Prominent senators on both sides of the aisle called upon the White House to apologize in the wake of various reports that a staffer mocked Sen. John McCain’s fight against brain cancer.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., both expressed disgust over the Trump administration’s refusal to condemn Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to the president, for allegedly dismissing McCain’s opinion because “he’s dying anyway.”
On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Sadler still works for the administration but declined to specifically address the comment in question: “I’m not going to validate a leak out of an internal staff meeting one way or the other.”
Bernie Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that he cannot fathom why the White House has not apologized.
“It is beyond my comprehension. 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,” Sanders said. “So it is beyond my comprehension. And I just don’t know what goes on in that White House mentality for there not being an apology for that terrible remark.”
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who caucuses with the Democratic Party, pointed out that though he regularly disagrees with McCain, a conservative Republican from Arizona, over political matters, he personally likes him “very, very much” and said he’s respected “in the Senate and in the country.”
Graham offered a similar opinion while speaking to “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan on CBS News. He said he’s not satisfied with the White House’s response to the controversy.
“It’s a pretty disgusting thing to say. If it was a joke, it was a terrible joke. I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate [and] that’s not who we are in the Trump administration,” Graham said. “John McCain can be criticized for any political decision he’s ever made or any vote he’s ever cast, but he’s an American hero.”
Graham suggested that most Americans would like to see the Trump administration “do better” in these sorts of situations.
“It doesn’t hurt you at all to do the right thing and to be big,” Graham continued.
When asked whether Trump should apologize, Graham said, “I’ll leave that up to him, but if something like that happened in my office — if somebody in my office said such a thing about somebody — I would apologize on behalf of the office.”
This latest Trump administration controversy stems from conversations held behind closed doors about McCain’s opposition to Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. Haspel has been acting director since April 26 when her predecessor, Mike Pompeo, was sworn in as secretary of state.
McCain, a Navy pilot who was tortured during the Vietnam War, urged his colleagues in the Senate on Wednesday to reject Haspel’s nomination because of “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality.” For McCain, this refusal is “disqualifying.”
“The Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination,” McCain said in a statement from Arizona, where he is fighting against brain cancer. His career as “the Maverick” has been defined in part by his willing to go against his own party.
During Haspel’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee asked pointed questions about her role in former President George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” program.
According to the Hill and others, Sadler dismissed McCain’s critique in front of roughly two dozen communications staffers by saying, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” Sources told the Hill that they thought the comment was a joke but it created “discomfort” and that the rest of the conversation continued without it being addressed.
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(Cover photo credit: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)