White House wobbles on US flag after McCain death

WASHINGTON, Aug 27 (Reuters) - The White House lowered its U.S. flag to half-staff, raised it back up and on Monday lowered it again after the death of Senator John McCain, in an unusual and confusing break with protocol on the passing of a national leader.

McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, longtime U.S. senator from Arizona and 2008 Republican presidential nominee, died of brain cancer on Saturday at age 81. That prompted many Americans to lower flags to half-staff, a traditional gesture of honor.

But President Donald Trump, who had clashed with fellow Republican McCain over various issues and said during his campaign that the senator was "not a war hero," wavered in his approach to what presidents normally treat as a gesture of courtesy and respect.

World reacts to news of Sen. John McCain's death
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World reacts to news of Sen. John McCain's death
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!
I love you forever - my beloved father @SenJohnMcCain https://t.co/Y50tVQvlVe
My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years. He passed… https://t.co/nWEaWOoDB1
Our statement on the passing of Senator John McCain: https://t.co/3GBjNYxoj5
As you go through life, you meet few truly great people. John McCain was one of them. His dedication to his country… https://t.co/fX5PcJe7Ot
A giant. An icon. An American hero. God bless @SenJohnMcCain. He will never be forgotten. My full statement on the… https://t.co/Mh5GZ09O7W
Condolences and prayers to the McCain Family. Gratitude and respect for John McCain, who served the nation honora… https://t.co/PaB92wvQZR
I have ordered all flags be lowered to half-staff in honor and remembrance of the incredible life of @SenJohnMcCain… https://t.co/8C8iNPkVYP
He was a patriotic, courageous hero who served his country above all. You will be missed, Senator McCain. May you Rest In Peace.
My statement on the passing of Senator John McCain. https://t.co/ZuM18FUo31
Today we lost an American original. Sen. John McCain was a maverick and a fighter, never afraid to stand for his b… https://t.co/o2fqEk9oXp
John McCain was my friend. I will remember the good times. My family and I send prayers for Cindy and the McCain fa… https://t.co/fAJiNNZpWW
John McCain was a giant of our time—not just for the things he achieved, but for who he was and what he fought for… https://t.co/l5shnJTvTw
President George W. Bush reacts to death of John McCain https://t.co/evqDZqIfnZ
John McCain’s sacrifices to his country are immeasurable. With his passing today, America has lost more than a lead… https://t.co/bEqPlHHbbj
Senator John McCain was a true friend of Australia who was committed to strengthening the alliance between our two… https://t.co/HedHivpm94
Rest In Peace John McCain a true maverick and real life American hero. An extraordinary role model who lifted othe… https://t.co/2E2QrzSBBr
I was honored to have met John McCain. He always stood up for what he believed was right. Sending love to his famil… https://t.co/LdcyKw0PPV
.@SenSchumer will introduce a resolution to rename the Russell Senate Office Building after Sen. John McCain: https://t.co/oY1XIbcL8U
John McCain was an American hero, a man of decency and honor and a friend of mine. He will be missed not just in th… https://t.co/rKQLDtvTeP
Senator John McCain was a patriot, and an extraordinary American war hero. Heidi and I send our heartfelt thoughts… https://t.co/aGlwhVJKIE
MCCONNELL Stmt on the passing of @SenJohnMcCain: “Today is a deeply sad day for the Senate and for our nation.” https://t.co/mNOIngpm0G
God Bless the memory and legacy of Sen. John McCain. Though we often disagreed, I always found him a gentleman and a patriot. RIP, Senator.
Words cannot express the sorrow I feel at John McCain’s passing. The world has lost a hero and a statesman. Cindy a… https://t.co/CoJO81rcnp
A man who served his country up until his last days...a true patriot and American hero. RIP, John Sidney McCain II… https://t.co/h19B2EhEyz
America and Freedom have lost one of her greatest champions. ….And I’ve lost one of my dearest friends and mentor.
Tonight we say goodbye to a true hero. A man who never sought accolades. A patriot who fought everyday for American… https://t.co/EidT1BomVZ
Senator John McCain was an American patriot and hero whose sacrifices for his country, and lifetime of public servi… https://t.co/qiXtL3qPmN
Statement from team president Michael Bidwill on the passing of Senator John McCain. https://t.co/Zh72H58fNw
Senator John McCain passed today, all i can think about..he never stopped trying to do his best. What an honor it’s… https://t.co/29ZZJPjKRt
John McCain’s courageous and selfless lifetime of service is a profile in American exceptionalism. Prayers this eve… https://t.co/JnbRKn7oF0
Sen McCain was a courageous warrior who served and suffered for the freedom we all enjoy. I lost the GOP nominatio… https://t.co/MEIF3oHjzX
I have not know anyone with greater courage, stronger convictions or more devotion to country than John McCain. He… https://t.co/fdOj1Mrj2C
John McCain believed that every citizen has a responsibility to make something of the freedoms given by our Constit… https://t.co/oI2cBhNH7v
I count it as a blessing to have had the honor to serve with John McCain in the Senate and on the Armed Services Co… https://t.co/AIaqi4MxhX
America lost a real hero today. Condolences to @cindymccain, the McCain family and the Arizonans who were so fortu… https://t.co/Ckg2LpdpPx
Rest in peace #JohnMcCain, a hero, a patriot, a selfless man, who served others before serving himself. Our country will miss you.
Duty. Honor. Country. Our nation thanks you, John McCain. There has been no finer son of America... Hanx
This says it all. What an elegant man. May all of our leaders emulate the kind of grace Sen. John McCain exuded.… https://t.co/zbSiBgouqd

Trump's White House lowered its flag on Saturday, then raised it back following the minimum period under law. Trump also delayed issuing the customary proclamation for flags to remain at half-staff for longer than the two-day minimum.

