WASHINGTON (AP) — Casting aside rare censure from Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump aimed new blasts of invective at the late John McCain Wednesday, even claiming credit for the senator's moving Washington funeral and complaining he was never properly thanked.
By the time the president began his anti-McCain tirade in Ohio, several leading Republicans had signaled a new willingness to defy Trump by defending the Vietnam War veteran as a hero seven months after he died of brain cancer. One GOP senator called Trump's remarks "deplorable."
Trump then launched a lengthy rant in which he claimed without citing evidence that McCain had pushed for a war and failed America's veterans.
"I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted," Trump told reporters at a campaign-style rally in Lima, Ohio. "I didn't get (a) thank you but that's OK."
In fact, McCain's family made clear that Trump was not welcome during the week-long, cross-country ceremonies that the senator had planned himself. Instead, McCain invited former Presidents George W. Bush, who defeated McCain during the 2000 GOP nomination fight, and Barack Obama, who defeated him in 2008, to deliver eulogies on the value of pursuing goals greater than oneself. Trump signed off on the military transport of McCain's body, went golfing and was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter during the Washington events.
Trump's publicly nursed grudge against McCain has not appeared to alienate core supporters, some of whom had soured on the senator by the time of his death. Aware of this, GOP lawmakers until now have stayed subdued or silent though Trump sometimes infuriated them with his comments on their late colleague.
McCain's allies suggested it was time for that to change.
"I hope (Trump's) indecency to John's memory and to the McCain family will convince more officeholders that they can't ignore the damage Trump is doing to politics and to the country's well-being or remain silent despite their concerns," said Mark Salter, McCain's biographer. "They must speak up."
Trump has said for years that he doesn't think McCain is a hero because the senator was captured in Vietnam. McCain was tortured and held prisoner for more than five years.
The president has never served in the military and obtained a series of deferments to avoid going to Vietnam, including one attained with a physician's letter stating that he suffered from bone spurs in his feet.
One McCain Senate vote in particular is the thumbs-down Trump can't seem to forget. The Arizona senator in 2017 sank the GOP effort to repeal Obama's health care law. Trump was furious, and it showed even in the days after McCain's death last August. The administration lowered the American flag over the White House to half-staff when McCain died on a Saturday, but then raised it by Monday. After public outcry, the White House flags were again lowered.