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 Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE's fresh round of attacks on former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death 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.

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"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 KingFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons The 9 House Republicans who support background checks Progressive gun control activist on NRA: 'Don't count them out' 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: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault Alarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure 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 IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown 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 GrahamGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week 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 McConnellGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Hobbled NRA shows strength with Trump 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 CicillineFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons Hillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation Democrat calls for public review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger agreement MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted. "Trumpism is going to kill that political party."