Earlier this week, a White House staffer named Kelly Sadler touched off a storm of controversy when she reportedly cracked a joke about Arizona Sen. John McCain dying. Three days later, the White House still hasn’t apologized for the offensive remark, nor has Sadler spoken out publicly about it, leading the White House to take heavy criticism from some Democrats and Republicans alike.
Sadler, according to a report from the Hill on Thursday, was responding to McCain’s announcement that he wouldn’t support President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel. McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war for years in Vietnam and was tortured in the process, stated that Haspel’s refusal to condemn the immorality of torture was “disqualifying” and urged his Senate colleagues to vote her down.
According to White House sources, Sadler’s response was that McCain’s take on Haspel was irrelevant, because “he’s dying anyway.” The 81-year-old senator is currently suffering from glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer and the same type that killed former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2009.
In the days since, members of McCain’s family and his friends in Washington, D.C. have condemned Sadler for the comment, which was characterized by sources as a joke in extremely poor taste. His wife Cindy tweeted at Sadler, noting that the senator has a loving family, and his daughter Meghan gave a decidedly stern response on an episode of The View. It’s now been days since the joke first leaked, and there’s still been no public apology from the White House.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, a longtime friend of McCain, commented that it was a “pretty disgusting thing to say” and expressed frustration that nobody from the White House had condemned it.
“I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate, that’s not who we are in the Trump administration,” Graham said Sunday on CBS’ Face The Nation.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also spoke out on the controversy on CNN on Sunday, telling State of the Union host Jake Tapper that he likes McCain personally despite their political differences and that it was hard to believe no apology had been offered.
“It is beyond my comprehension. It is one thing in the White House for somebody to say something crude and stupid and disrespectful about an American hero, it is another thing for them not to apologize,” Sanders told Tapper. “So, it is beyond my comprehension, I just don’t know what goes on in that White House mentality for there not being an apology for that terrible remark.”
Bernie Sanders reacts to the White House's response to comments about John McCain: "It is one thing in the White House for somebody to say something crude and stupid and disrespectful of an American hero, it is another thing for them not to apologize." pic.twitter.com/BowNYqOdeh— Axios (@axios) May 13, 2018
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to directly answer questions about it, insisting she wouldn’t confirm an internal leak; ABC News’ Tara Palmeri subsequently reported that in a meeting with White House staffers on Friday, the press secretary seemed more upset that the joke had leaked than that Sadler had made it in the first place.
It remains to be seen whether the White House will address this simmering controversy more directly next week, although from the sounds of things, there isn’t much apologizing happening behind the scenes. According to Palmeri’s report on that Friday meeting, Sadler didn’t apologize to her colleagues for the remark either.