Republicans remain silent after Trump staffer jokes about "dying" John McCain

Meghan McCain wonders how White House aide Kelly Sadler can "still have a job"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 11, 2018 12:10PM (EDT)

John McCain and Meghan McCain (Getty/Nicholas Kamm)
John McCain and Meghan McCain (Getty/Nicholas Kamm)

Americans needed Meghan McCain to remind us of something very important: that it is how you live, not when you die, that matters in this life. This was the message that McCain had led with as she lit into a staffer working for President Donald Trump who was reported to have gloated over her father's impending death.

"The thing that surprises me most is... I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you could come into work the next day and still have a job," McCain told her views on "The View" on Friday:

This was the infuriating story from The Hill about remarks by a special assistant to the president:

Kelly Sadler was discussing McCain’s opposition to President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director Gina Haspel when she allegedly claimed, “It doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.”

That’s according to a person in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.

The White House did not dispute the remark, but said in a statement, “we respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”

Sadler's comment about McCain came after he publicly denounced the idea of Haspel running the CIA by pointing to her past support for torture. The White House has not denied the report nor offered an apology.

"Don't feel bad for me or my family. We're really strong. There's so much more love and prayer and amazing energy being generated towards us then anything negative at all and I feel so blessed. My dad is actually doing really well right now and I believe in the power of prayer and I think it's helping. So I want to thank all the positivity of people with that," McCain told her audience.

She then added, "The other thing I want to say is that, Kelly [Sadler], here's a little news flash. And this may be a bit intense for 11 o'clock in the morning on a Friday, but: We're all dying. I'm dying, you're dying, we're all dying... I really feel like I understand the meaning of life and it is not how you die, it is how you live. And I always have had something to believe in. My dad's all about character and bipartisanship and something greater than yourself and believing in this country and believing in the fact that we as Americans can still come together."

McCain also made an indirect call for Sadler to be fired.

Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked," McCain explained in a statement. "I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm. I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world."

McCain's record as a torture victim has also been attacked by his conservative critics. This explained why military analyst Thomas McInerney appeared on Fox Business Network to use a derisive nickname for the senator based on a false story that he had given information to his North Vietnamese captors after being tortured.

"Well she can't use it anymore because we have determined, the Congress, that it's not legal. The fact is, John McCain, it worked on John. That's why they call him 'Songbird John.' The fact is, those methods can work and they're effective, as former Vice President (Dick) Cheney said. And if we have to use them to save a million American lives, we will do whatever we have to," McInerney told Fox Business Network on Friday.

The host of the show, Charles V. Payne, offered a public apology to McCain and his family after he failed to push back on his guest

"My Apology to Senator McCain and his Family: 'This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain," Payne wrote on Twitter. "At the time, I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment, and did not hear the comment. I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged. As a proud military veteran and son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feelings about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country.'"

Of course, both Sadler and McInerney may have been at least partially inspired to say what they did because of the example set by President Donald Trump himself. During a heated moment in the 2016 presidential cycle, Trump insulted McCain by saying that he disagreed with the notion that the Arizona senator was "a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured."

One of the few staunchly conservative pro-Trumpers to be defending McCain right now is his former vice presidential running mate from the 2008 election, Sarah Palin. She admitted that she was "frustrated" with how Trump has been talking about McCain, clarified that a better word might be "disappointment" and then criticized him for "disparaging Sen. McCain – his record, his history as a veteran – when we don't know all the details of all those years that Sen. McCain made sacrifices for this country as a POW," according to an interview by The Daily Mail with Palin.

CNN's Chris Cillizza also wrote about how Trump's nasty rhetorical style seems to have trickled down to the rest of America during his presidency:

That view has trickled down. When CNN's Chris Cuomo asked State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Friday to comment on the "joke" about McCain's death, Nauert responded: "I'm not familiar with what you're familiar with." Really? Nauert hadn't heard about the story? I find that very, very hard to believe.

That collective shrug from the President of the United States and his allies coupled with the extant factors of our internal divisions and the sort of campaign he ran in 2016 created the toxic stew from which comments like the one Thursday by Sadler grow.

No one is standing up and saying "We can't treat people like this." And sadly, that vacuum in moral leadership means that the better angels of our nature are being drown out by our demons.

The only elected Republican standing by McCain is his old friend, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"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," Graham told CNN.

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By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Charles Payne Donald Trump John Mccain Kelly Sadler Orrin Hatch Republican Party Sarah Palin