Thursday, September 20, 2018

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Trump tersely recognizes McCain, lowers White House flag

Seeking to stem rising chorus of criticism, Trump ends two days of near-silence on the death of Sen. John McCain

  • Trump-McCain

    The American flag files at half-staff at the White House, Monday afternoon, Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington. Two days after Sen. John McCain's death, President Donald Trump says he respects the senator's "service to our country" and has signed a proclamation to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until his burial. The flag atop the White House flew at half-staff over the weekend but was raised Monday and then lowered again amid criticism. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Alex Brandon

  • Trump-McCain-1

    The American flag files at half-staff at the White House, Monday afternoon, Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington. Two days after Sen. John McCain's death, President Donald Trump says he respects the senator's "service to our country" and has signed a proclamation to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until his burial. The flag atop the White House flew at half-staff over the weekend but was raised Monday and then lowered again amid criticism. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

    Andrew Harnik

  • Trump-2-259

    An American flag above the White House flies at full-staff less than 48 hours after the death of Sen. John McCain, Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

    Evan Vucci

  • Trump-McCain-3

    The American flag flies at half-staff at the Capitol in honor of Sen. John McCain of Arizona who died Saturday of brain cancer, in Washington, Monday, Aug. 27, 2018. McCain will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Friday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    J. Scott Applewhite

  • McCain-4-2

    The desk of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is draped in black on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCain died at the age of 81, on Aug. 25, 2018, after battling brain cancer. (Senate Television via AP)

    AP

WASHINGTON — Glowering in public and near-silent for two days, President Donald Trump relented under pressure on Monday by tersely recognizing Sen. John McCain’s “service to our country” and re-lowering the White House flag.

While much of the nation remembered McCain’s record as a war hero, longtime senator and presidential nominee over the weekend, Trump had nursed his grievances. McCain had been an infuriating foil in a long-running feud over style and policy that did not end with the senator’s illness and death.

Trump’s reluctance to participate in the national remembrance was awkward and uncomfortable, even by the standards of a leader who acknowledges he doesn’t act like a typical president. The episode highlighted the outsider president’s impulse to harbor personal resentments regardless of political repercussions.

Before Trump’s Monday afternoon statement, his only commentary on McCain’s death had been a perfunctory tweet on Saturday. The lack of a formal statement — combined with the fact that White House flags were flown at half-staff only briefly — drew strong criticism from Republicans and veterans’ groups as well as Democrats.

When he finally did comment, in a printed statement, Trump was sparing with his praise for the six-term senator: “Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country.”

Later, at an evening dinner honoring evangelical leaders, he said “our hearts and prayers” are going to the family “and we very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country.”

Earlier in the day, a stone-faced Trump sat mute as reporters at several photo sessions invited him to comment on McCain. As he was peppered with questions about McCain’s legacy, the usually talkative president made no response.

Publicly, Trump has frequently railed against McCain’s dramatic thumbs-down vote against the president’s efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law. Privately, he has groused about such slights as his belief that McCain did not appreciate his endorsement in the senator’s 2016 re-election bid. McCain, for his part, recently slammed Trump’s Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Against that backdrop, the flag above the White House spoke volumes.

The Stars and Stripes were briefly lowered to half-staff over the weekend, then went back up to full height on Monday while flags at the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere stayed at half-staff. Shortly before Trump issued his written statement, the flag was lowered again to half-staff.

That was after complaints had risen all day from both right and left, and then from a group the president assuredly does not want to offend.

“On the behalf of The American Legion’s two million wartime veterans, I strongly urge you to make an appropriate presidential proclamation noting Senator McCain’s death and legacy of service to our nation, and that our nation’s flag be half-staffed through his internment,” said a statement directed to him from Denise Rohan, the organization’s national commander.

While the president’s statement sought to defuse the controversy, the upcoming weeklong celebration of McCain’s life is likely to bring new awkwardness. Former presidents will speak at McCain’s funeral on Saturday, but the senator’s family made clear they did not want Trump to attend.

Trump said he had asked Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a ceremony honoring McCain at the Capitol on Friday and that other administration officials would attend memorial services. He also said he’d agreed to the McCain family’s request for military transportation of the senator’s remains from Arizona to Washington. Burial will be Sunday at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.


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