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 TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE's fresh round of attacks on former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? 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) KingLawmakers introduce bill taxing e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaigns Democrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues 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 SullivanSenators inch forward on federal privacy bill Romney, Collins, Murkowski only Senate GOP holdouts on Graham's impeachment resolution GOP worries it's losing impeachment fight 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 IsaksonThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Lankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman The Hill's 12:30 Report: Job growth soars in November 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 GrahamRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip 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 McConnellRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment CNN's Cuomo promotes 'Dirty Donald' hashtag, hits GOP for 'loyalty oath' to 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 CicillineImpeachment obliterates tinges of comity in House Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted. "Trumpism is going to kill that political party."