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 McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' 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 TrumpMajority of Americans in new poll say it would be bad for the country if Trump ran in 2024 ,800 bottle of whiskey given to Pompeo by Japan is missing Liz Cheney says her father is 'deeply troubled' about the state of the Republican Party MORE and Senate Republicans. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynWhite House trying to beat back bipartisan Cornyn infrastructure amendment Senate GOP shifts focus to fight over Biden's .5 trillion budget McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal 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." 

ADVERTISEMENT

"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 eyeing possible weekend finish for T infrastructure bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo defiant as Biden, Democrats urge resignation Senate GOP shifts focus to fight over Biden's .5 trillion budget 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 HatchCongress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 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 SullivanOvernight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior MORE (Alaska) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin Graham19 House Democrats call on Capitol physician to mandate vaccines The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished 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 McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks court to block release of tax returns to Congress | Private sector adds 330K jobs in July, well short of expectations Senate panel advances first three spending bills McConnell lays out GOP demands for government-funding deal 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 FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots 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.