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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 McCainCindy McCain planning 'intimate memoir' of life with John McCain Trump-McConnell rift divides GOP donors Arkansas state senator says he's leaving Republican Party 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 TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE and Senate Republicans. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynPolitics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Biden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission 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 ThuneAfter vote against coronavirus relief package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship in Congress Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director 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 HatchHow President Biden can hit a home run Mellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line 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 SullivanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary MORE (Alaska) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents John Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report 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 McConnellThe bizarre back story of the filibuster The Bible's wisdom about addressing our political tribalism Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' 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 FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' 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.