Washington: President Trump said Thursday that the attempt by White House staffers to hide the destroyer USS John S. McCain during his trip to Japan was “well meaning” given his personal enmity for the late Arizona senator and former Republican presidential nominee.
Trump also denied any knowledge of an effort to keep the warship’s name obscured while the president visited Yokosuka Naval Base this week, but he also attacked McCain for his July 2017 vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act that tanked Republicans’ hopes of overturning the health care law.
“John McCain killed health care,” said Trump on the White House lawn, adding, “I wasn’t a fan but … I didn’t know a thing about it. I would never have done that.”
In a tweet Wednesday night, Trump denied any knowledge about the attempt to move the ship, which is named for the late senator, as well as his father and grandfather, both of whom were Navy admirals.
I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan. Nevertheless, @FLOTUS and I loved being with our great Military Men and Women – what a spectacular job they do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2019
In an email obtained, a U.S. military official ordered that the “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight” when the president visited Yokosuka. A tarp was placed over the ship’s name, and sailors were told to remove coverings that displayed McCain’s name, according to the Journal.
Sailors from the USS John S. McCain were given the day off on Monday, when Trump gave his speech on the USS Wasp. Officials told CNN that sailors were given four days off for Memorial Day weekend and that the number of people invited to the president’s speech was limited due to space on the ship.
Navy officials have denied trying to hide the destroyer’s name.
“The name of USS John S. McCain was not obscured during the POTUS visit to Yokosuka on Memorial Day,” Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, the Navy’s chief of information, tweeted Wednesday. “The Navy is proud of that ship, its crew, its namesake and its heritage.”
For years, Trump went out of his way to criticize McCain. In 2015, Trump said McCain was “not a war hero” because he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
But after McCain’s opposition vote in 2017 to full repeal of the ACA, Trump stepped up his attacks. In March, after reports that McCain had given a dossier on Trump’s connections with Russia to the FBI, Trump said McCain had “very evil purposes.”
McCain’s daughter Meghan, a co-host on “The View,” took to Twitter on Wednesday to criticize Trump over reports about the attempt to hide the ship named after her kin.
Trump is a child who will always be deeply threatened by the greatness of my dads incredible life. There is a lot of criticism of how much I speak about my dad, but nine months since he passed, Trump won’t let him RIP. So I have to stand up for him.
It makes my grief unbearable. https://t.co/gUbFAla1VE— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) May 30, 2019
Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked Mr. McCain, both before and since the Arizonan died in August from a brain tumor at 81 years old. In the first years of the Trump administration, Mr. McCain was one of the few Republican senators willing to publicly challenge the president, including casting a critical vote in 2017 that blocked the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That vote—which Mr. McCain signaled with a thumbs-down gesture—was a source of immense aggravation for the president, who has often mimicked the hand motion and who called the vote “disgraceful” in April.
In March, Mr. Trump complained that he hadn’t been thanked for giving Mr. McCain “the kind of funeral that he wanted.” Speaking to workers at an Ohio factory, he said, “I didn’t get a thank you. That’s OK.” He also belittled Mr. McCain’s academic performance in college and criticized the late senator for turning over a dossier of unverified allegations about his connections to Russia to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump disparaged Mr. McCain’s military service in Vietnam, saying he was “not a war hero” and that “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Mr. McCain was a prisoner of war for 5½ years in Vietnam, where he endured beatings and solitary confinement, while refusing to accept Vietnamese offers of early release on the grounds that it would undermine the morale of others who lacked Mr. McCain’s connections. Mr. McCain was the son and grandson of admirals, and his father had been promoted to the position of commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific theater.
In July 2018, a month before Mr. McCain’s death, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer formally added Mr. McCain as a namesake of the USS John McCain, which had been named for his father and grandfather after it launched in 1994. Mr. McCain said at the time that he was “deeply honored.”
The USS John McCain collided with a merchant vessel in August 2017, killing 10 sailors and tearing a hole in the left rear side of the destroyer. Mr. Trump, asked about the collision at the time, told reporters: “That’s too bad.” He later tweeted that his thoughts and prayers were with the sailors aboard the ship.