President Trump initially decided against releasing an official White House statement on Sen. John McCain following his death, two administration sources confirmed to Fox News.
The statement would have praised him for his decades of service and his heroism as a Vietnam War POW. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and other senior aides all had pushed for such a statement, which would have called McCain a “hero.”
The president, however, rejected the statement and instead issued a brief tweet Saturday night following the legendary Arizona Republican senator’s death.
The tweet said, “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
The decision on the statement was first reported by The Washington Post.
The president eventually issued a statement late Monday afternoon announcing top officials will attend McCain's service, Vice President Pence will speak at a Capitol ceremony on Friday and U.S. flags will fly at half-staff until his internment.
"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 a statement largely focused on the services of the coming days.
Trump’s decision to nix the earlier statement speaks to the longstanding feud between the two men, dating back to when Trump, as a candidate, said McCain was not a war hero and seemed to fault him for being captured during the Vietnam War. McCain endured five years in captivity, an experience that later shaped his views, as a senator, on interrogation techniques. Known as the Senate’s “maverick,” McCain often bucked party ideology, earning him praise on Democratic side of the aisle and sometimes criticism from his own party – but he remained an influential voice even through his battle with brain cancer. He twice ran for president and was the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2008.
Tributes to McCain, meanwhile, poured in from other world leaders and statesmen including former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own,” Barack and Michelle Obama said in their statement.
“In an era filled with cynicism about national unity and public service, John McCain’s life shone as a bright example. He showed us that boundless patriotism and self-sacrifice are not outdated concepts or clichés, but the building blocks of an extraordinary American life,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.
McConnell also announced that McCain will lie in State at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.