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Trump again attacks McCain as some in GOP defend former senator

Republican Sens. Isakson, McConnell, Romney and McSally speak out in support of McCain, a Vietnam War hero who died last year.

Then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks

Then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks at a rally outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 3, 2008. Photo Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump again attacked the late Sen. John McCain on Wednesday, despite a strong backlash from several Republican allies, including his staunch backer Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Speaking to workers at the Lima Army Tank Plant in Ohio, Trump aired his past grievances about McCain and accused the former lawmaker of putting him “in jeopardy” for passing on the disputed Steele dossier, which included salacious details about Trump, in the Russia probe.

“I endorsed him at his request and I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump said of the former Republican presidential nominee. “I don’t care about this, I didn’t get ‘thank you,’ we sent him on [his] way, but I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”

The audience remained quiet as Trump took a dig at McCain for his iconic thumbs-down vote that derailed the Republicans’ effort to repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017, and added, “McCain didn’t get the job done for our great vets and the VA and they knew it.”

Trump’s comments continued his harsh words in tweets and comments over the past several days about the former long-serving Republican lawmaker and storied Vietnam prisoner of war. On Tuesday, Trump said, “I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be.”

Isakson, who last year criticized Trump for waiting nearly a day to lower the White House flags to half staff following McCain’s death, became so enraged by that string of barbs about McCain that he gave an interview to call out Trump.

“When the president is saying that he doesn’t respect John McCain and he’s never going to respect John McCain and all these kids are out there listening to the president of the United States talk that way about the most decorated senator in history who is dead, it just sets the worst tone possible,” Isakson told The Bulwark, a conservative news and opinion website.

“Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us,” Isakson said.

Other Republicans also defended McCain. Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) in a tweet said "Time for [President] Trump to end the shots at John McCain a true patriot, good man and true friend."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted about how he missed his “good friend” and “a rare patriot and genuine American hero.” He added, “His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes.”

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), appointed to McCain’s seat, in a tweet said, “Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve.”

And Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) posted on Twitter: “I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain.”

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would put Republicans on the spot: “I look forward to soon reintroducing my legislation renaming the Senate Russell Building after American hero Senator John McCain.”

Trump’s grudge against McCain predates his presidency. In 2015, Trump said McCain, who spent more than five years in a prison camp after being shot down over Vietnam, only is called a war hero “because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Trump and McCain clashed over federal legislation and policies that directly affected Trump’s business plans.

In 1989, for example, McCain and other legislators sought to block the then heavily indebted Trump from buying American Airlines. The next year, McCain sought to reduce slots at LaGuardia and other busy airports for Trump Air and TWA, which later went bankrupt.

And in the early 1990s, McCain backed Indian tribe access to states without tribal reservations for their casinos, prompting Trump, then a major casino owner, to protest about unfair competition and to accuse Indian gambling of having mobsters infiltrating them.

McCain and others rejected the mob accusation. Trump’s casinos later went bankrupt.

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