As fellow lawmakers in Congress praised Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who died Saturday from brain cancer, the White House on Monday afternoon bent to mounting criticism from both parties over the President’s reaction to McCain’s death, as the flag was lowered to half-staff over the White House, and President Donald Trump finally issued a public statement about the veteran Arizona Republican.
“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,” the President said.
Mr. Trump said he asked Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a special gathering on Friday at the U.S. Capitol, as it remained clear that the President would not be present at any of the ceremonies in the nation’s capital.
“I have asked General John Kelly, Secretary James Mattis, and Ambassador John Bolton to represent my Administration at his services,” the President concluded.
“The Senate won’t be the same without John McCain,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who led the tributes on the Senate floor for his former colleague, as the Senate returned to session on Monday.
McCain’s desk on the Senate floor held a vase of flowers, and was draped in black cloth, to mark his passing.
On Capitol Hill, the flags were at half-staff from the start, as McCain will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda late this week, before a funeral service on Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral.
The day began on a discordant note, as flags at the White House were at full-staff, while other government buildings were mixed between half and full – but that changed around 3:30 pm.
The President also issued a special Presidential Proclamation, ordering that flags be flown at half-staff until Saturday evening, after his burial at the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.
Some Republicans like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) had said the refusal of the White House to offer special honors to McCain was ‘shameful.’
Before issuing his written statement, the President steered clear of the McCain issue – refusing to answer questions from the press, and reportedly blocking the release of any official statement about McCain.
But as the day wore on at the White House on Monday, it was obvious that the questions for the President – and his staff – were not going to go away.
On the Senate floor, a parade of lawmakers in both parties praised McCain, and recounted endless stories about him.
“John was better than me, and I know it,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). “John was the best of my generation.”
“Anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping,” Isakson added.
“We are dealing with a hero,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who told about McCain helping him in his first campaign for the U.S. Senate.
“We were moved by his stubbornness, his courage, and his passion – sometimes all three at the same time,” Inhofe added.