“Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country,” Trump wrote in the four-paragraph statement, which dealt mainly in the logistical details he’d approved for the week-long remembrance ceremonies.
Later, while meeting with evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room, Trump told reporters: “Our hearts and prayers are going to the family of Sen. John McCain … and we very much appreciate everything Sen. McCain has done for our country.”
He also wrote that he asked Vice President Mike Pence to deliver remarks at a ceremony celebrating McCain’s life in the US Capitol on Friday.
And he listed the officials — including chief of staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser John Bolton — he had tasked with representing the administration at funeral services.
Asked what had changed and why the proclamation was issued Monday, press secretary Sarah Sanders would only say this was the “President’s decision to do and the statement speaks for itself.”
It was a more robust effort at commemorating the late lawmaker than Trump offered on Sunday and for most of Monday. During a string of appearances before reporters, the President maintained his silence, choosing to ignore questions about the late Arizona Republican.
Questioned whether he believed McCain — a former Navy pilot who was shot down over Vietnam — was a hero, Trump remained stone-faced behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office after announcing a trade breakthrough with Mexico.
Later, walking along the Rose Garden toward the Oval Office with his Kenyan counterpart, he stared straight ahead when asked for any thoughts on the late lawmaker.
Once inside, he ignored questions again while White House press aides shouted over reporters who were inquiring about McCain.
Moments later in the Cabinet Room, a similar scene played out.
“Thank you very much,” Trump said after the questions continued coming.
As he bid farewell to President Uhuru Kenyatta at the West Wing, the President again declined to answer when pitched a question on McCain.
It amounted to a deafening silence for a President who openly feuded with McCain, even as the senator was dying from brain cancer. Trump sent a cursory tweet on Saturday — “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!” — but did not offer any words about the man himself.
A more fulsome statement had been prepared for Trump, but it was never released. And a presidential proclamation that would require flags on federal buildings lowered to half-staff was sent on Monday afternoon, almost two days after McCain’s death.
That’s left Trump the odd man out in a capital city overflowing with remembrances of the onetime Republican standard-bearer.
Even Trump’s own daughter, now acting as his White House senior adviser, was more effusive in her description of McCain.
“The nation is united in its grief and the world mourns the loss of a true hero and a great statesman,” she said during remarks in Washington.
CNN’s Jim Acosta contributed to this report.