Trump in particular — will start harping on about how opposing it is hurting our military. Tax cuts, budgets, repealing Obamacare. Doesn’t matter. They will instantly cower behind that. And this is especially true when it comes to defending bad foreign policy or the torture program. Suddenly, any criticism of this is failing to support the troops.




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  9. SenyorDave says:

    @Hal_10000: Actually, you are excusing her remarks because they were made behind closed doors. She is free to say whatever she wants, but there are consequences. Normally the remark should have cost her the job, IMO. The fact that this WH leaks everything means that people should understand that whatever they say will come out.

    Doug said it best that the fish rots from the head down.




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  10. An Interested Party says:

    I’m just outraged out these days.

    What do you expect with the trash that is in the White House…




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  11. KM says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Are we now going after people for stuff they say behind closed doors?

    Yes. An asshat doesn’t stop being an asshat the second they are out/in of hearing range – it’s an intrinsic part of who they are. To double-down with the ridiculous “it was just a joke” excuse this Administration is so fond of is offensive icing on the cake. This is a group that was up in arms over jokes about Trump and Sanders, demanding apologies mere weeks ago for something far less egregious then this but because it is acceptable as dark humor to them?

    Who you are in the dark matters more then who you are in the light of day. If who you are inside is cruel enough to cast aside a (admittedly nominal) dying ally as irrelevant in the same week someone else made fun of them for being tortured then try to pass it off as a joke when people get pissy, it doesn’t matter that your words were in private or shouted from a rooftop.




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  12. teve tory says:

    (removed due to disputed claim)




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  13. CSK says:

    @Hal_10000:

    It’s a separate issue, to be sure, but you must have noticed that there’s no such thing as a “closed door meeting” or an “off-the-record” comment when it comes to the Trump WH and Trump administration. Whatever grotesquely racist/misogynistic/callous/moronic statement he or one of his minions utters, there are at least two people present who break their fingers speed-dialing someone at the WaPo or the Times to report it.




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  14. KM says:

    @CSK:
    And that’s the kicker: one of their own tattled and it was obviously true since Sadler apologized and tried the j/k route instead of flat out denial. Somebody in the WH still has some shred of propriety left and they happened to be in that meeting.

    Picking on the dying is a huge cultural no-no pretty much everywhere in the world. Doesn’t matter if you don’t like them or even if they’re terrible people who might deserve it, you don’t kick someone with a terminal diagnosis without a backlash. Let’s put it this way: if Trump were on his way out via brain cancer and someone else made that comment, the conservative bubble would have exploded in a nuclear fireball and they’d have been right to do it. McCain may be out of favor but he’s still (1) an American (2) a veteran (3) a fellow DC critter and GOP member (4) their own chosen for POTUS a decade ago. That they are so willing to throw rocks at him in his last days has got to be bothering at least one staffer…..




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  15. Hal_10000 says:

    @SenyorDave:

    No, I would not necessarily expect someone to lose their job over this. Especially not in this Administration (although the most comparable situation I can think of — Samantha Power’s “monster” remark, precipitated her resignation).

    To double-down with the ridiculous “it was just a joke” excuse this Administration is so fond of is offensive icing on the cake. This is a group that was up in arms over jokes about Trump and Sanders, demanding apologies mere weeks ago for something far less egregious then this but because it is acceptable as dark humor to them?

    Absolutely agree with this. The Trumpists are the biggest hypocrites out there, flinging insults at everyone, literally wearing shirts that say “F- your feelings” and then going all blushing and fainting the second someone is less than reverent toward the Dear Leader.

    And I don’t think it was a joke at all. McCain’s illness will unquestionably be part of the White House’s political calculus here. Or, given who we’re talking about, their political counting on their fingers.




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  16. Eric Florack says:

    You guys might want to look into the Forrestal fire




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  17. CSK says:

    @KM:

    Assuming that people like Sadler aren’t complete morons (yeah, yeah, I know), they have to be aware, at this point, that any stupid remark anyone in the WH makes is going to be leaked in a matter of hours, if not minutes. So…why? Maybe they are just that moronic.




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  18. James Pearce says:

    @Hal_10000:

    OK, I agree that what she said was repulsive but … if I read this correctly, it was in a closed-door meeting off the record.

    I’ll go further:

    What she said was repulsive, but I will defend her right to say it anyway: Behind closed doors or into a loudspeaker. I have heard similar sentiments expressed about McCain from liberals, and those are repulsive too. There is no upside freaking out about “repulsive comments” in the age of Trump.

    “Ultimately, the side that’s frantically trying to shore up taboos is the side that’s losing.”
    – Michelle Goldberg, today.




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  19. michael reynolds says:

    Every day the circle of people Trumpaloons are required to hate, expands. Imagine a number line from one to ten, representing the political spectrum, with 1 being the most Trumpish and 10 being the most liberal. At this point the Trump Circle of Hate runs from about 4 up. It will inevitably continue to expand until @Bung et al will be required to hate 80% of the American population.




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  20. An Interested Party says:

    What she said was repulsive, but I will defend her right to say it anyway

    Who’s saying she didn’t have a right to say what she said…




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  21. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Pearce:

    What she said was repulsive, but I will defend her right to say it anyway

    Against what? The flawed perception that the 1st Amendment is some sort of blanket protection against the potentially negative consequences of choosing to speak?

    Allow me to disabuse you of that notion …




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  22. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    They may revere the symbols, but clearly not principles they represent

    Well put. At this point it is almost a truism that those who speak about loyalty or patriotism or traditional morality the loudest turn out to be nothing but hypocrites and trash. Who can forget ol’ Newt Gingrich, who called repeated and loudly for the impeachment of Bill Clinton for his moral decadence as demonstrated by screwing an intern in his office. And ol’ Newt would step away from the microphone, walk back to his office, and get to screwing one of his aides on his desk. Coincidentally, she was about the same age as Monica.




