WASHINGTON — The White House lowered its flag to half-staff Monday afternoon following a barrage of criticism for ending the tribute to deceased Sen. John McCain just one day after he died.
President Donald Trump refused to say a word about McCain during events at the White House on Monday, where flags flew at full-staff for most of the day in contrast to honors the late senator received elsewhere in Washington and across the country.
Trump ignored reporters’ questions on McCain on four occasions at the White House on Monday. He didn’t look at a reporter who asked if McCain was a hero.
American Legion national commander Denise Rohan sent a letter to Trump urging the president on behalf of the organization’s “two million wartime veterans” to order flags lowered until McCain’s burial to honor “an American hero.” Governors in at least 10 states — Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania — ordered flags flown at half-staff for the period.
Gov. Paul R. LePage has directed all United States flags and State of Maine flags to be flown at half-staff immediately in memory of Arizona Senator John McCain.
“John McCain served his country in the military and then as a long-standing senator,” LePage said. “Ann and I thank him for his life of service, and we send our heartfelt condolences to Senator McCain’s family.”
One GOP congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said their office received many calls Monday morning from constituents angered that Trump hasn’t ordered all flags lowered until McCain is buried, which is scheduled for Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Presidents have often signed proclamations lowering flags to half-staff from the day a sitting senator dies through the day he or she is buried. Former President Barack Obama issued such an order for the late Sens. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, among others.
Trump’s apparent snub is a sign of his continued disdain for McCain, with whom he first picked a fight in the summer of 2015, 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 three years ago.
Since then, Trump had refused calls to change his tune, and he and McCain have clashed on a range of policy issues. Trump repeatedly groused in public about what turned out to be McCain’s final vote in the Senate last summer, blocking an Affordable Care Act repeal measure.
Trump’s only public comment on the six-term Republican senator and former GOP presidential nominee was a brief tweet hours after McCain’s death Saturday sending condolences to his family. The Washington Post reported late Sunday that Trump rejected issuing a statement praising McCain’s life and heroism.
Had Trump issued a statement honoring McCain, “the media would criticize it and say it is not consistent with the other things he said in the past and become a story about the president,” former White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Monday on CNN. “I think it’s actually respectful of the president to give it space and distance and to allow the family its opportunity to celebrate John McCain’s life.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bloomberg writers Margaret Talev and Laura Litvan contributed to this report.
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