Trump prematurely raises White House flag lowered to half-staff in honor of John McCain

Trump has had a long-running feud with John McCain, which spilled over even to his reaction after McCain's death

By Matthew Rozsa
Published August 27, 2018 9:14AM (EDT)
John McCain (AP/Matt Rourke)
John McCain (AP/Matt Rourke)

When it comes to honoring the recently deceased Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., President Donald Trump and his media allies are doing the barest minimum they can get away with.

For one thing, Trump is reported to have axed the idea of releasing an official statement from the White House honoring McCain's life and legacy, according to The Washington Post. A statement had already been written up that specifically mentioned McCain's courage during the Vietnam War and as a POW, commemorated his career in the Senate and explicitly referred to him as a "hero." Because McCain had been diagnosed with brain cancer last year, the statement had already been written up well before his passing on Saturday, meaning that all McCain's aides had to do was edit a final version so that it would be ready for publication over the weekend.

Yet even though Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and other key White House aides are reported to have pushed for publication, the president insisted instead on a brief tweet that didn't specifically praise McCain but offered generic condolences to his family members.

Mark Corallo, a longtime Republican strategist who once served as a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, was scathing about Trump's response to McCain's death.

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"It’s atrocious. 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," Corallo told the Post.

The Trump White House also showed disrespect toward McCain in another way: The American flag is back at full staff atop the White House flagpole, even though flags traditionally remain at half-staff through the day of interment.

In contrast, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York honored his fallen friend by introducing a bill to rename the Russell Senate building after McCain.

If nothing else, McCain can be accurately described as a man who spent his life in service to his country. Between 1967 and 1973, he was a prisoner of war in a Vietnamese camp where he was regularly tortured and often came near the point of death. After returning to the United States and realizing that a military career would be limited by his extensive physical injuries, he entered politics, eventually getting elected to the Arizona Senate seat being vacated by another iconic senator, Barry Goldwater, in 1986.

McCain is perhaps best known for his two presidential campaigns: In 2000, he unsuccessfully ran against George W. Bush in the Republican presidential primaries, and in 2008 he won the Republican nomination only to lose in the general election to Barack Obama. While both Bush and Obama have been tapped to deliver eulogies at McCain's funeral, Trump has not — and that decision can no doubt be attributed to the testy relationship between the two men.

The initial shot was fired by Trump, who responded to a political criticism from McCain by claiming that the Arizona senator wasn't a true war hero because he'd been captured. Although McCain endorsed Trump anyway after he won the Republican primaries, the senator retracted that endorsement following the release of an "Access Hollywood" tape in which Trump could be heard bragging about committing sexual assault. Their feud continued into Trump's presidency, with McCain single-handedly torpedoing Trump's final effort to repeal Obama's Affordable Care Act and denouncing the president's foreign policy as a "half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems."

UPDATE: Late Monday afternoon, Trump reversed course and ordered the White House flags raised again after a request from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fox News reported.

"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 in a statement.

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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