White House aide jokes of ‘dying’ John McCain, prompting outcry

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House aide Kelly Sadler, a special assistant who handles surrogate communications, told other staffers that McCain’s opposition to President Donald Trump’s CIA director nominee Gina Haspel does not matter because “he’s dying anyway,” a White House official told CNN.

The official said Sadler, who is in charge of surrogate communications, meant it as a joke, “but it fell flat.”

McCain announced last year that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and he issued a statement Wednesday calling on his fellow senators to oppose Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee for CIA director, whose ties to the use of interrogation methods widely considered torture have drawn significant criticism.

Asked about Sadler’s comment, a White House official said, “We respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation, and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”

McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, responded to Sadler’s comment Friday.

“I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in and that would be acceptable and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job,” McCain said on “The View” Friday.

“Kelly, here’s a little news flash … We’re all dying. I’m dying, you’re dying, we’re all dying. And I want to say since my dad has been diagnosed … I really feel like I understand the meaning of life, and it is not how you die, it’s how you live,” she said.

Sadler called Meghan McCain on Thursday to apologize for the remark, a source close to the situation told CNN, although it’s unclear what her response was.

Several current and former Democratic lawmakers defended McCain.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Friday that “decency” in the White House had hit “rock bottom.”

“People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration. It happened yesterday,” Biden said in a striking statement.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan also praised McCain as the Arizona Republican battles brain cancer, calling him “a hero” who “dedicated his life to public service” and saying that his “thoughts and prayers” are with him and his family.

McCain called Haspel a “patriot” in his statement in Wednesday but referenced her record and testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee to implore the Senate to vote down her nomination.

“Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing,” McCain’s statement read. “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”

Haspel said in a statement Thursday evening that she has the “utmost respect” for McCain.

“I have the utmost respect for Senator McCain, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which he has approached this nomination process.”

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend of John McCain, said of the White House aide’s comment, “Ms. Sadler, may I remind you that John McCain has a lot of friends in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. Nobody is laughing in the Senate.”

Sadler’s remark about the Arizona Republican echoed Trump’s remark at the outset of his campaign for president, when he mocked McCain’s time as a prisoner of war by saying, “I like people that weren’t captured.”

The divide between the two came up again last summer, when McCain traveled to Washington as the Senate considered a repeal of Obamacare and offered a thumbs down to help sink the effort.