Trump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE’s disparaging attack on the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain Senate outlook slides for GOP Juan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Democrats lead in three battleground Senate races: poll MORE (R-Ariz.) is upsetting Senate Republicans who see the repeated insults on a war hero and former pillar of the Senate as unnecessary and corrosive. 

Trump has lashed out at McCain four times in the last five days, most recently at an event in Ohio on Wednesday where he spent a full five minutes on the senator — at one point even evoking the McCain's state funeral.

“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump told workers, who went silent during the remarks, at a tank factory in Lima. “I don’t care about this, I didn't get a thank you. That's OK.”

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Several Republican senators have spoken out against the president’s remarks, which come days after the Senate rebuked the president by overturning his emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border.

That vote, which led to Trump’s first veto as president, underscored the brewing tensions between Trump and GOP senators, which are being exacerbated by the president’s insults of McCain.

The strongest pushback against Trump’s putdowns of McCain came Wednesday when Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Is Georgia reaching a tipping point? Democrats hope for tidal moment in Georgia with two Senate seats in play GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle MORE (R-Ga.), usually a soft-spoken senator, chastised Trump for his behavior.

Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, urged the president to show more respect to combat veterans such as McCain. 

“It’s deplorable what he said,” Isakson said in a radio interview with Bill Nigut of “Political Rewind.” 

“It will be deplorable seven months from now if he says it again,” he added.

“We don’t talk about our veterans in any way but to brag on them for the service they render."

Isakson said he hopes other Senate GOP colleagues will also speak out. 

“I hope my other members will say what they think when they think it’s appropriate and the way they think it’s appropriate to do so,” he said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Ernst: Renaming Confederate bases is the 'right thing to do' despite 'heck' from GOP Advocacy groups pressure Senate to reconvene and boost election funding MORE (R-Ky.) joined Isakson in defending McCain but stopped short of criticizing Trump directly. 

“Today and every day I miss my good friend John McCain. It was a blessing to serve alongside a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate,” McConnell wrote in a Wednesday tweet that served to provide Isakson with some political cover.

“His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifice of heroes,” he said. 

Isakson noted Wednesday that he and McConnell had dinner on Tuesday night at an Atlanta restaurant, although he says he didn’t discuss with the leader his plans to call out Trump.

Former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.), McCain’s home-state colleague for nearly six years, said Isakson’s comments reflect broader concern within the Senate GOP conference over Trump’s behavior. 

“Johnny is a decent man. Any decent politician or decent person is offended by this kind of talk, especially six months after John McCain’s death,” Flake told The Hill. 

“Johnny is very soft-spoken so it must have just hit the tipping point. The fact that Johnny is speaking up lets you know how far the president has gone,” he added. 

Flake predicted other Senate Republicans will echo Isakson’s concerns.

But it’s far from clear if that will be the case.

Many Republicans have been reluctant to speak out against the president for fear of sparking a primary challenge. Isakson is not up for reelection until 2022.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (R-S.C.), McCain’s best friend in the Senate, did not call out Trump over his disparaging remarks about McCain over the weekend, though he defended his friend. Graham is up for reelection in 2020.

“He stepped forward to risk his life for his country, served honorably under difficult circumstances, and was one of the most consequential senators in the history of the body. Nothing about his service will ever be changed or diminished,” Graham tweeted Sunday. 

He did later call Trump’s criticism of McCain “a huge mistake.” 

Most of the criticism of Trump has come from people like Flake who are former GOP senators — though their remarks, like Isakson’s, are said to reflect the feelings of other senators.

Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who served 18 years in the Senate with McCain and was an adviser to McConnell’s leadership team, said “it’s almost an attack on Sen. McCain and his incredible record of service to the United States but it’s an attack on the Senate and I think that’s the way most senators probably view it.”

He questioned whether the tensions could lead to problems for Trump with the Senate, however.

“I don’t know where it goes. His relationships with the Congress are so weak now that I don’t think he can hurt it anymore,” he said.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (N.Y.) on Wednesday tried to take advantage of the rift among Republicans by announcing that he will reintroduce legislation to rename the Russell Senate office building, a memoriam to the late Sen. Richard Russell Jr. (D-Ga.), a longtime opponent of civil rights legislation, after McCain instead.  

Isakson, however, dismissed the effort as “playing politics” and said he would wait for recommendations from a committee, including members of McCain’s family, on how to best honor his former colleague. 

Trump lashed out at McCain over the weekend after court documents confirmed that McCain shared a dossier of compromising allegations about Trump immediately after the 2016 presidential election to then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump on possible Roger Stone pardon: 'His prayer may be answered' How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Bolton book sells 780,000 copies in first week, set to surpass 1M copies printed MORE, whom Trump later fired. 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats hope for tidal moment in Georgia with two Senate seats in play Sixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads MORE (R-Utah), who lost the Republican presidential nomination to McCain in 2008, called out Trump’s attacks on Tuesday. 

“I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God,” Romney tweeted on Tuesday. 

Other Republicans have shied away from challenging Trump, notably Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE (R-Ariz.), who was appointed to fill McCain’s vacant seat in December and faces a tough reelection next year. 

McSally praised McCain Wednesday as “an American hero,” tweeting “everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve.”

That response, however, drew criticism from EJ Montini, an opinion columnist for The Arizona Republic, who said it didn’t go far enough. 

“She’s afraid. She has an election coming up in 2020, and she’s afraid that if she speaks honestly about Trump, he’ll turn on her,” he wrote.