By Alex Horton | Washington Post
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump continued Wednesday to attack the late Sen. John McCain, even as a growing number of Republican senators rose to McCain’s defense, calling him a war hero and a patriot – although most were careful not to criticize the president directly.
During a White House event at a manufacturing facility in Lima, Ohio, on Wednesday, Trump lashed out at McCain, saying, “I endorsed him at his request, and I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve.”
“I don’t care about this,” Trump continued. “I didn’t get a thank-you. That’s OK. We sent him on the way. But I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”
Comments like Wednesday’s and those that have preceded it are too much for Sen. Johnny Isakson to take. The Georgia Republican could not stand the “unthinkable” last year when the White House flag lowered – and then soon raised – its flag from half-staff to recognize the death of McCain, R-Ariz.
That was one moment among others that Isakson has said is a pattern of President Donald Trump’s attacks on McCain. And after an escalation of bitter words from the president this week, Isakson took to the airwaves in a rare moment for his party: A stinging rebuke of Trump.
“Its deplorable what he said,” Isakson said Wednesday on Georgia Public Broadcasting, as he decried the public teardown of McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent years in brutal captivity in Vietnam. “There aren’t democratic casualties or republican casualties on the battlefield,” he said.
His comments follow an interview with the Bulwark, a conservative news website.
“I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better. I don’t care if he’s president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world,” Isakson told the site.
“Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us.”
Trump unloaded on the legacy of McCain, who died of brain cancer last year, in several tweets this week. On Tuesday, he attacked McCain’s vote against repealing Obamacare.
“I think that’s a disgrace, plus there are other things,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be.”
Meghan McCain, a co-host of ABC’s “The View,” blasted Trump and defended her father on Wednesday.
Her father “would think it was hilarious that our president was so jealous of him that he was dominating the news cycle in death,” she said.
Trump’s attacks have also appeared to unleash trolls targeting the McCain family. Soon after the president’s Oval Office remarks, Cindy McCain posted a profanity-laced message she received on Facebook.
A woman called John McCain “traitorous” and celebrated his death.
“I want to make sure all of you could see how kind and loving a stranger can be,” Cindy McCain wrote on Twitter, referring to the woman.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, rallied to McCain’s defense Wednesday.
“I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God,” Romney wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican appointed to McCain’s former seat, also defended the former senator.
“Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve,” she wrote on Twitter. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a Trump ally, praised McCain in a tweet but did not address the president’s attacks against him.
Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is a general supporter of Trump but often extends more criticisms of the president than many Republican lawmakers.
After last year’s controversy over the flag raising, lowering and re-raising, he took to the Senate floor to blast the perceived insult to McCain, although he did not single out the president in his remarks.
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“Anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping because most of those who would do the wrong thing about John McCain didn’t have the guts to do the right thing when it was their turn,” he said.
The focus has since narrowed to Trump. Isakson watched Trump’s Tuesday remarks and their impact.
“These kids are out there listening to the president of the United States talk that way about the most decorated senator in history who is dead, it just sets the worst tone possible,” he told the Bulwark.