Donald Trump has declared his “respect” for John McCain and ordered all US flags on public buildings to be flown at half-mast, bowing to criticism over his initial response to the senator’s death.
The US president arranged for the military to help transport Mr McCain’s remains from Arizona to Washington DC, where he will lie in state, and asked senior administration figures to attend his funeral.
It came after growing outcry over Mr Trump’s lack of praise for the 81-year-old former Republican presidential candidate, with whom he frequently clashed ever since his 2016 presidential bid.
Mr Trump declined to answer numerous shouted questions about Mr McCain from reporters in the White House’s Oval Office on Monday morning after an announcement on trade.
That followed reports that the US president had decided not to issue a statement drafted by White House aides praising Mr McCain as a “hero”, instead sending a brief tweet.
Mr Trump had written on Saturday night: “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018
Critics noted that the comments included no praise for Mr McCain’s life and years of service first as a soldier and prisoner of war in Vietnam and then as a US congressman – in marked contrast to the reaction of other leading political figures.
Anger mounted on Monday when the White House’s flag, which had flown at half-mast on Sunday, returned to normal despite mourning continuing for Mr McCain.
Mr Trump changed that on Monday afternoon, issuing a statement which read: “Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honour, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment.”
“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.”
The man who ran the Vietnamese prison that held Mr McCain captive for six years was also among those who paid tribute to the former congressman.
Col. Trần Trọng Duyệt reportedly said: “At that time I liked him personally for his toughness and strong stance… He has greatly contributed to the development of Vietnam-U.S. relations."
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