Senate

Senate GOP anger over McCain insult grows

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Republican senators are demanding a public apology after a White House staffer joked about Sen. John McCain’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 Trump and Senate Republicans. 

Sen. John Cornyn (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 Kennedy (R-La.) called staffer Kelly Sadler’s comments “stupid” and “a big mistake.” 

{mosads}”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 Thune (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 Hatch (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 Sullivan (Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who is McCain’s closest friend in the Senate, have also called on the White House to apologize. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Flake (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. 

Tags Dan Sullivan Donald Trump Jeff Flake John Cornyn John Kennedy John McCain John Thune Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch
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