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Press: Listen to McCain, don’t smear him

Press: Listen to McCain, don’t smear him
© Greg Nash

No matter where I went, back in the days when I was co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” one question I was always asked was: “You’ve met all those politicians in Washington. Is there any one of them you actually admire?” And, even as a Democrat and “Crossfire’s” liberal co-host, my answer was always immediate and unconditioned: “John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE.”

Why? Certainly not because I always agreed with him. He was way more hawkish than I was, for starters. But because he was a maverick. And because he was not afraid to buck the leaders of his own party when he thought they were wrong — a mark of courage missing in most politicians today of either major party. He rejected former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, for example, as fiscally unwise and unnecessary tax cuts for the rich.

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I also admired Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) because he never took himself or politics too seriously. He loved telling audiences that, coming from Arizona to Washington, he soon learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. “With a cactus,” he’d explain with a grin, “the pricks are on the outside.”

McCain also maintained a healthy relationship with the media: always accessible, always a straight answer, no B.S. Like many other journalists, I rode with him on his campaign bus, the “Straight Talk Express,” in the 2000 New Hampshire primary. Driving between events, McCain sat surrounded by reporters, answering any and every question thrown at him. No candidate for president, before or since, has provided that kind of access.

And, of course, I admire and am grateful for McCain’s service to our country, enduring 5 1/2 years of confinement and torture in a North Vietnamese prison.

How disgusting, then, to hear White House aide Kelly Sadler coldly dismiss McCain’s opposition to the nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA. “It doesn’t matter,” Sadler told a meeting of West Wing staffers, because “he’s dying anyway.” 

How dare she belittle anyone who’s battling brain cancer, let alone a genuine American war hero? What makes her insult even worse is that, almost a week later, Sadler has still not publicly apologized. Nor has President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE, chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE or press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apologized. And, worse yet, Sadler still has a job.

That Sadler wasn’t immediately fired speaks volumes about the Trump White House. They don’t care about anybody but Donald Trump. It’s all Trump, all the time, and nobody, Democrat or Republican, deserves any respect — just ask Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Meghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family The Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump MORE (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats slide in battle for Senate O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (R-Texas), Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBeto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure MORE, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi heckled by Miami Republicans, Proud Boys at campaign event Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.), Jerry Brown, Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd, or hundreds of others Trump has personally insulted on Twitter.

Indeed, it’s no surprise that someone in the Trump White House would smear McCain. This fish rots from the top. It was candidate Trump himself, during the primary, who first declared open season on McCain by insisting McCain was no war hero because he’d been taken prisoner: “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Unfortunately, the flap over Sadler’s remark and the failure of the White House to fire her or apologize has overshadowed the substance of McCain’s initial remarks. As the only member of the Senate ever to experience torture himself, he made three important points: torture is immoral; torture doesn’t work; and no one involved in torture should be head of the CIA.

If only the Trump White House, and Republicans in Congress, would stop insulting John McCain — and start listening to him.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of “From the Left: Life in the Crossfire.”