Vice President Pence lavishly praised the “lifetime of service” of the late senator John McCain during a speech Thursday to a veterans group that criticized President Trump this week for not immediately issuing a proclamation to lower U.S. flags in his honor.
Speaking to a national conference of the American Legion in Minneapolis, Pence said he wanted to address “a particular veteran that I know is on the hearts and minds of people all across America.”
“He came from a long line of service in uniform,” Pence said of the Arizona Republican. “He served in the Vietnam War. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war, and he did not yield.”
Pence then praised McCain’s service in Congress, calling him “one of the most unwavering advocates of our Armed Forces to ever serve.”
“I can assure you, America will always remember and honor the lifetime of service of United States Senator John McCain,” Pence said. “By honoring him, we also honor all of you.”
Pence’s remarks in Minneapolis came as services were getting underway in Arizona for the late senator.
Following McCain’s death on Saturday, flags were lowered to half-staff at the White House. But they were raised back to full staff on Monday morning, after the minimum time mandated by law when a member of Congress dies had passed.
Traditionally, presidents have issued proclamations to keep flags lowered for several days after senators die. After a torrent of criticism, Trump issued a proclamation later Monday to lower flags again until McCain is buried on Sunday.
The American Legion was among the veterans organizations that weighed in.
In a statement, Denise Rohan, the group’s outgoing national commander, noted that Trump had issued proclamations earlier this year upon the deaths of former first lady Barbara Bush and evangelist Billy Graham.
“On behalf of The American Legion’s two million wartime veterans, I strongly urge you to make an appropriate presidential proclamation noting Senator McCain’s death and legacy of service to our nation, and that our nation’s flag be half-staffed through his interment,” Rohan said in the statement, which called McCain “an American hero and cherished member of The American Legion.”
McCain and Trump had a frosty relationship for years.
While a presidential candidate, Trump said he did not consider McCain a war hero because he was captured. Even as McCain battled brain cancer, Trump continued to criticize him for voting against a Republican health-care bill.
And recently, Trump declined to mention McCain’s name at a signing ceremony for a defense bill named in McCain’s honor.
McCain spoke out several times against Trump, including after the president’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, at which Trump appeared to side with Putin over U.S. intelligence officials on the issue of election interference.