Republicans defend McCain amid Trump attacks

Republicans defend McCain amid Trump attacks
© Camille Fine

Republicans in the House and Senate are pushing back against President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE's fresh round of attacks on former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Meghan McCain: It's 'breaking my heart' Warren is leading Biden in the polls The Hill's 12:30 Report: Video depicting Trump killing media, critics draws backlash MORE (R-Ariz.), with many defending the late senator's legacy and a couple of lawmakers directly beseeching the president to stop attacking him.

A handful of Republicans offered statements on Wednesday morning and afternoon in defense of McCain, while others were spurred to speak out after the president in the afternoon escalated his criticism of the Arizona Republican, who died of brain cancer seven months ago.

During a White House event meant to focus on manufacturing, Trump chastised McCain over his political record and his ties to a dossier of allegations about the president and Russia. Trump further lamented that he was not properly thanked for his role in approving part of McCain's funeral services.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve. I don’t care about this. I didn't get 'thank you.' That's OK," Trump told workers at a tank factory during a White House event in Lima, Ohio.

"We sent him on the way, but I wasn’t a fan of John McCain," he added.

Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingGOP lawmakers blast Trump's Syria decision as 'grave mistake,' 'disaster in the making' Here are the Democrats who aren't co-sponsoring an assault weapons ban Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill MORE (R-N.Y.) chimed in a few hours later and tagged the president in a tweet.

"Time for @POTUS Trump to end the shots at John McCain a true patriot, good man and true friend," King said.

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanOvernight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall MORE (R-Alaska), who rarely breaks with the president, offered a lengthier defense of his former colleague while avoiding a direct rebuke of Trump.

"John McCain was a true American hero and a good friend," Sullivan tweeted. "He wasn’t perfect; nobody is. But his decades of service and sacrifice to America were distinguished, unwavering and exemplary. Let’s let him Rest In Peace."

Trump has long reviled McCain, despite the late senator's revered status in both parties. The president suggested in 2015 that McCain was not a war hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War, and he has repeatedly chided McCain's vote against the repeal of ObamaCare in 2017.

Trump said Wednesday that his latest torrent of criticism was meant to put an end to questions about his disdain for McCain. He had in recent days expressed that he was "never a fan" of the late senator, citing McCain's connections to the dossier and the ObamaCare repeal vote.

Prior to the more personal barbs issued in Ohio, a handful of Republican lawmakers had expressed discomfort with the president targeting their former colleague.

One of the most forceful responses came from Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonJoe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia Poll: Majority of independent voters want GOP to retain control of Senate in 2020 Embracing President Mike Pence might be GOP's best play MORE (R-Ga.), who told a Georgia radio station that Trump's criticism of McCain was "deplorable" and showed a "lack of respect" for the Arizona Republican's military service.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPelosi, Schumer hit 'flailing' Trump over 'sham ceasefire' deal Pompeo to meet Netanyahu as US alliances questioned Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe MORE (R-S.C.), one of Trump's staunchest allies and previously one of McCain's closest friends, said prior to the Ohio event that the president’s comments "hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Sen. McCain."

Some senators, however, avoided directly mentioning the president.

Sen. Martha McSallly (R-Ariz.), who was appointed to the seat previously held by McCain, praised him as an "American hero."

"Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) struck a similar tone, praising McCain as a "rare patriot and genuine American hero."

"His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes," he added in a tweet.

McCain's daughter Meghan has hit back at the president after each of his barbs. She shared on Twitter some criticism of Trump's most recent comments, and early Wednesday, while co-hosting ABC's "The View," she said her father would "think it was so hilarious that our president was so jealous of him that he was dominating the news cycle in death."

Democrats were equally sharp in their defense of McCain, with some lawmakers chiding members of the GOP for not condemning the president's specific comments.

"What happened to the decent Republicans who would defend a war hero like John McCain?" Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets House investigators receive initial documents from top tech companies Celebrating the LGBTQ contribution to progress in business MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted. "Trumpism is going to kill that political party."