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Trump honours McCain’s service to America following criticism

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US president Donald Trump has relented under pressure by recognising the late senator John McCain’s “service to our country” and lowering the White House flag again as a mark of respect
By Catherine Lucey
August 28 2018 7:14 AM
US president Donald Trump has relented under pressure by recognising the late senator John McCain’s “service to our country” and lowering the White House flag again as a mark of respect.
While many Americans remembered Mr McCain’s record as a war hero, a long-serving senator and as a presidential nominee after his death at the age of 81, Mr Trump had nursed his grievances.
Arizona senator Mr McCain had been an infuriating foil for the US president in a long-running feud over style and policy.
The president’s reluctance to participate in the national remembrance for Mr McCain, who was severely beaten while a prisoner of war over a number of years in Vietnam, was awkward and uncomfortable, even by the standards of a leader who acknowledges he does not act like a typical president.
The episode highlighted Mr Trump’s tendency to harbour personal resentments regardless of the political repercussions.
Before Mr Trump’s statement on Monday afternoon, his only commentary on Mr McCain’s death had been a perfunctory tweet on Saturday.
The lack of a formal statement – combined with the fact that White House flags were flown at half-staff only briefly – drew strong criticism from Republicans and veterans’ groups as well as Democrats.
When he finally did comment in a printed statement, Mr Trump was sparing in his praise for the six-term senator: “Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country.”
Later, at an evening dinner honouring evangelical leaders, the president said “our hearts and prayers” are going to the family “and we very much appreciate everything that senator McCain has done for our country”.
Earlier in the day, a stone-faced Mr Trump sat mute as reporters at several photo sessions invited him to comment on Mr McCain, who had been suffering from brain cancer. As he was peppered with questions about Mr McCain’s legacy, the usually talkative president made no response.
Publicly, Mr Trump has frequently railed against McCain’s dramatic vote against the president’s efforts to repeal Barack Obama’s landmark health care law.
Privately, he has complained about such slights as his belief that Mr McCain did not appreciate his endorsement in the senator’s 2016 re-election bid. Mr McCain, for his part, recently attacked Mr Trump’s Helsinki meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.
While the president’s statement sought to defuse the controversy, an upcoming celebration of Mr McCain’s life is likely to bring new awkwardness. Former presidents will speak at McCain’s funeral on Saturday, but the senator’s family has made it clear they do not want Mr Trump to attend.
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!
Mr Trump said he had asked his vice president Mike Pence to speak at a ceremony honouring Mr McCain at the Capitol on Friday. He added that other administration officials would attend memorial services.
He also said he had agreed to the McCain family’s request for military transportation of the senator’s remains from Arizona to Washington. Burial will take place on Sunday at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
In death, Mr McCain himself had more to say.
In a final letter released on Monday, Mr McCain appeared to repudiate Mr Trump’s politics one last time, saying: “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe.”
He also wrote: “Do not despair of our present difficulties. But believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.”
Press Association
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