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White House Refuses 'Back-and-Forth' About Aide's Remark on McCain 'Dying Anyway'

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) receives the Liberty Medal from Chair of the National Constitution Center's Board of Trustees, former Vice President Joe Biden, in Philadelphia on Oct. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

WASHINGTON — The White House wouldn’t comment further on the remark an aide made about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) dying from brain cancer as Meghan McCain questioned why the aide still has an administration job.

McCain, who has remained in Arizona after last month undergoing an operation to treat an intestinal infection related to diverticulitis, issued a statement Wednesday encouraging colleagues to oppose the nomination of longtime CIA operative Gina Haspel to be the agency’s director.

“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” McCain said. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. 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.”

At a meeting of administration and congressional communications staffers Thursday, The Hill first reported, White House special assistant Kelly Sadler commented on McCain’s opposition to the Haspel nomination. “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” Sadler said. There was reportedly “discomfort” in the room after her comment.

“We respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time,” the White House said in a statement, not attributed to any individual, in response to the report.

Sadler reportedly called Meghan McCain to apologize for the remark. On ABC’s The View this morning, Meghan McCain said, “Kelly, here’s a little newsflash, and this may be a bit intense for 11 o’clock in the morning on a Friday, but we’re all dying. I’m dying, you’re dying, we’re all dying. I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in when that would be acceptable and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job and that’s all I have to say about it.”

She also added on the show, “My father’s legacy will be talked about for hundreds and hundreds of years. These people? Nothingburgers. Nobody going to remember you.”

Cindy McCain tweeted at Sadler on Thursday evening, “May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren.”

In a statement Thursday night, Haspel said, “I have the utmost respect for Sen. McCain and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which he has approached this nomination process.”

Asked today about Sadler’s comment and whether she still has a job in the administration, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was “not going to comment on an internal staff meeting.”

“There is not a tone set here. We have a respect for all Americans, and that is what we try to put forward in everything we do, both in word, and in action, focusing on doing things that help every American in this country, every single day. And I think if you look at the policies we’ve put forth, you’ll see that reflected,” she said.

Asked why the White House hasn’t apologized to McCain, Sanders replied, “I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth because, you know, people want to create issues of leaked staff meetings.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of the same type of brain cancer McCain has, weighed in today, declaring in a statement that “people have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration — it happened yesterday.”

“John McCain is a genuine hero — a man of valor whose sacrifices for his country are immeasurable. As he fights for his life, he deserves better — so much better,” Biden said. “Given this White House’s trail of disrespect toward John and others, this staffer is not the exception to the rule; she is the epitome of it.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said the White House needs to apologize for the “just outrageous and totally out-of-line” remark “not just for that staffer, but for all of the administration because John McCain is an American hero and we need to recognize it.”