Donald Trump renewed attacks on the late senator John McCain, stating he “never liked” the Arizona Republican and “probably never will”.
The president faced widespread backlash for reviving his criticism of McCain, who died of brain cancer last year.
While Trump shared a notoriously contentious relationship with McCain, Republicans balked at Trump’s willingness to engage in posthumous attacks on the decorated war veteran. Some audience members in Ohio were members of the military.
“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump said of McCain while touring a tank manufacturing plant in Lima, Ohio. “I don’t care about this. I didn’t get a thank you, that’s OK.”
Trump returned to broadsides against McCain seven months after his death, amid reports in conservative media outlets that McCain was allegedly responsible for leaking the infamous Russia dossier, compiled by the British ex-spy Christopher Steele. The dossier detailed Trump’s ties to Moscow.
In a tweet on Sunday, Trump criticised McCain for his role in the Russia investigation and voiced frustration with his deciding vote against the repeal of Obamacare in 2017.
Trump also raised McCain’s healthcare vote during a joint appearance at the White House with the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, telling reporters he was “very unhappy that [McCain] didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare, as you know”.
“They got to a vote, and he said thumbs down,” Trump said. “I think that’s disgraceful.”
McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, hit back on Wednesday on ABC’s daytime talkshow The View, where she serves as a co-host.
“If I had told my dad: ‘Seven months after you’re dead you’re going to be dominating the news and all over Twitter,’ he would think it’s hilarious that our president was so jealous of him that he was dominating the news cycle in death as well,” she said.
“This is a new bizarre low. I will say attacking someone who isn’t here is a bizarre low,” she added.
Trump’s comments also drew backlash from Republicans in Congress, who defended McCain as a “hero” after initially remaining silent.
“I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better. I don’t care if he’s president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world,” Senator Johnny Isakson, from Georgia, said in an interview.
“Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us.” Isakson called the comments “deplorable”.
Senator Martha McSally, the Republican appointed to fill McCain’s seat following his death, tweeted: “John McCain is an American hero and I am thankful for his life of service and legacy to our country and Arizona.
“Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve,” she added.
Senator Lindsey Graham, one of McCain’s closest friends who has also emerged as a vocal ally of Trump’s, said his comments “hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Senator McCain”.
“I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God,” the Utah senator Mitt Romney wrote on Twitter.
Trump first feuded with McCain during the 2016 campaign, after he mocked the senator for being held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. McCain, who faced re-election in the Senate the same year, declined to endorse Trump even after he became the Republican presidential nominee.
McCain continued to speak out against Trump until his death, delivering a speech in which he decried “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in a thinly veiled reference to the president.
Trump was not invited to McCain’s funeral last year, which featured speeches by former presidents, including George W Bush and Barack Obama. Trump was not mentioned by name, but a stark contrast was drawn to his brand of politics.
McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, later explained the family’s decision to not invite Trump as a means of ensuring the ceremony would be conducted “with dignity”.
“Even though it was a very public funeral, we are still a family,” McCain said in an interview with the BBC. “It was important to me that we kept it respectful and calm and not politicize it.”