At the very end of an Oval Office press event in which he announced his plans to end NAFTA in favor of a bilateral trade deal with Mexico, President Donald Trump sat in silence with his arms folded as reporters implored him to make what would have been his first public statement about the death of Senator John McCain.
“Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain?” one reporter could be heard asking. “Any thoughts on the legacy of John McCain?”
Once it became clear that Trump had no intention of answering their questions, the press was rushed out of the room by his communications staff. ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, who was covering the event, tweeted that Trump heard the questions about McCain but “did not answer.”
After news broke of McCain’s death on Saturday night, President Trump tweeted his condolences to the family, writing, “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!” But as Fox News commentator Brit Hume and others pointed out, that message did not contain a “kind word about McCain himself.”
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that Trump had vetoed an official White House statement praising McCain as a “hero” in favor of his more anodyne tweet. On Monday, though flags throughout Washington, D.C. remained at half-staff in honor of the Arizona senator, the flag atop the White House had already been raised back up to its full height. Traditionally, when a sitting senator passes, flags are left at half-staff until he or she is buried.
The relationship between the two men has been severely strained since Trump declared on the campaign trail in 2015 that McCain is “not a war hero” because he was captured in Vietnam. “I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump said at the time. Later, McCain served as the deciding vote against Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a decision the president continued to attack him for well into his battle with brain cancer.
McCain made it known before his death that Trump would not be welcome at his funeral.