A White House staffer allegedly made a gruesome joke about Sen. John McCain on Thursday. Two of McCain's family members — wife Cindy and their daughter, Meghan McCain — immediately came to his defense. The McCain women tweeted back at the "joke"-sayer, and their shutdown was all about the family.
The Hill first reported that Kelly Sadler, a White House special assistant, allegedly said that Sen. McCain's vote against President Trump's nominee for CIA director wouldn't matter because "he's dying anyway." The comment reportedly came during an internal discussion on nominee Gina Haspel, who has come under fire for her refusal to flatly condemn the use of torture in interrogations.
Sen. McCain, who was imprisoned and tortured for five-and-a-half years at a POW camp during the Vietnam War, spoke out against Haspel on Wednesday. And it was his rejection of Haspel that triggered Sadler's "joke" suggesting Sen. McCain's input was irrelevant.
Cindy McCain did not find the comment funny. She tweeted at Sadler, "May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren." Meghan McCain shortly thereafter retweeted her mother's response.
In a statement to The Hill, the White House did not deny that Sadler had made the reported comment. They wrote, “We respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”
Sen. McCain made his comments opposing Haspel's nomination from Arizona, where he's undergoing treatment for cancer. It is unclear if McCain will be able to travel to Washington, D.C., to vote against Haspel, but his absence would also mean at least one fewer vote against her.
As CNN reports, Republican Sen. Rand Paul is also planning to vote against Haspel, as well as Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. In Haspel's case, Paul also objects to her less-than-robust condemnation of torture. Haspel has been with the CIA for 33 years, meaning she worked for the agency while controversial interrogation techniques were employed against terrorism suspects during the Iraq War under President George W. Bush.
According to a report at The New York Times, Haspel was put in charge of a "black site" prison in Thailand in 2002, just over a year after the 9/11 attacks. Under her management, interrogators waterboarded a prisoner multiple times, and employed other controversial tactics including sleep deprivation.
Haspel's personal involvement in approving interrogation tactics now largely viewed as unethical, and possibly illegal, became a focal point of her congressional hearing on Wednesday.
The vote for Haspel has yet to be scheduled. But with Republicans holding a razor-thin Senate majority — at 51 to the Democrats' 49 — the "no" votes from McCain and Paul mean Haspel would have to pick up more Democrats than just Sen. Joe Manchin. He's currently the only member of his minority party to say he'll vote to confirm Haspel.
Meghan McCain echoed her father's objections to Haspel on Thursday. The co-host of The View let her strong objection to the use of torture be known on the ABC morning show. Speaking about her childhood, Meghan McCain said her father "couldn't lift me up over his head as a baby, he can't ride a bike, he has war injuries that have lasted his entire life." She went on to argue that torture "does not work," and "people break at a certain point and they give false information."
"We have to be better than the terrorists," she said, to which The View audience enthusiastically applauded.
And CNN reports that McCain's rejection of Haspel is "weighing on senators." Sen. Jeff Flake, the junior senator from Arizona, told CNN that McCain's statement will "affect everyone" given the senator's clout within the upper chamber and legacy of opposing torture.
So Sadler's alleged "joke" about Sen. McCain seems to be false as well — McCain's voice appears to matter a great deal.