Trump Offers Condolences to Family of John McCain, Senator Who Defied Him


Trump Offers Condolences to Family of John McCain, Senator Who Defied Him

As a candidate for president in July 2015, President Trump told the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, that Senator John McCain was “not a war hero” because he was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War.CreditCreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

By Sarah Mervosh and Alan Yuhas

President Trump offered his “deepest sympathies and respect” to the family of Senator John McCain on Saturday night, setting aside a yearslong, bitter and often deeply personal feud between the two men that had lasted into the senator’s final days.

The president shared his condolences in a brief tweet, shortly after it was announced that Mr. McCain, who had been battling brain cancer, had died.

“Our hearts and prayers are with you!” he said.

The White House flag was lowered to half-staff on Saturday night in honor of Mr. McCain.

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018

But as former presidents and other politicians from both parties lauded Mr. McCain’s character and patriotism, Mr. Trump’s brief comment focused on the family of the Republican senator from Arizona. Though of the same generation and political party, the two men had expressed a mutual distaste for one another since Mr. Trump catapulted onto the political scene as a candidate for president in 2015.

[Read the obituary for John McCain, who endured five years of captivity in Vietnam and rose to the heights of power in Washington]

Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who rose to power as a prominent Republican politician, emerged as an early and vocal critic from within Mr. Trump’s own party. He condemned Mr. Trump’s remarks about women, illegal immigrants and the family of a slain Muslim Army captain during the presidential campaign. He withdrew support for Mr. Trump about a month before Election Day after a recording was released on which Mr. Trump spoke about groping women.

At one point, Mr. Trump, who received draft deferments and had never served in the military, belittled Mr. McCain’s war record.

“He’s not a war hero,” Mr. Trump said at a Republican presidential forum in Iowa in 2015. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Once Mr. Trump entered the Oval Office, Mr. McCain generally supported the administration’s policies and nominees, including a $1.5 trillion tax cut and the confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But in key moments, the senator remained a forceful adversary, and neither man yielded as Mr. McCain battled terminal illness.

Mr. McCain thwarted a Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, returning to the Senate floor after his brain cancer diagnosis to cast a dramatic thumbs-down vote. More recently, Mr. McCain issued a statement critical of Mr. Trump’s summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland, with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia calling it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

This month, as Mr. McCain was ailing, President Trump gave a 28-minute speech about a bill named for Mr. McCain — but did not mention the senator at all.

Elsewhere, Mr. McCain’s long military and political history — and his willingness to at times defy the Republican agenda — won him praise from both parties at the end of his life.

President Barack Obama, who defeated Mr. McCain in the 2008 presidential election, said in a statement on Saturday night that “we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.”

Mr. Obama also alluded to Mr. McCain’s military service, saying: “All of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.”

Including Mr. Obama, every living former president released statements commemorating Mr. McCain. President George W. Bush, who won the Republican nomination for president over Mr. McCain in 2000, said in his statement: “Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant it is hard to imagine them stilled.”

Vice President Mike Pence, in his own statement on Twitter, honored Mr. McCain’s “lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life.”

“God bless John McCain,” he said.

Follow Sarah Mervosh and Alan Yuhas on Twitter: @smervosh and @AlanYuhas.

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