Trump Unleashes Fresh Attack on McCain Following GOP Criticism

Steven T. Dennis, Justin Sink and Margaret Talev
Trump Unleashes Fresh Attack on McCain Following GOP Criticism

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump again attacked John McCain during a speech at an Ohio tank factory on Wednesday, complaining in a lengthy digression that he wasn’t thanked for the deceased senator’s funeral and declaring the Arizonan had harmed U.S. foreign policy and American veterans.

Trump enumerated a list of grievances against McCain, who died in August, including that he had wrongly supported the war in Iraq, failed to “get the job done” for veterans and “badly” hurt the Republican party and the nation by voting against repealing Obamacare.

The president also complained that McCain had turned over the so-called Steele dossier to federal authorities during the 2016 presidential campaign instead of alerting Trump himself. The dossier is a private and uncorroborated intelligence report alleging ties between Trump and the Russian government.

“He got it, and what did he do? He didn’t call me, he turned it over to the FBI hoping to put me in jeopardy,” Trump said.

Trump revisited his long-running feud with the late senator beginning with tweets over the weekend. Senior Republican lawmakers have offered implicit and explicit criticism of the president for his remarks, and McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, has lambasted Trump in her own tweets and in television appearances.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson called Trump’s attacks “deplorable” in an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind” radio program earlier on Wednesday.

“That’s what I called it from the floor of the Senate seven months ago,” Isakson said, when the senator criticized the Trump administration for lowering the White House flag to half-staff for only a single day following McCain’s death. “It will be deplorable seven months from now if he says it again and I will continue to speak out.”

The flag was returned to half-staff following Isakson’s criticism.

Trump recalled the controversy over McCain’s memorial services during his remarks Wednesday, claiming that he “gave him the kind of funeral he wanted” but “didn’t get a thank you.” McCain laid in state at the U.S. Capitol -- a decision made by congressional leaders, not Trump -- before his burial last year.

Other Republican senators also weighed in on Trump’s fresh attacks on McCain, the former Armed Services Committee chairman who died of brain cancer. McCain, an Arizona Republican who had served in Congress since 1983, was a onetime Navy pilot who was North Vietnam’s most prominent prisoner of war.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised McCain in a tweet Wednesday that didn’t mention the president or his criticisms. McConnell of Kentucky wrote that he missed McCain every day and added, “It was a blessing to serve alongside a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate.”

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who was just elected to a six-year term, said on Twitter, “I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, long McCain’s best friend in the Senate, tweeted praise for McCain without mentioning Trump. Graham of South Carolina has become perhaps Trump’s most important ally in the Senate, changing his tune dramatically from before Trump’s election when the senator predicted that he would destroy the Republican Party.

Most Republicans go to great lengths to avoid criticizing Trump, to keep from also becoming targets of a presidential tirade on Twitter. Trump remains immensely popular among Republican voters, which makes such a move especially risky. Former senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee both tussled with Trump and retired rather than face tough Republican primary challenges in 2018.

Isakson of Georgia is somewhat insulated from political pressure because he won his third Senate term in 2016 and won’t be up for re-election until 2022. Still, he needs Trump for issues important to his state, such as a disaster-relief package scheduled to be on the Senate floor next week.

“We’re all Americans," Isakson said on the radio program. "There aren’t Democratic casualties and Republican casualties on the battlefield, there are American casualties, and we should never reduce the service that people give to this country."

Trump as a candidate in 2015 picked a fight with McCain, declaring that the Navy veteran was “not a war hero" for spending five years being tortured in a Vietnamese prison and refusing advantages offered to him because his father was a prominent military leader. “I like people who weren’t captured," Trump said at the time.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Twitter he will re-introduce his legislation to rename the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain, whom he called an “American hero.” The building was named in 1972 after Georgia Democratic Senator Richard Russell, a proponent of racial segregation who fought the Civil Rights Act.

Isakson rejected Schumer’s call to rename the Russell building, saying Schumer is “just playing politics.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net;Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Anna Edgerton

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