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Trump re-lowers flag for McCain, expresses 'respect' after backlash
President Trump on Monday expressed "respect" for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) public service and ordered flags to fly at half-staff following a widespread criticism of his response to the Senate icon's passing.
"Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment," Trump said in a statement released by the White House.
Trump said he has asked Vice President Pence to speak at a memorial service for McCain at the Capitol on Friday and approved military transportation to move the senator's body from Arizona to Washington, D.C.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, national security adviser John Bolton and Defense Secretary James Mattis will represent the administration at McCain's funeral on Sunday at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
The president was not invited to the funeral, but former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were both asked to deliver remarks.
Trump faced a backlash earlier Monday after flags over the White House returned to full-staff after having been lowered over the weekend for just over a day.
The decision fueled complaints from Republicans and Democrats that Trump was not offering proper respect to McCain, who served more than three decades in the Senate after spending time as a prison of war in Vietnam.
U.S. law requires the flag to be lowered the day a member of Congress dies and the following day. But presidents routinely keep the flag at half-staff until the funeral, a tradition Trump decided to follow in his Monday proclamation.
McCain died Saturday at age 81 following a yearlong battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Trump and the 2008 GOP presidential nominee have clashed for years, and the animosity did not let up in the days following the senator's death.
Trump published a brief tweet on Saturday conveying his "deepest sympathies and respect" to the McCain family but did not offer any praise for the senator himself.
Multiple media outlets reported that Trump rejected a laudatory statement from the White House praising McCain as a "hero" in favor of the tweet.
"Our hearts and prayers are going to the family of Sen. John McCain ... and we very much appreciate everything Sen. McCain has done for our country," Trump told a group of evangelical leaders at the White House on Monday evening, according to news reports.
Earlier in the day, Trump passed up multiple chances to personally comment on the death of McCain; he was asked four times to do so following an Oval Office announcement on trade but did not respond to questions.
The president's response generated more than 24 hours of controversy that officials in his own party said could have been avoided.
Flags over Congress and some federal buildings remained at half-staff on Monday, and bipartisan leaders in the Senate released a statement calling on Trump to follow suit.
Veterans groups expressed outrage and disappointment over Trump's decision not to keep the U.S. flag at half-staff.
"On 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 throughout his internment," Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, said in a statement earlier Monday.
-Updated at 8:51 p.m.