President Donald Trump refused to comment on the passing of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., when asked multiple times at the White House Monday.
After he gave brief remarks about developments in the NAFTA renegotiations, a reporter appeared to ask Trump three separate times to comment on McCain, who died Saturday at age 81 after a year-long battle with brain cancer. Trump did not respond and the media was moved out of the Oval Office.
Later during an Oval Office spray with first lady Melania Trump and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Trump was asked four times in rapid succession by ABC’s Jonathan Karl — who was standing just a few feet away from the president — to comment on McCain. Trump remained quiet and the media was herded out of the room.
It was not until after 4 p.m. that Trump addressed McCain himself, choosing to issue a White House statement that praised McCain’s “service to our country.”
“Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment,” Trump said in the statement.
The statement went on to describe how Vice President Mike Pence will speak at a Friday ceremony at Capitol Hill honoring McCain and how Trump directed the military to transport McCain’s body from Arizona to Washington, D.C.
The statement closed by saying, “Finally, I have asked General John Kelly, Secretary James Mattis, and Ambassador John Bolton to represent my administration at his services.”
It was Trump’s first public praise of McCain since his death. On Saturday night, Trump posted a two-sentence tweet that was directed at McCain’s family.
“My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!” Trump wrote.
McCain and Trump did not get along, a feud that stemmed from McCain’s criticism of him while Trump was campaigning for president in 2015 and Trump’s infamous remark that called into question McCain’s status as a war hero. McCain was a Navy pilot who spent five and a half years as a POW in Vietnam after his plane was shot down. He was repeatedly beaten and tortured.
The White House deviated from the Capitol Building and other government buildings nationwide Monday morning by raising its flag to full-staff. After the Trump administration caught heat for most of the day, the flag was re-lowered to half-staff around 3:30 p.m. to remember McCain.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that Trump rejected a statement about McCain that the White House would have sent out soon after his death. The draft statement, according to the Post, called McCain a hero.
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