Politicians, media explode over White House aide's comments

A White House aide's dismissive comments about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFox's Britt McHenry confirms brain tumor, says she's got 'amazing medical team' President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs Appeals court refuses to throw out Joe Arpaio's guilty verdict after Trump pardon MORE's (R-Ariz.) health, made while downplaying McCain's opposition to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE's pick to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, have sparked outrage in Washington.

Politicians demanded an apology from special assistant Kelly Sadler on Friday, after The Hill reported that she had disregarded McCain's opposition to Haspel's nomination by saying that "he's dying anyway."

"It's a sad day in this country when White House officials are mocking a man who, while serving his country, was tortured as a prisoner of war. He's more than earned the right to speak out on these matters," Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesExperts warn Georgia's new electronic voting machines vulnerable to potential intrusions, malfunctions Georgia restores 22,000 voter registrations after purge Stacey Abrams group files emergency motion to stop Georgia voting roll purge MORE (R-N.C.) said in a statement, demanding a public apology from the White House.

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Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary Sanders holds 13-point lead in Fox News poll MORE also chimed in on Friday, saying that Sadler's comments embodied President Trump's own derisive remarks about McCain. 

"People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration," Biden said in a statement. "It happened yesterday."

"Given this White House’s trail of disrespect toward John and others, this staffer is not the exception to the rule; she is the epitome of it," he added.

Sadler's comments on McCain appeared likely to be the subject of intense questioning at the White House daily press briefing on Friday, as outrage continued to unfold in Washington. The White House has not denied Sadler's reported remarks.

McCain, 81, is currently battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.

He announced his opposition to Haspel's nomination on Wednesday, saying that he felt she had not sufficiently denounced a controversial detention and interrogation program ran by the CIA in the years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The White House has pushed hard for Haspel's confirmation in recent weeks as she has come under fire from some lawmakers — mostly Democrats — for her ties to the brutal interrogation program. 

Sadler's remarks, reportedly made at a meeting on Thursday, drew a fierce rebuke from McCain's daughter, television host Meghan McCain, who suggested on ABC's "The View" on Friday that the White House aide be fired

"I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you could come to work the next day and still have a job," Meghan McCain said. "And that's all I have to say about it."

Sadler called Meghan McCain on Thursday night to apologize for the comments, a source told The Hill. 

Sources said Sadler's comment about the senator was intended as a joke. Still, that mattered little to politicians in Washington, who widely revere McCain as a war hero and dedicated public servant.

McCain has long cast himself as a staunch opponent of brutal and coercive interrogation tactics. He was a victim of torture himself during his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, where he was brutally beaten and forced into falsely confessing to crimes.

Former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) demanded more than an apology from Sadler, and insisted instead that the White House aide be fired.

Democratic lawmakers also rushed to McCain's defense on Thursday and Friday, declaring Sadler's remarks disgraceful. Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedBipartisan senators say Pentagon's effort to improve military housing falls short Overnight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Democrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted on Thursday that it was "unacceptable" to "cruelly mock veterans," like McCain.

"Unacceptable for Trump Admin to cruelly mock veterans like @SenJohnMcCain," Reed tweeted. "They may disagree w/ him on issues, but he gave so much for our nation. He & his family deserve respect."

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward Connolly'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base Trump's best week ever? Trump set to confront his impeachment foes MORE (D-Va.) denounced Sadler's comments as "vile and repugnant."

"Our politics may be different but John McCain is an American hero," he tweeted. "The vile and repugnant attacks we've seen from POTUS, WH staff and the far right are disgusting and show how small they are next to this honorable man."

Sadler's comments also drew scorn in the media. In a combative interview with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Friday, CNN "New Day" host Chris Cuomo said that condemning the insult was "about decency" rather than politics, after Nauert declined to comment on the matter.

"I’m letting you say what you want in response, that’s your choice," Cuomo told Nauert. "But this isn’t politics, this is about decency."