Trump Issues Proclamation to Honor McCain, Returns White House Flag to Half Staff

The American flag flies at half-staff above the White House in honor of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The American flag flies at half-staff above the White House in honor of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Following a morning of confusion, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Monday afternoon that allowed the White House rooftop flag to be returned to half-staff to honor the passing of his fierce critic, the late Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

The flag atop the White House had been put back to full staff Monday morning, apparently under the protocol for flags on public buildings to be flown at half-staff for 24 hours upon the death of a member of the House or Senate -- unless an official presidential proclamation extends the mourning period.

The veterans organizations AMVETS and the American Legion immediately charged that Trump had "disrespected" McCain, a revered Navy veteran, Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient, former POW and Republican presidential nominee in 2008.

"By lowering flags for not one second more than the bare minimum required by law, despite a long-standing tradition of lowering flags until the funeral, the White House is openly showcasing its blatant disrespect for Senator McCain's many decades of service and sacrifice to our country as well as the service of all his fellow veterans," said Joe Chenelly, AMVETS national executive director.

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By mid-afternoon, the White House rooftop flag was back at half-staff and Trump issued a proclamation stating that it would remain there until McCain's interment this weekend at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The proclamation also stated that flags would be at half-staff "upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset on the day of interment."

"I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half‑staff for the same period at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations," Trump said.

In a separate statement, Trump said that "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 and McCain had never been close and became antagonists during the presidential campaign in 2015 when Trump declared that the senator in his estimation was "not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

Trump later continued the attacks: "I think John McCain's done very little for the veterans. I'm very disappointed in John McCain."

In his memoir "The Restless Wave," and in statements and speeches, McCain has charged that Trump's leadership and personal conduct had demeaned American values and threatened the nation's leadership role in the world.

McCain took particular exception to Trump's openings to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the congratulations Trump sent to Putin upon his re-election. "An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," McCain said.

Prior to his death last Friday of brain cancer, McCain asked that Trump not attend his funeral, and asked instead that former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush deliver eulogies.

In his statement, Trump said he would not be attending any McCain memorials but "I have asked Vice President Mike Pence to offer an address at the ceremony honoring Senator McCain at the United States Capitol this Friday."

Trump also said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, and National Security Advisor John Bolton would represent the administration at McCain's funeral.

The appearance of the White House flag at full staff Monday morning appeared to lead to confusion in the military and among government agencies as to whether to follow suit.

The Navy referred questions on flag protocol to the Defense Department. A Pentagon spokeswoman said the flag at the entrance to the building was back at full staff but Pentagon officials expected that a proclamation would be forthcoming from the White House.

Along Pennsylvania Avenue, flags in front of the FBI and Justice Department buildings were still at half-staff. At the nearby U.S. Navy Memorial, the flag atop a model of a ship's mast was almost -- but not quite -- at full staff.

Retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp IV, president and CEO of the memorial, said that the National Park Service was in charge of raising and lowering the flag and apparently had not succeeded in getting it back to full staff.

The flag atop the Capitol remained at half-staff, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, joined in requesting that the president keep flags at half-staff on all public buildings to honor McCain.

McCain died Friday at his ranch in Sedona, Arizona, a day after he ordered his doctors to stop treatment for glioblastoma, a terminal form of brain cancer.

McCain will lie in state at Arizona's state capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday. His family has scheduled a memorial service Thursday at the North Phoenix Baptist Church.

On Friday, McCain will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. and on Saturday a private memorial service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral.

Following a private funeral service, McCain will be laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland, beside Adm. Chuck Larson, who was twice superintendent of the Academy and McCain's roommate at Annapolis in the class of 1958.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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