WASHINGTON — Leadership from two prominent veterans groups on Monday blasted White House officials for “disrespect” in their response to the death of former Arizona Sen. John McCain, insisting the Navy veteran deserved more national recognition.
At issue is a decision by the president and his staff not to keep flags flying at half-staff for this week, leading up to McCain’s funeral on Saturday. McCain, arguably the best-known veteran in America, died after a lengthy battle with brain cancer on Saturday, Aug. 25.
Flags at national buildings were lowered when McCain’s death was announced but raised just two days later on Monday morning, bucking a tradition of honoring well-known members of Congress for longer periods of time.
President Donald Trump also did not issue an official proclamation marking McCain’s passing, instead writing a tweet that stated, “my deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
AMVETS officials said McCain — “a war hero, twice a presidential contender, and a national treasure who devoted his entire adult life to protecting and improving the American way of life” — deserved more.
"It’s outrageous that the White House would mark American hero John McCain’s death with a two-sentence tweet, making no mention of his heroic and inspiring life,” Joe Chenelly, AMVETS national executive director, said in a statement.
“By lowering flags for not one second more than the bare minimum required by law, despite a long-standing tradition of lowering flags until the funeral, the White House is openly showcasing its blatant disrespect for Senator McCain’s many decades of service and sacrifice to our country as well as the service of all his fellow veterans.”
Similarly, American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan urged Trump to order the flags lowered through the week.
“Mr. President, just this year, you released presidential proclamations noting the deaths of Barbara Bush and Billy Graham,” she said in a statement. “Sen. McCain was an American hero and cherished member of The American Legion. As I’m certain you are aware, he served five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and retired from the U.S. Navy at the rank of Captain. He then served in the U.S. Congress for more than three decades.”
McCain and Trump sparred frequently and openly in recent years, beginning when Trump during his election campaign mocked the Vietnam War veteran’s status as a war hero.
“He's a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said in July 2015. “I like people that weren't captured.”
Trump did not apologize for those comments, even after numerous veterans groups called them insensitive and offensive.
In the years since, McCain has criticized a host of Trump’s national security policies, including his handling of relations with Russia.
Several news agencies reported that McCain asked his family not to invite Trump to his funeral, which is scheduled for Saturday in Washington.
AMVETS leaders have said if the White House does not reverse its flag decision, the group hopes that “state and territory governors nationwide (will) issue proclamations honoring the life and service of Sen. McCain and lower flags for an appropriate length of time.”
The group is also one of several supporting a proposal to rename the Russell Senate Office Building in honor of McCain.
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.