At last, Arizona senator wants to defend John McCain’s honor

The appointed-junior senator from Arizona never condemned attacks on her predecessor from Donald Trump or others before.

President Donald Trump campaigned for then Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in her unsuccessful 2018 senate race.
President Donald Trump campaigned for then Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in her unsuccessful 2018 senate race. She was later appointed to the state's other seat. (Photo credit: Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who was appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat of John McCain, is demanding an investigation to find out which administration official ordered the U.S.S. John S. McCain be hidden during the president’s visit to Japan last weekend. While this is far from the first slight by the Trump administration against the late senator, it is the first time Sen. Martha McSally has shown any interest in criticizing it.

The story, which might be a bigger scandal in a normal administration and was first reported this week by the Wall Street Journal, involved staffers at the White House demanding that the naval ship be moved away so President Donald Trump would not have to see it on his trip. The ship’s name honors the late Arizona senator as well as his grandfather (Admiral John S. McCain) and his father (Admiral John S. McCain Jr.). On Thursday, Trump said that a “well-meaning” member of his administration had acted without his knowledge to hide the ship. Trump’s acting secretary of defense has ordered an investigation.

McSally, who lost a statewide race for an open Senate seat last November and is now locked in a dead-heat race against retired astronaut Democrat Mark Kelly for the final two year’s of McCain’s unexpired term, released a written statement on Thursday criticizing the decision to hide the ship.

“I am appalled to hear of the allegations surrounding the USS John S. McCain,” she wrote, demanding “a full investigation into who ordered it and what occurred” and urging that McCain’s legacy be respected.


This demand is noteworthy because between Trump’s election in 2016 and her own defeat in November, McSally has sought to portray herself as a stalwart Trump ally and has done little to defend her predecessor’s honor in the face of Trump’s non-stop barrage of insults. While she refused to endorse Trump in 2016, she abandoned her own bipartisanship promise and voted with him nearly 100% of the time as a member of the House of Representatives.

Back in 2012, then-House hopeful McSally was interviewed on a local talk radio show. About 22 minutes into the segment, a caller asked if her military background would be a problem, citing Israeli generals who he felt made poor politicians. “Are you gonna stick to the Republican issues and not be like what’s-his-name McCain?” the caller asked. Rather than defend her state’s senior senator, McSally responded only by noting that she was just a colonel and used the opportunity to boast about her own record.

As a candidate in 2015, Trump mocked McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, as not a war hero. “I like people who weren’t captured,” he said.


After McCain cast the deciding vote against Trump’s unpopular Obamacare repeal legislation in 2017, the president was livid and accused him of deceit. Even after McCain’s death last August, Trump continued to regularly bash his former rival. Still, McSally praised Trump throughout her 2018 race and had him come to Arizona to campaign for her.

Last August, when she traveled to New York to take part in Trump’s signing of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, neither he nor McSally actually acknowledged McCain. Only after Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who served for a few months as an interim senator after McCain’s death, resigned and McSally lost her own 2018 race did she reportedly apologize to Cindy McCain, John’s widow, for the slight.

In March, after Trump whined publicly that he didn’t get sufficient thanks for letting McCain have a nice funeral and said he “never liked him much,” several Republican politicians condemned him for the comments. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) called Trump’s attacks on McCain “deplorable.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Trump’s insults “hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Senator McCain.” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said his smears of McCain “really gets under people’s skin.”

McSally, however, drew criticism back home for refusing to call out Trump’s remarks. Instead, she made a Trumpian claim that there is a “lot of disrespect going around on both sides,” and said she privately told Trump how she and Arizona felt about McCain.

This is but the latest in a short political career long on flip-flops. After voting with Trump 97% of the time as a U.S. representative, she has thus far only voted with him 83% of the time as an appointed senator — but even that falls below her 2014 campaign promise to vote against her party well more than 20% of the time.