In a report that is likely to provoke further scrutiny of the tense relationship between the president and the late Senator John McCain - to put it mildly - the Washington Post reports that President Trump rejected issuing a statement that "praised the heroism and life of Sen. John McCain", instead telling White House aides he preferred to issue a tweet before posting one Saturday night that did not include any praise for the late Arizona Republican.
According to the report, White House 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." A statement to that purpose had been drafted before McCain died Saturday, and Sanders and others edited a final version this weekend that was ready for the president.
However, 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.
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
Instead, White House aides 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 former 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, also 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.
Needless to say, Trump's break with precedent from previous presidents "who have typically released effusive official statements for noteworthy Americans upon their death" confirmed that the bitter relationship between the two men, Trump’s continued anger toward McCain and the substantive and stylistic differences between them, lasted until the end.
Meanwhile, as the tributes poured in, Trump - who in 2015 said McCain was “not a war hero” - spent much of Sunday at his golf course in Virginia and did not utter a word publicly. He returned to the White House in the afternoon, where the flags were lowered to half-staff for the deceased senator.
Then came the criticism:
“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.”
Other chimed in:
Mark Hertling, a former senior military commander who lauded McCain on Twitter for visiting Mosul during heavy fighting in Afghanistan, said he was not surprised by Trump’s reaction to McCain’s death. Nineteen months into his presidency, Trump has yet to visit any war zones where American troops are fighting.
“It was very shallow,” Hertling said of Trump’s response.
Trump, however, remained unmoved, and as the WaPo notes, Trump's Twitter feed 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.