Speaking to the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Wednesday, President Donald Trump once again made comments revealing he has little interest in treading sensitively around his feud with the late Sen. John McCain.
He lamented that fact that, during his first two years as president, he struggled to get the votes he wanted for his agenda because he only had 51 (initially 52) Republicans in the Senate.
"And sometimes, you know, they had a little hard time with a couple of them, right?" Trump added, referring to GOP senators who didn't bow to his will. “Fortunately they’re gone now. They have gone on to greener pastures. Or perhaps far-less-green pastures. But they are gone. They are gone ... I’m very happy they are gone.”
Of course, one of the GOP senators that gave Trump "a little hard time" was John McCain, the Arizona Republican who shared mutual a dislike with the president. Trump has repeatedly bemoaned the fact that McCain, who vacated his Senate seat after he died in August 2018, voted against the Republican plan to overhaul Obamacare (Trump rarely mentions the two other Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who were also instrumental in torpedoing that bill). McCain has been replaced by Republican Sen. Martha McSally.
Steve Benen, writing for MSNBC, suggested that Trump's claim about some of his opponents in the Senate going to "perhaps far-less-green pastures" might have been shown that he is "celebrating John McCain’s death and suggesting the late senator ended up somewhere unpleasant."
Trump has been less than subtle about his hatred for McCain — he even resisted lowering the flag after the senator's death in a particularly petty episode of spite — so he's done little to deserve the benefit of the doubt. However, the comment could easily have been an attack on former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a frequent critic of the president, who is simply no longer in government.
Flake seemed to take the remarks in stride in a playful tweet:
Greener pastures https://t.co/q3TGyrKhJ0 https://t.co/eXPUgTXqeS— Jeff Flake (@Jeff Flake)1561577975.0
But Trump's comment that he's "very happy" the troublesome senators "are gone" — which no doubt included McCain — left less room for interpretation. He's clearly expressing the idea that he's happy McCain is out of the Senate — an outcome that only occurred because he died. Even if Trump didn't mean to imply what this clearly implies, he should know better than to use such callous and thoughtless language when referring to dead people. But given how upfront Trump has been about his bitterness toward McCain even after his death, there's no reason to think the comment wasn't a deliberate broadside.
Indeed, that's exactly how Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Balhous interpreted his remarks:
Trump suggested he's "very happy" McCain died—& that he might be in "far less green pastures." "We had 51 votes &… https://t.co/2FdQButPli— Rebecca Ballhaus (@Rebecca Ballhaus)1561576112.0