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  23. MarkedMan says:

    @KM:

    Somebody in the WH still has some shred of propriety left and they happened to be in that meeting

    This may be a bit optimistic. We know that, for instance, Pruitt leaked scandalous details about another cabinet member because he was a) warring with that person for Trump’s love and attention and b) wanted to distract from his own litany of scandals.




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  24. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    You guys might want to look into the Forrestal fire

    I’m prepared to discuss the fire aboard USS Forrestal in minute detail. What sort of innuendo are you trying to make about McCain’s performance / role in that disaster, you odorous toad?




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  25. The far-right lies about McCain’s responsibility for the fire on the USS Forrestal have been debunked by Politifact on two occasions.




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  26. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “What she said was repulsive, but I will defend her right to say it anyway: ”

    Yeah, I defend her right to say it anyway, wherever she wants.

    And then she should be fired for it.

    There’s a difference between the right to speak, and the right to say anything you want with no consequences. If you prove yourself to be a cruel who delights in the suffering of your political opponents, I’ve got no problem with you being escorted from the White House.




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  27. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    From my observation, the circle begins at 2. If you’re not totally and absolutely devoted to Trump, you’re the enemy.




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  28. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Who’s saying she didn’t have a right to say what she said…

    It is soooo comforting that the “You can’t say that crowd” doesn’t actually want to stifle speech.

    @HarvardLaw92:

    The flawed perception that the 1st Amendment is some sort of blanket protection against the potentially negative consequences of choosing to speak?

    “Negative consequences?” Like what, finding yourself the subject of the latest 24 hour newscycle BS?

    Too often, the left thinks their pile-ons are the “negative consequences.” In the age of Trump? It’s not gonna work….




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  29. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    And then she should be fired for it.

    You do understand why it’s unreasonable to expect her to be fired for this comment, right?




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  30. wr says:

    @James Pearce: Unreasonable to expect? You seem to think that I believe that when I post something here, major political figures whip into action to do what I want, and that I haven’t figured out that Trump isn’t as receptive to me as Obama was.

    Actually, that does explain about 90% of your bitching here about how people who comment on blogs aren’t putting their opinions into action and passing legislation.

    So let me clarify: I am perfectly aware that nothing I say here will have any effect on the governing of this country. I am expressing opinions, not handing down writ.

    Hoping you can say the same, although I wouldn’t put a lot of money on that…




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  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Pearce:

    Like what, finding yourself the subject of the latest 24 hour newscycle BS?

    No, like having herself bounced out of the building on her ass, and you knew exactly what “negative consequences” meant before you asked.

    I’ll be completely honest. This whole faux contrarian “pay attention to me” thing of yours has worn thin.

    You do understand why it’s unreasonable to expect her to be fired for this comment, right?

    Not in the least. I can tell you that, had this been one of our employees, he/she would already be wondering who might hire them after having been shown the door.

    And you damn well know why. What’s unreasonable is a climate in which something as vile as what she had to say goes excused & unpunished. But you already knew that too.

    In the age of Trump? It’s not gonna work….

    Yea, we know. You seem particularly attuned to what won’t work – which of late seems to be whatever the popular norm is around here. What’s missing, however, is the part where you ever deign to offer anything in the way of constructive suggestions. Your shtick, tired and threadbare as it indeed is, consists of attempting to lecture everybody else in picayune fashion about how they’re wrong. It’s the libretto of the carping mediocrity. You’re effectively the movie critic around here.

    And, no offense friend, but everybody hates movies critics …

    So, I’ll ask again: aside from “pay attention to me”, WETF is your point?




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  32. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    You seem to think that I believe

    If you really wanted to know what I think, I think you may be cruising a bit too much on sanctimony. I believe White House staff can and should say completely horrible and disgusting things about every single member of Congress. They should use profanity, too.

    @HarvardLaw92:

    No, like having herself bounced out of the building on her ass, and you knew exactly what “negative consequences” meant before you asked.

    You went to Harvard. You know people who suck up to the boss don’t get “bounced out of the building” on their asses.

    And you also know that we exist in a world of competing narratives, and one of them right now is about the legacy of John McCain. The perimortem dissing rises, and the hagiography to meet it. I seem to remember one of the objections to McCain’s presidential run was that he might die in office and leave Sarah Palin as president, but now I’m supposed to go “Woah,” when some classless White House twit cracks a joke when he’s actually dying?

    Nah.




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  33. Franklin says:

    @Eric Florack: Another thread where you’re weak on actual facts and then go running away when someone points it out. Some would call that trolling.




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  34. Kit says:

    I don’t quite agree with anyone here. I’m not offended at what was, in all likelihood, a tasteless joke that sheds light on the working atmosphere at the White House. Just maybe, the context would have shown it to be an example of cynical gallows humor. Don’t know, don’t care.

    What I expect, however, is an apology. Not for me. And not that I expect it to come from the heart. Still, even a ritualistic apology acknowledges a certain reality. Or as La Rochefoucauld had it: Hypocrisy is the homage the vice pays to virtue. The fact that the White House didn’t march Sadler out to apologize simply confirms (as if we really need it) all we suspect about them and about their base: the Right no longer believes that service, honour, dignity or decency deserves even lip service these days.




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  35. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “If you really wanted to know what I think, I think you may be cruising a bit too much on sanctimony. ”

    If you really want me — or anyone — to know what you think, you should try to construct sentences that actually make sense. You know, in English.




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