A day after news came out about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) brain cancer diagnosis, his onetime political opponent urged the ailing senator to think about his political future sooner rather than later — and expressed interest in the possibility of her taking over his Senate seat.
“I hope Sen. McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible, so that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward,” Kelli Ward, who lost to McCain in last year’s Republican primary and is now running to unseat U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said Thursday during an interview with an Indiana radio station.
In a statement posted later on her website, Ward said McCain’s cancer is “both devastating and debilitating” and he “owes it to the people of Arizona to step aside” when he’s no longer able to perform his duties.
McCain’s office announced Wednesday that he’d been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer. The diagnosis, which followed a surgery to remove a blood clot above the left eye, raised questions about when and if he will go back to the Senate.
McCain isn’t up for reelection until 2022. He also had not indicated that he will relinquish his seat because of his health, even assuring in a recent tweet that he’ll be “back soon.”
Still, the possibility of him leaving was raised in Ward’s interview. The host asked Ward, a family physician and a former Arizona state senator, about whether she believes McCain will be able to return to Washington.
“I would never presume to say what someone’s prognosis is without having examined them. As a Christian, I know there can always be miracles. But the likelihood that John McCain is going to be able to come back to the Senate and be at full force for the people of our state and the people of the United States is low,” said Ward.
Ward went on to talk about what Arizona law requires in the event that McCain does leave office. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) will have to appoint someone from the same party to fill the vacancy until the 2018 general election.
Asked if her name is getting “thrown in the hat” as a possible replacement, Ward said: “Well, you know, I certainly hope so. Because, you know, I have a proven track record from years in the state Senate of being extremely effective and of listening to the voice of the people that I represent.”
Ward added that she proved to be a worthy challenger against McCain last year. (She came in second, with 39.2 percent of the primary vote.)
“We can’t wait until the 2018 election waiting around to accomplish the Trump agenda, to secure the border and stop illegal immigration and repeal Obamacare and fix the economy and fix the veterans administration,” she said. “All those things need to be done, and we can’t be at a standstill while we wait for John McCain to determine what he’s going to do.”
Ward was immediately slammed by critics, who viewed her comments as insensitive, self-serving and opportunistic. She dismissed the criticisms as fake news perpetuated by liberals.
In a combative interview Friday with Arizona radio hosts Mac Watson and Larry Gaydos, Ward maintained that should McCain become debilitated, “of course he should step aside.”
“I got to tell you, Dr. Ward. Have you no shame? I mean, I think this is low class. I think you’re kicking the man when he’s down, the week he’s diagnosed with brain cancer, with really what I believe is a despicable comment,” one of the hosts told Ward.
One of the hosts said Ward is already “dancing” on McCain’s grave, called her a “vulture” and told her she’s “desperate for attention.”
Ward shot back, saying the hosts are putting words in her mouth and unfairly attacking her character.
“I am a caring, compassionate physician. I am a competent, qualified political candidate, and I look forward to getting to Washington, D.C. You all have made this about John McCain and Kelli Ward,” she said, adding that she’s “laser-focused” on her race against Flake.
Ward’s supporters have rallied behind her in comments to her Facebook post about McCain. Some wrote that while they sympathize with McCain’s illness, they agree with Ward’s statements.
Ward’s recent interviews aren’t the first time she urged McCain to leave public office.
She caused a stir last year when she suggested in a Politico interview that McCain, who was then 79, is too old and is likely to die while in office.
“I’m a doctor. The life expectancy of the American male is not 86. It’s less,” Ward said in the August 2016 interview, adding later: “He’s become pretty sour. A pretty sour old guy.”
In another interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that same day, Ward suggested that McCain should retire and said she knows “what happens to the body and the mind at the end of life.”
Taken aback, Todd asked Ward whether she feels comfortable diagnosing McCain without personally examining him.
“Diagnosing him as an 80-year-old man, yes, I do,” she said.
McCain has been recovering in his Arizona home. His daughter, Meghan, tweeted Saturday that she and her father went on a hike.