WASHINGTON — Supporters of Sen. John McCain demanded a public apology from the White House Friday following a communication official’s remarks dismissing the senior lawmaker’s views because “he’s dying anyway.”
According to the Hill, the comments came during a closed-door meeting with communications staff on Thursday morning. Special assistant Kelly Sadler mocked McCain, who is in Arizona battling brain cancer, for his opposition to President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel.
McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a former Navy prisoner of war and one of the most recognizable veterans in America today.
News of the White House comments came the same day that a Fox News military analyst, Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, claimed on air that torture can be effective, citing McCain’s time in captivity in Vietnam.
“It worked on John,” said McInerney, a former Air Force lieutenant general. “That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’”
Officials from the network walked back McInerney’s comments later in the day, acknowledging there is no evidence that McCain gave up any critical information during his time as a POW.
McCain has been a vocal critic of torture in recent years and cited Haspel’s past operating questionable interrogation sites as the reason he would not support her nomination.
Both attacks on McCain drew condemnation from Vietnam Veterans of America, who praised McCain’s service in the military and Congress.
“After serving his country in a time of war, refusing release as a POW without his comrades, and then dedicating his life to public service, John McCain deserves far better than to be insulted in this way — especially from a White House official and a fellow veteran,” said John Rowan, president of VVA.
“When someone in the White House says a Vietnam veteran doesn’t matter, because he’s dying of brain cancer, that individual should have her employment terminated.”
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said the White House should issue a public apology for the remarks.
“It’s a sad day in this country when White House officials are mocking a man who, while serving his country, was tortured as a prisoner of war,” he said in a statement. “He’s more than earned the right to speak out on these matters. A public apology should be issued immediately.”
McCain’s family also took exception to the comments.
His daughter Meghan, while co-hosting ABC’s “The View” on Friday morning, questioned how Sadler “can come to work the next day and still have a job” after making such an insensitive comment.
Although both Republicans, Trump and McCain have been fierce political foes for the last two years. Early in his presidential campaign, Trump mocked McCain’s status as a war hero, stating that “I like people who were not captured.”
The two have sparred publicly in the months since, with McCain repeatedly questioning Trump’s fitness for the office of commander in chief.
Earlier this month, rumors of McCain’s declining health prompted reports that the 81-year-old senator has started making funeral plans, to include not inviting Trump to any memorial services.
In a statement on the latest round of controversy, White House officials said they “respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”
Rowan said the controversy not only “will not be forgotten,” it also undermines the White House’s credibility heading into the future.
“It reveals an incredible lack of respect for the service and sacrifice of every veteran,” he said “Their relationships with the White House and Fox News should be severed immediately.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.