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McCain's Clashes With Trump


In the last couple of years, most of the attention on Senator McCain has been focused on his clashes with President Trump. To talk more about that, we're joined by NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much.


MARTIN: So it seems safe to say that Senator McCain and President Trump butted heads on many things. When did this rivalry, if we want to call it that, begin and why?

ELVING: Sooner than most people realized. It goes back to the late 1990s when John McCain was preparing his first run for president. Donald Trump actually flirted with running for president in the 2000 cycle in the Reform Party. He started taking shots at John McCain back then, saying he didn't really think that being a POW - being captured in a war - made somebody a war hero. But that was not a widely-known view, of course, until July of 2015 when Trump was running for president as a Republican, and he was in Iowa and he said again he didn't think McCain was a war hero just because he'd been captured. And he said he preferred those who didn't get captured.

MARTIN: So there seemed to be just a very personal nature to many of Donald Trump's attacks on John McCain.

ELVING: Yes, indeed. Well, there have been many criticisms and barbs flung back and forth between the men since then. Truth was that both men were far apart throughout their lives - distinctly different priorities in their youth, in their career choices, in their career histories and ultimately in their definition of what was public life and public service.

MARTIN: Let's just talk about policy for a minute, though. Did they have disagreements there, and what were they?

ELVING: Oh, they were myriad. There were so many. They disagreed on the U.S. role in the world - that was the basic thing - on relations with foreign countries, especially Russia. Putin saw - or John McCain saw Putin as a thug and a dictator. And when Trump had that news conference next to Putin in Helsinki this year, McCain called that one of the most disgraceful performances by a U.S. president in history. But, you know, they disagreed about a lot of other things. Trump said, for example, that torture totally works. And he said he would bring back waterboarding or worse. And McCain was personally a survivor of torture in his POW camp in Vietnam - abhorred the practice, did everything he could to ban it in terms of the U.S. military - military and intelligence services. They also were far apart on campaign finance laws, with McCain being the great champion of limiting the rule of money, and also on immigration where McCain had been with those trying to negotiate a comprehensive overhaul of all the immigration laws with border security but paths to citizenship for certain categories of immigrants.

MARTIN: OK. So, Ron, we have about a minute left. So has President Trump responded to the news of Senator McCain's death? And do we know whether he will attend the senator's funeral?

ELVING: He - the president has sent a tweet of two sentences - uncharacteristically brief. He said he wanted to extend his condolences and respect to the family of John McCain. But there was no tribute to the senator, no salute to his achievements, a rather and stark contrast of the statements came from Presidents Obama and Bush and many, many others. As far as the services, it's hard to imagine that there would not be some appearance by President Trump given the service is here in Washington. He will not be going to Arizona. And thus far, no official word the president will attend the service at the National Cathedral.

MARTIN: That's NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thank you so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for