Press: Listen to McCain, don’t smear him

Press: Listen to McCain, don’t smear him
© Greg Nash

No matter where I went, back in the days when I was co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” one question I was always asked was: “You’ve met all those politicians in Washington. Is there any one of them you actually admire?” And, even as a Democrat and “Crossfire’s” liberal co-host, my answer was always immediate and unconditioned: “John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Rand Paul’s Russia visit displays advancement of peace through diplomacy MORE.”

Why? Certainly not because I always agreed with him. He was way more hawkish than I was, for starters. But because he was a maverick. And because he was not afraid to buck the leaders of his own party when he thought they were wrong — a mark of courage missing in most politicians today of either major party. He rejected former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, for example, as fiscally unwise and unnecessary tax cuts for the rich.

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I also admired Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) because he never took himself or politics too seriously. He loved telling audiences that, coming from Arizona to Washington, he soon learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. “With a cactus,” he’d explain with a grin, “the pricks are on the outside.”

McCain also maintained a healthy relationship with the media: always accessible, always a straight answer, no B.S. Like many other journalists, I rode with him on his campaign bus, the “Straight Talk Express,” in the 2000 New Hampshire primary. Driving between events, McCain sat surrounded by reporters, answering any and every question thrown at him. No candidate for president, before or since, has provided that kind of access.

And, of course, I admire and am grateful for McCain’s service to our country, enduring 5 1/2 years of confinement and torture in a North Vietnamese prison.

How disgusting, then, to hear White House aide Kelly Sadler coldly dismiss McCain’s opposition to the nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA. “It doesn’t matter,” Sadler told a meeting of West Wing staffers, because “he’s dying anyway.” 

How dare she belittle anyone who’s battling brain cancer, let alone a genuine American war hero? What makes her insult even worse is that, almost a week later, Sadler has still not publicly apologized. Nor has President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE, chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE or press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apologized. And, worse yet, Sadler still has a job.

That Sadler wasn’t immediately fired speaks volumes about the Trump White House. They don’t care about anybody but Donald Trump. It’s all Trump, all the time, and nobody, Democrat or Republican, deserves any respect — just ask Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP looks to injure Nelson over Russia comments Rubio’s pro-family, conservative family leave policy promotes stability Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries MORE (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz calls out O'Rourke for supporting NFL players' anthem protests Beto O’Rourke: Term limits can help keep politicians from turning into a--holes Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (R-Texas), Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller Watergate's John Dean: White House counsel is 'doing right' by cooperating with Mueller MORE, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances New Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTo make the House of Representatives work again, make it bigger Reforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (D-N.Y.), Jerry Brown, Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd, or hundreds of others Trump has personally insulted on Twitter.

Indeed, it’s no surprise that someone in the Trump White House would smear McCain. This fish rots from the top. It was candidate Trump himself, during the primary, who first declared open season on McCain by insisting McCain was no war hero because he’d been taken prisoner: “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Unfortunately, the flap over Sadler’s remark and the failure of the White House to fire her or apologize has overshadowed the substance of McCain’s initial remarks. As the only member of the Senate ever to experience torture himself, he made three important points: torture is immoral; torture doesn’t work; and no one involved in torture should be head of the CIA.

If only the Trump White House, and Republicans in Congress, would stop insulting John McCain — and start listening to him.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of “From the Left: Life in the Crossfire.”