Trump went to Fort Drum in New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act but did not mention the senator at all in his speech. The president has frequently insulted McCain, a Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war, even as the senator battles an aggressive form of brain cancer.
The president did, however, boast about creating a new military branch, the Space Force.
“It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space,” Trump told troops at Fort Drum. “We must have American dominance in space.”
McCain became one of Trump’s favorite targets on the presidential campaign trail in 2015 when Trump told supporters he “liked people who weren’t captured.” Trump continually attacked McCain’s status as a war hero, despite having dodged the Vietnam draft multiple times himself for “bone spurs.”
Trump has been critical of McCain since long before the beginning of his political career, it turns out. A newly unearthed interview of Trump from a “60 Minutes” segment with Dan Rather in 1999 showed Trump making almost the exact same remarks about McCain’s war record.
“He was captured,” Trump said in the 1999 interview. “Does being captured make you a hero? I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
The president’s rhetoric about McCain also seemed to influence his staff. Former White House aide Kelly Sadler made an insulting crack about McCain at a private meeting in May, telling other staffers that McCain’s opposition to Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director didn’t matter because the senator was “dying anyway.”