Last September, Senator John McCain said President Trump still hadn’t apologized for disparaging his war record at the start of his presidential campaign. Now, taking a cue from their boss, White House aides are refusing to publicly apologize for a communications staffer responding to McCain’s political opposition by quipping, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”
Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to the president, reportedly made the comment during a closed-door meeting of White House communications staffers. She was reacting to McCain issuing a statement urging fellow senators not to support Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee for CIA director.
At Friday’s press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed no regrets or sympathy for McCain, saying, “I’m not going to validate a leak one way or the other out of an internal staff meeting.”
Axios reported that Sanders chewed out communications staffers at a private meeting later in the day. While she said the comment was inappropriate, she was far more focused on condemning leakers. “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting,” she reportedly said. (Indeed, at least five sources relayed the events of the meeting.)
If the White House had quickly offered a public apology, the story probably would have died down after a day. On Sunday Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter, revealed that when Sadler called to tell her she was sorry last week she actually asked her to publicly apologize as well.
“When I had a conversation with Kelly, I asked her to publicly apologize and she said she would,” Meghan McCain said. “I have not spoken to her since and I assume that it will never come.”
Thus the controversy continued, with lawmakers from both parties criticizing the White House’s handling of the incident.
Mitt Romney, who’s running for the Senate in Utah, made a MAGA-related jab at the Trump administration:
On Face the Nation Republican senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s closest friend in the Senate, called for a White House apology and said he thinks most Americans would like to see the Trump administration “do better” in situations like this. (Or perhaps “Be Best,” as Melania Trump urged just days ago.)
Senator Bernie Sanders agreed on CNN’s State of the Union. “It is one thing in the White House for somebody to say something crude and stupid and disrespectful about an American hero, it is another thing for them not to apologize,” he said.
“It is beyond my comprehension,” Sanders continued. “I just don’t know what goes on in that White House mentality for there not being an apology for that terrible remark.”
Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, even offered an unsolicited rebuke of the White House on Twitter:
But White House officials had nothing else to add on Sunday. When asked about the comment on CNN, National Security Adviser John Bolton offered personal praise for McCain, but declined to say that his colleagues should offer an apology. “I’ve said what I’m going to say,” he said.
In the Trump administration’s defense, if McCain wanted to be treated with some basic decency while battling brain cancer, he should have thought of that before he said he didn’t want the man who denigrated his war service at his funeral.