Finally, under pressure from veterans and members of Congress, Trump said in a statement later on Monday that he respected McCain's service to the nation and ordered flags to half-staff.

"Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment," Trump said.

In the interim, through most of Monday, confusion reigned across the federal government, with flags flying at half-staff over the U.S. Capitol and at hundreds of national parks, but at full-staff over the Pentagon and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had issued a government-wide notification after McCain's death to lower flags at U.S. facilities but rescinded it on Monday, leaving the decision to staff at individual sites, according to an official.

"The American Legion urges the White House to follow long-established protocol following the death of prominent government officials," Denise Rohan, national commander of the veterans group, said in a message to Trump on its Facebook page. The Legion described McCain as a "cherished member."

John McCain through the years
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John McCain through the years
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: TV RATINGS--Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., during hearing on the TV ratings system. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
20th August 1992: The Republican Senator from Arizona, John McCain, speaking at the Republican National Convention. A fomer prisoner of war for several years in Vietnam, he contested his party's nomination for the 2000 election. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIET NAM: U.S. Sen. John McCain, a former POW, looks 31 May 1993 at a display of personal belongings of American POWs at the joint POW/MIA archives center in the Hanoi Army Museum. McCain is with U.S. Sen. John Kerry and a delegation on a two-day visit aimed at obtaining more access to archives dealing with the fate of missing U.S. servicemen. (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 18: MCCAIN'S DAY--Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., relaxes in his office at about 2:15 p.m. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 02: McCAIN BILL--John McCain,R-Ariz.,during a press conference on the McCain Bill and tobacco legislation. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : US Senator John McCain, R-AZ, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation begins the start of a hearing on the investigation of the scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC 14 April, 1999. AFP PHOTO/Mario TAMA (Photo credit should read MARIO TAMA/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOVER, : US Senator John McCain speaks to reporters 27 October,1999 in Hanover, New Hampshire. McCain criticized sugar, oil, and corn (shown behind) subsidies and linked them to 'soft money' campaign contributions. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO Luke FRAZZA (Photo credit should read LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, : Republican president hopeful John McCain greets supporters as he arrives at a debate forum sponsored by a local television station 02 December, 1999, in Manchester, New Hampshire. McCain will debate the other Republican candidates seeking the party's presidential nomination. (DIGITAL IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/John MOTTERN (Photo credit should read JOHN MOTTERN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: John McCain addresses a shadow convention at the Annenberg Center of the University of Pennsylvania. McCain was booed when he asked suppoters to back his former primary opponent, George W. Bush. The shadow convention was put on near the site of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia to highlight issues that the organizers say the major parties are ignoring. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
CAMDEN, UNITED STATES: GOP presidential hopeful US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) waves during an 'Old Fashion BBQ and Stump Meeting' on the front yard of a supporter's house 08 January 2000 in Camden, South Carolina. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
PETERBOROUGH, NH - JANUARY 30: Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (L) and his wife Cindy are showered with confetti following McCain's final town meeting 30 January, 2000 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read C.J. GUNTHER/AFP/Getty Images)
GREENWOOD, : Republican presidential hopeful John McCain makes a point 14 February 2000 during a town hall meeting at the American Legion Post 20 in Greenwood, South Carolina. McCain is campaigning heavily in the southern state against Texas Governor Geroge W. Bush ahead of the 19 February 2000 primary. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Tim SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1789 -- Pictured: (l-r) Senator John McCain during an interview with host Jay Leno on March 1, 2000 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 30: Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on climate change. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: TEMPORARY GUEST WORKERS--Witness Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during the Senate Judiciary Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship Subcommittee hearing titled 'Evaluating a Temporary Guest Worker Proposal.' (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: SENATE POLICY LUNCHES--Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks to reporters after the Senate GOP policy luncheon. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 20: U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) addresses The Northern Virginia Technology Council's Titans breakfast at the Capitol Hilton September 20, 2006 in Washington, DC. McCain spoke on a variety of subjects, including telecommunications legislation, net neutrality, research and development tax credits, immigration, and Internet taxes. He also addressed the rift that he and several other Republican senators are having with the White House over the Geneva Conventions. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - JULY 04: US Senator John McCain (C) holds a press conference at ISAF HQ in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 4, 2017. US Senator John McCain visited the headquarters of NATO-led mission after his visit at Pakistan. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, July 13, 2017 -- U.S. Senator John McCain is swarmed by reporters as he leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. July 13, 2017. Senate Republicans of the U.S. Congress on Thursday unveiled a new healthcare bill that they hoped can fulfill their long-time goal to 'repeal and replace' the Affordable Care Act. (Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images)


Presidents normally follow Congress' lead on the death of a prominent lawmaker and order flags lowered until sunset on the day of burial. Critics of the president saw his reticence as a final slight against McCain.

"I doubt you could find a comparable situation where the president doesn't order the flag flown at half-mast until the funeral," said John Lawrence, history professor at the University of California's Washington Center.

"The disparity between the Congress and White House policy is obviously noticeable and somewhat shocking."

McCain was a frequent Trump critic and his family has said he did not want the president to attend his funeral.

A family spokesman issued a farewell statement from McCain in which he said of the United States: "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries ... We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been."

(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Tim Gardner, Amanda Becker, Phil Stewart, Tim Ahmann and Jeff Mason; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

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