Senate GOP anger over McCain insult grows

Republican senators are demanding a public apology after a White House staffer joked about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPence, Pompeo urged Trump to clarify Russia remarks: report GOP lawmaker renews call for Trump to release tax returns after Putin summit House conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor MORE's (R-Ariz.) failing health, even as the administration is doubling down on its decision to handle the fallout "internally." 

The growing divisions between the Senate GOP caucus and the White House comes on the eve of a closed-door Tuesday lunch between President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE and Senate Republicans. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash McConnell: Russians are not our friends Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said on Monday that an apology would be "appropriate ... from the person who said that really dumb thing." 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) called staffer Kelly Sadler’s comments "stupid" and "a big mistake." 

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"I think the administration should apologize, but I think Mrs. Sadler ... I think she should apologize publicly as well," Kennedy separately told CBS News. 

During an internal meeting last week, Sadler dismissed McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel's CIA nomination by saying, "It doesn't matter, he's dying anyway."

Her leaked comments, which were first reported by The Hill on Thursday, have created a firestorm for the White House.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk MORE (R-S.D.) on Monday called Sadler's remarks a "really unfortunate circumstance." 

"Obviously what was said was very wrong and inappropriate. It would have been a lot easier if they had just nipped it right away and she came out and issued a public apology. ... Now it's drug on for five days," the No. 3 Senate Republican told reporters. 

The White House signaled on Monday that neither they nor Sadler would be offering a public apology. 

Deputy press secretary Raj Shah confirmed that Sadler called McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, to apologize for her remarks but said the matter was being "dealt with internally."

And Trump on Twitter blasted not the insult but "the so-called leaks" coming out of the White House.

Trump and McCain have had a rocky relationship. Trump mocked McCain during his 2016 presidential campaign for being captured during the Vietnam War. He's also repeatedly lashed out at the 81-year-old senator for voting against the GOP's ObamaCare repeal plan. 

But Republican senators, as well as Democrats, have rushed to McCain's defense since late last week and gradually increased their pressure for the White House to formally issue an apology. 

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOn The Money: Fed chief lays out risks of trade war | Senate floats new Russia sanctions amid Trump backlash | House passes bill to boost business investment Hatch threatens legislative action to rein in Trump tariffs GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki MORE (R-Utah), who issued his own apology to McCain last week after weighing in on his planned funeral arrangements, said on Monday that the White House should apologize "because if you make a mistake it's better to admit it and move on."

GOP Sens. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanDems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act GOP senator: NATO summit 'turned out well' Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin MORE (Alaska) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE (S.C.), who is McCain's closest friend in the Senate, have also called on the White House to apologize. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment MORE (R-Ky.), without mentioning the White House, praised McCain from the Senate floor, calling him a "genuine American hero" who has the "deepest respect" for his colleagues. 

It's unclear if Senate Republicans will bring up Sadler's McCain comments during Tuesday's closed-door lunch with the president. Republicans had hoped the lunch would be a chance to take a victory lap on North Korea and the economy. 

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Flake to Trump: 'Fake news' didn't side with Putin, you did MORE (R-Ariz.) confronted Trump during a 2016 caucus lunch over his earlier comments about McCain, who missed the meeting because of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.