U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson forcefully defended his late colleague John McCain on Wednesday, calling President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the Vietnam War veteran “deplorable.”
In an interview on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind,” the Senate Veterans Affairs chairman voiced support for the military and promised to “speak out” against people who denigrate veterans.
“It’s deplorable what (Trump) said,” the three-term Republican told host Bill Nigut. “That’s what I called it from the floor of the Senate seven months ago. It will be deplorable seven months from now if he says it again, and I will continue to speak out.”
Isakson’s remarks were not new but highly anticipated.
He attracted national attention earlier in the day for comments he made to The Bulwark that promised a severe reprimand of the president.
Isakson’s appearance on GPB ultimately fell short of that, but his remarks still represented the Senate GOP’s loudest defense of McCain since Trump renewed his criticism of the Arizona Republican over the weekend.
The president hammered McCain for his vote against the party’s Obamacare repeal bill and his handling of the Russia dossier. On Wednesday, he told a crowd in Lima, Ohio that he “never liked” McCain much and that he “gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted” but never received a thank you.
McCain died Aug. 25 of brain cancer.
Several Senate Democrats have decried Trump’s comments about the former prisoner of war, and Utah Republican Mitt Romney also tweeted his disappointment. Other Republicans stayed silent or offered tepid rebukes of the president’s remarks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted on Wednesday that McCain’s “memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes.”
Despite his cross words, Isakson declined to personally attack the president when Nigut asked about Trump’s stability.
In his interviews with Nigut and The Bulwark, Isakson raised concerns about the message Trump’s criticism of McCain would send to young people about respecting veterans.
“There aren’t Democratic casualties or Republican casualties on the battlefield. There are American casualties,” he said on GPB. “We should never reduce the service they’ve given this country.”
Wednesday was not the first time Isakson took a shot at the president for his treatment of McCain.
He took to the Senate floor shortly after McCain’s death to voice his displeasure after the White House quickly raised its flags from half to full staff, which he viewed as a sign of disrespect.
“I would say to the president or anybody in the world, it's time to pause and say ‘this was a great man,’” Isakson said at the time. “He gave everything for us. We owe him nothing less than the respect that he earned.”
In that same speech, Isakson spoke critically of his own choice to serve in the Georgia National Guard rather than going to Vietnam and also alluded to Trump’s draft deferments.
Overall, Isakson has adopted an arms-length approach to the president.
He endorsed him ahead of the Republican convention in 2016 but has since kept his distance.
Still, Isakson has voted with the president’s top legislative priorities more than 91 percent of the time, according to the political blog FiveThirtyEight - most recently on Trump’s border emergency. The two have also had a productive relationship on veterans legislation, partnering on overhauls to the department’s employee accountability and private health care rules.
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