- President Donald Trump’s reaction to Sen. John McCain’s death fueled a heated CNN debate on Monday night.
- Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers rebuked the president for the way he handled McCain’s death.
President Donald Trump’s reaction to the death of Sen. John McCain fueled a CNN debate on Monday night, during which panelists took verbal shots at one another over the proper way to honor the longtime senator and Vietnam War veteran who died Saturday of complications from a brain tumor.
A discussion the CNN host Chris Cuomo moderated between Bakari Sellers, a former Democratic state representative in South Carolina, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania went off the rails as they examined Trump’s action and inaction in the first 48 hours after McCain’s death.
- Trump first sent a tweet that offered condolences to McCain’s family but did not praise McCain.
- Flags at the White House were lowered to half-staff, per the US flag code.
- The flags were returned to full-staff on Monday morning.
- Trump later released a longer statement applauding McCain, after numerous complaints from lawmakers and veterans groups.
The CNN panelists on Monday night acknowledged McCain’s sacrifices to his country, but Santorum insisted that Trump’s response was not relevant to the public discourse.
“I just don’t think it does anything to the memory of John McCain to use him as a cudgel to beat up the president at this point,” Santorum said. “Let’s focus on the man and what he did, and his life – but the media seems to have this fascination to try to use the death of John McCain to further betlittle and beat up Donald Trump.”
Cuomo asked, jokingly: “You think we need this to find reasons to criticize him?”
- REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Sellers went on to attack the Republican Party as a whole, calling it “one of cowardice” and accusing Republicans like Santorum of trying to “contort themselves into pretzels” to defend Trump.
“You have a president this week who did not stand up and show the best of what we can be,” Sellers said, adding: “You don’t have to kowtow like Rick’s doing right now on TV and make excuses for a president who does not deserve excuses.”
Santorum fired back with a reference to Cuomo’s older brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who was chastised after saying during a speech Wednesday that America “was never that great”; he later walked back the comment.
Santorum said that the comments amounted to an indictment of America and that the governor “doesn’t think America is exceptional, that America is a deeply flawed country.”
“You’re so petty,” Sellers said, shaking his head.
Cuomo jumped in: “Come on, don’t play cheap,” he said. “You talk about my brother … you can’t do better than that? I’ll give you a hundred things about my brother that are true that are much worse than that.”
Amid all the bickering, Sellers sought to bring the focus back to McCain.
“I will just say this,” he said. “John McCain deserves a better dialogue than what we’re having right now.”