Several senior Senate Republicans – including key members of leadership – criticized the White House’s handling of an impolitic comment made last week by a junior aide about Sen. John McCain “dying” and the administration’s refusal to apologize and move on.
“I think an apology is appropriate,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said firmly.
When asked from who, Cornyn said, “From the person who said that really dumb thing.”
Cornyn said he would have preferred the White House already put to rest the story, now five days old, which has pitted Trump officials against one of the most revered members of the Senate who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Despite his illness, the Arizona Republican has remained a vocal and active critic of Trump’s, which may explain why the White House is reluctant to make peace.
“It was an unfortunate circumstance,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican about the comment from White House aide Kelly Sadler who dismissed McCain’s concerns about CIA director nominee Gina Haspel because “he’s dying anyway.”
But Thune seemed equally frustrated the White House hadn’t issued a quick apology and stemmed the political damage.
“Obviously, what was said was wrong and inappropriate. It would have been a lot of easier if they had just nipped it right away and she came out with an apology,” Thune said.
Rank and file Republicans agreed.
“I just think they need to afford him the respect that he deserves. He’s a war hero. He’s a war hero. And despite any differences he should be treated with respect,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
“You know everything happens for a reason and sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and made a bad decision,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, who called on Sadler to apologize.
“If it hurt his feelings they ought to apologize because he’s in bad condition and I think we want to do everything we can to help him have as good a life as we possibly can,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, the most senior Senate Republican.
Last week, after he created a mini-firestorm himself by telling CNN it was “ridiculous” McCain doesn’t want Trump to attend his funeral, Hatch quickly apologized to the ailing senator and his family. Asked if the White House could learn from his swift handling of the matter, Hatch said yes.
“I think they should because if you make a mistake it’s better to admit it and move on. There’s no way you can make any comments about John’s condition because it’s a sad condition and we’re all pulling for him and praying for him,” Hatch said.