Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

As it happenedended1553203113

Trump celebrates free speech after repeatedly attacking war hero John McCain

Follow the latest updates from Washington

Donald Trump complains of John McCain ingratitude over state funeral

Donald Trump signed an executive order which will withhold federal funding from colleges and universities that do not permit or protect free speech amidst the president’s own attacks on Senator John McCain, more than six months after his death.

According to the president, the order is the first of many steps to come in his protection of the First amendment. During his remarks, Mr Trump invited students from colleges around the country to share their own stories of hindered free speech. One student recalled a time her school stopped her from handing out Valentine’s Day cards with religious messages.

Mr Trump also discussed his administration’s plans for student loan debt, which he said he is “going to work to fix”.

According to the president, who pointed some of the blame at universities, the Education Department and Treasury Department will publish information on future earnings and loan repayment for every major at every school.

The president’s remarks on the importance of upholding free speech come as he faces continued backlash over his own comments regarding late Senator John McCain, who he attacked Wednesday during a visit to Ohio.

In addition to repeating that he was “not a fan” of the late senator, Mr Trump complained that he had never been thanked for McCain’s state funeral.

Democrats and republicans have defended McCain following the president’s comments. The Washington National Cathedral also disputed Mr Trump’s claims that he had to “approve” the funeral for the late senator.

Also on Thursday, Mr Trump “made history” when he tweeted that the United States would be recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently hosting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, called the president’s recognition of the territory as Israeli land a “Purim miracle” and thanked President Trump.

Catch up on events as they happened

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Please allow a moment for our liveblog to load


Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 08:36

Donald Trump again picked up his attacks on the late Republican senator for Arizona John McCain yesterday during a speech at an Ohio tank manufacturing plant.

Again haranguing the late 2008 presidential candidate over his decision to hand over the Steele Dossier on Mr Trump’s alleged links to the Kremlin to the FBI, the president complained of not being thanked for approving McCain’s state funeral last year following his death from brain cancer.

"I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve," he told workers at the factory in Lima. "I don't care about this, I didn't get a thank you. That's OK."

Here was one of the many pithy responses that followed:

McCain's family had made clear that Donald Trump was not welcome at the funeral or any of the week-long, cross-country ceremonies the senator had planned himself knowing the end was near.

Instead, McCain had pointedly invited former presidents George W Bush, who defeated McCain during the 2000 GOP nomination battle, and Barack Obama, who defeated him in 2008, to deliver eulogies on the value of pursuing goals greater than oneself. President Trump merely signed off on the military transport of McCain's body, went golfing and was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter during the Washington events.

Mr Trump yesterday went on to say McCain "didn't get the job done for our great vets" by refusing to repeal Obamacare and attacked him for "a war in the Middle East" in reference to the senator's support for the Iraq War in 2003.

"Not my kind of guy," the president concluded. "But some people like him and I think that's great."

Mr Trump started the row during his weekend tweetstorm, in which he wrote 50 posts attacking all manner of foes and rivals.

“I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be,” he stressed during a White House press conference with Brazil's right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro.

As a candidate in 2016, Mr Trump had famously mocked McCain - a pilot during the Vietnam War who was shot down, captured and held prisoner in Hanoi for six years by the North Vietnamese - for not being a true American hero (having never served himself): "He is a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren't capture."

The attacks provoked an angry but supremely dignified response from McCain's grieving daughter Meghan:

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 08:59

Politicians on both sides of the political divide are finding President Trump's "feud" with a dead man increasingly unedifying and distasteful.

None more so than ex-Nebraska senator and Democrat Bob Kerrey - like John McCain a veteran of the brutal conflict in Vietnam who served as a Navy SEAL - who challenged Mr Trump to "show us your bone spurs".

The allusion is to the condition that allowed the young Donald Trump to escape the draft, receiving five deferments excusing him from military service in the late 1960s.

"This is the guy that showed up and said, 'I don’t want to go to Vietnam, like [McCain] did,'" Mr Kerrey said on CNN.

