Washington • President Donald Trump continued Wednesday to attack the late Sen. John McCain, even as a growing number of Republican senators rose to McCain’s defense, calling him a war hero and a patriot — although most were careful not to criticize the president directly.
During a White House event at a manufacturing facility in Lima, Ohio, on Wednesday, Trump lashed out at McCain, saying, "I endorsed him at his request, and I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve."
"I don't care about this," Trump continued. "I didn't get a thank-you. That's OK. We sent him on the way. But I wasn't a fan of John McCain."
Presidents don't "approve" the funerals of members of Congress. To lie in state, one needs the approval of Congress. The funeral would have been approved by the Washington National Cathedral. Trump did approve the military transportation of McCain's remains from Arizona to Washington, military pallbearers, a band and military horses.
Comments like Wednesday's and those that have preceded it were too much for Sen. Johnny Isakson. The Georgia Republican called the duration of the White House's tribute to McCain "unthinkable" last year, after it lowered its flag to recognize the death of McCain on a Saturday, then raised it again by Monday. Trump rejected his staff's suggestions and refused to follow a tradition of leaving the flag at half-staff until the senator was laid to rest.
Isakson has said that moment and others fit a troubling pattern, and after an escalation of bitter words from the president this week, the senator took to the airwaves in a rare moment for his party: a stinging rebuke of Trump.
"It's deplorable what he said," Isakson said Wednesday on Georgia Public Broadcasting, as he decried the public criticism of McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent years in brutal captivity in Vietnam. "There aren't Democratic casualties or Republican casualties on the battlefield," he said.
His comments follow an interview with the Bulwark, a conservative news website.
"I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better. I don't care if he's president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world," Isakson told the site.
"Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us."
Trump unloaded on the legacy of McCain, who died of brain cancer last year, in several tweets this week. On Tuesday, he attacked McCain's vote against repealing Obamacare.
"I think that's a disgrace, plus there are other things," Trump said in the Oval Office. "I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be."
Meghan McCain, a co-host of ABC's "The View," blasted Trump and defended her father on Wednesday.
Her father "would think it was hilarious that our president was so jealous of him that he was dominating the news cycle in death," she said.
Trump's attacks have also appeared to unleash trolls targeting the McCain family. Soon after the president's Oval Office remarks, Cindy McCain posted a profanity-laced message she received on Facebook.
A woman called John McCain "traitorous" and celebrated his death.
"I want to make sure all of you could see how kind and loving a stranger can be," Cindy McCain wrote on Twitter, referring to the woman.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, rallied to McCain's defense Wednesday.
"I can't understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God," Romney wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican appointed to McCain's former seat, also defended the former senator.
"Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve," she wrote on Twitter. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a Trump ally, praised McCain in a tweet but did not address the president's attacks against him.
Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, is a general supporter of Trump but often extends more criticisms of the president than many Republican lawmakers.
After last year's controversy over the flag raising, lowering and re-raising, he took to the Senate floor to blast the perceived insult to McCain, although he did not single out the president in his remarks.
"Anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping because most of those who would do the wrong thing about John McCain didn't have the guts to do the right thing when it was their turn," he said.
The focus has since narrowed to Trump. Isakson watched Trump's Tuesday remarks and their impact.
“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,” he told the Bulwark.