The American flag flies at half-staff on Monday at the Capitol in honor of Sen. John McCain of Arizona who died on Saturday of brain cancer, in Washington.

Trump relents, honours McCain after 48 hours

Near-silent for two days, Donald Trump relents under pressure by tersely recognising Sen. John McCain's "service to our country" and re-lowering the White House flag

By Associated Press in Washington(AP)
  • Published 28.08.18, 2:29 PM
  • Updated 6.09.18, 5:32 PM
  • a min read
  •  
Senate Television via AP
Photo Credit: Senate Television via AP
The desk of Republican Senator John McCain from Arizona is draped in black on the floor of the US Senate on August 27 on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCain died at the age of 81 on August 25 after battling brain cancer.

Trump's reluctance to participate in the national remembrance was awkward and uncomfortable, even by the standards of a leader who acknowledges he doesn't act like a typical president. The episode highlighted the outsider president's impulse to harbor personal resentments regardless of political repercussions.

Before Trump's Monday afternoon statement, his only commentary on McCain's death had been a perfunctory tweet Saturday. The lack of a formal statement — combined with the fact that White House flags were flown at half-staff only briefly — drew strong criticism from Republicans and veterans' groups as well as Democrats.

AP
Photo Credit: AP
President Trump crosses his arms after speaking with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on the phone about a trade agreement between the United States and Mexico, in the Oval Office of the White House on August 27. Trump has bowed to widespread pressure from veterans groups and others to do more to honour John McCain's death. Trump on Monday ordered flags at the White House and elsewhere lowered to half-staff until the six-term senator is buried on Sunday. He also proclaimed "respect" for McCain, with whom he feuded bitterly for years. It was a marked reversal from Trump's refusal to comment on McCain. Earlier Monday, the White House flag had been raised.

When he finally did comment, in a printed statement, Trump was sparing with his praise for the six-term senator: "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country."

Later, at an evening dinner honoring evangelical leaders, he said "our hearts and prayers" are going to the family "and we very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country."

Earlier in the day, a stone-faced Trump sat mute as reporters at several photo sessions invited him to comment on McCain. As he was peppered with questions about McCain's legacy, the usually talkative president made no response.

AP
Photo Credit: AP
An American flag above the White House flies at full-staff less than 48 hours after the death of McCain on August 27.

Publicly, Trump has frequently railed against McCain's dramatic thumbs-down vote against the president's efforts to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. Privately, he has groused about such slights as his belief that McCain did not appreciate his endorsement in the senator's 2016 re-election bid. McCain, for his part, recently slammed Trump's Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

Against that backdrop, the flag above the White House spoke volumes.

The Stars and Stripes were briefly lowered to half-staff over the weekend, then went back up to full height Monday while flags at the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere stayed at half-staff. Shortly before Trump issued his written statement, the flag was lowered again to half-staff.

That was after complaints had risen all day from both right and left, and then from a group the president assuredly does not want to offend.