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Trump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE’s disparaging attack on the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Juan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign 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 IsaksonOssoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff 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 McConnellBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Acting Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on 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 FlakeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers McSally concedes Arizona Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare front and center; transition standoff continues 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 GrahamRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Let's give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts 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 SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn 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 ComeyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon The new marshmallow media in the Biden era McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' MORE, whom Trump later fired. 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Biden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' 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 McSallyTrump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol McSally's final floor speech: 'I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field' 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.