"He said, 'I wasn’t eligible to go to Vietnam because I had bone spurs.' You don’t grow out of bone spurs. I call on the president, get your feet x-rayed. Let’s see those x-rays. I want to see. While John McCain was flying combat operations in Vietnam, you were, I think, falsifying that you had bone spurs in order not to go to Vietnam. Now, I know lots of people who avoided the draft, but this isn’t what he’s saying. He said I physically couldn’t go. Well, Mr President, get your feet x-rayed and let’s see those bone spurs. I don’t think he has them.”

"Everything he’s saying is bad enough, but when he says, 'He’s not my kind of guy because he went to Vietnam, because he was flying combat missions and got shot down, was held as a prisoner.' That’s not your kind of guy?" Mr Kerrey continued.

"Who is your kind of guy? Your friends who falsified their records so they didn’t have to go? I think that’s the answer. I mean, I think he sees all of us who went to Vietnam as fools. We were the suckers. We were the stupid ones. We were the ones that didn’t have the resources to be able to get out of the draft."

"So, show us your bone spurs," Mr Kerrey said. "Let’s see those x-rays. Because I think the x-rays will show that he doesn’t have bone spurs and then he’d have to say, 'OK, I didn’t want to go to Vietnam. I got out of the war. While John McCain was flying combat missions, I made every single effort I could to avoid the draft.'"

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 09:08

It's worth recalling ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee last month at this juncture.

"Mr Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft," Cohen told Congress, the question coming up during the presidential campaign given that the candidate had been an athletic 22-year-old standing six foot two inches tall in 1968 and apparently in fine health.

"Mr Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said that there was no surgery."

"He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment," Cohen continued.

Privately, Cohen alleged, Mr Trump had told him: "You think I'm stupid, I'm not going to Vietnam."

"I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now," the lawyer said, in reference to the failed denuclearisation summit with Kim Jong-un in that country, which happened to coincide with the Cohen hearing. 

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 09:14

Worth also remembering that the president's grandfather, Frederick Drumpf, first arrived in America from Bavaria as a 16-year-old in 1885 specifically because he wanted to avoid conscription into the Imperial German Army.

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 09:16


Senior Republicans are also finding President Trump's continued attacks on John McCain embarrassing and in extremely poor taste.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called McCain "a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate. His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes." 

The Republicans' 2012 presidential candidate and Utah Senator Mitt Romney added:

Senator Martha McSally, a Republican Air Force veteran appointed to McCain's seat from Arizona, tweeted:

Senator Lindsey Graham, who wept openly on the Senate floor after his friend John McCain died but has since allied himself strongly with President Trump, told the press:

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 09:33

  ↵Perhaps the most outspoken was senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who said said not only the McCain family but the nation "deserves better" than Mr Trump's disparagement.

"America deserves better, the people deserve better, and nobody - regardless of their position - is above common decency and respect for people that risk their life for your life... I don't care if he's president of the United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world," Senator Isakson told The Bulwark, a conservative news and opinion website.

Later, he appeared on Georgia Public Broadcasting's Political Rewind radio show to call Mr Trump "deplorable".

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 09:34

This call to arms from McCain biographer Mark Salter was also pretty damning:

"I hope his indecency to John's memory and to the McCain family will convince more officeholders that they can't ignore the damage Trump is doing to politics and to the country's well-being or remain silent despite their concerns. They must speak up." 

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 09:40

The president also found time to disparage FBI special counsel Robert Mueller's forthcoming Russia report yesterday, calling it "ridiculous".

"Let it come out, let people see it," he told reporters as he left the White House on Wednesday. "Let's see whether or not it's legit."

Mr Mueller is expected to present a report to the Justice Department any day now outlining the findings of his nearly two-year investigation into Russian election meddling, possible collusion with Trump campaign officials and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. 

Mr Trump said he was personally looking forward to reading the findings, even as he scorned the fact that Robert Mueller had been empowered to write the report in the first place.

Here's Andrew Buncombe.

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 09:55

  ↵Regarding the congressional investigations into President Trump, the news broke yesterday his ex-White House communications director Hope Hicks has said she will co-operate with the House Judiciary Committee.

Now at Fox News (of course), Ms Hicks was once a close confidante of the president but will provide the documents concerning her tenure with the administration as requested by the committee's chairman, Jerrold Nadler.

Joe Sommerlad21 March 2019 10:10

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in