President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued — and escalated — his unrelenting attacks on former Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has remained one of the president's most prominent targets seven months after his death.
In an appearance in Lima, Ohio, Trump claimed McCain"didn't get the job done" for veterans — even though McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sponsored the Veterans Choice Act in 2014 to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand veterans' access to healthcare and make it easier for department officials to handle misconduct. McCain fought to expand the program after it was first signed into law in 2014 — and Trump signed the expansion into law in May 2018.
Trump also complained he did not receive proper gratitude for handling arrangements for McCain's funeral last September.
"I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve," Trump said. "I don't care about this, but I didn't get a thank you. That’s OK. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain."
"I have to be honest, I never liked him much – hasn't been for me. I've really – probably, never will," the president added.
Trump authorized the use of military transport to carry McCain's body to Washington, but he only ordered the American flag to be flown at half-staff at the White House and other public buildings after facing criticism from his own staff, veterans groups and lawmakers. Other elements of McCain's funeral were not decided by the president. McCain was lain in the Capitol Rotunda – a decision formally approved by Congress.
The president's repeated denunciation of a senator from his own party, who passed away in August after a months-long battle with brain cancer and has been hailed as a "maverick," is significant even for a president constantly at war with those he sees as challenging him. It also comes amid a wave of statements in recent days praising McCain in the wake of Trump's attacks. However, while many Republican lawmakers stepped up their defense of McCain, few called out Trump for his insults.
"I just want to lay it on the line that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better," Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia told The Bulwark, a conservative news site, in an interview published Wednesday. "I don't care if he's president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York or is building the greatest immigration system in the world."
Trump recently reignited his years-long offensive against the Arizona Republican, lashing out at the late senator on Twitter and telling reporters in the Oval Office that he remains "very unhappy" with McCain. The president voiced his frustration over the late senator's famous late-night thumbs down vote against legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Trump called McCain's pivotal "no" vote against a so-called "skinny" repeal measure of the Affordable Care Act "disgraceful" and claimed McCaine sank efforts by Republicans to repeal the healthcare law, among "other things" which have left him angered.
In addition to his 2017 healthcare vote, the president took aim at McCain, who passed away in August after a months-long battle with brain cancer, for his reported role in passing a salacious dossier full of damning allegations about Trump's ties to Russia to the FBI. BuzzFeed News published the 35-page dossier in full in January of 2017, with the disclaimer that the dossier was "not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors." Many of the claims in the document have been confirmed, but the most explosive claims remain unverified.
"Spreading the fake and totally discredited Dossier 'is unfortunately a very dark stain against John McCain,'" Trump tweeted over the weekend, quoting Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated then-President Bill Clinton.
Trump also accused the "last in his class" McCain of sending "the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election." (McCain acknowledged in January 2017 that he had delivered the document to then-FBI Director James Comey.)
The president's escalated attacks against McCain suggest Trump cannot resist reviving old battles against those he views as his political enemies — whether alive or dead.
Trump renewed his attacks in recent days against McCain in a series of tweets that slammed the late senator, former Vice President Joe Biden, Democrats, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the media and more.
He has also attacked conservative lawyer George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, calling him a "stone cold loser," "a whack job" and a "husband from hell," after Conway raised questions about the president's mental state on Twitter.
Trump zeroed in on Fox News hosts and "Saturday Night Live" writers and performers in recent days, as well.