The U.S. flag flying over the White House was brought back down to half-staff Monday afternoon after an outcry over the decision to raise it just two days after the death of Arizona Sen. John McCain
In his first formal statement on McCain's death, President Donald Trump said that he respected McCain's service and had ordered the flags back down.
"Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment," Trump said in a statement released by the White House.
The flags flying above the West Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building were lowered late Saturday after news of the Arizona Republican's death broke.
By Monday morning, the flags were at full-staff again. On Capitol Hill, where McCain served in the Senate for more than 30 years, the flags remained at half-staff.
Trump said he asked Vice President Mike Pence to offer an address at McCain's ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
"At the request of the McCain family, I have also authorized military transportation of Senator McCain’s remains from Arizona to Washington, D.C., military pallbearers and band support, and a horse and caisson transport during the service at the United States Naval Academy," Trump said.
The president said he designed White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser John Bolton to represent his administration at McCain's services.
Flags are lowered by presidential proclamation, so the president decides who receives the honor. The recent tradition for senators who die in office has been to have flags lowered in their honor from their death until their burial.
During President Barack Obama's time in office, four sitting senators died: Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 2009; Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., in 2010; Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, in 2012; and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., in 2013.
Obama signed proclamations for Kennedy, Byrd and Inouye, and those proclamations lowered flags to half-staff until the day they were buried. The Obama White House archives don't include a proclamation for Lautenberg, though according to his obituary by the Associated Press, the flag did fly at half-staff at the White House for an unspecified amount of time.
When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 – the first time a justice died in office in more than 50 years – Obama signed a proclamation on the day of his death, ordering flags lowered until his burial.
McCain's death is the first time a sitting senator has died since Trump's administration began. Trump has followed the U.S. flag code: The flags need to be lowered for a member of Congress only on the day of their death and the day after.
Trump spurred debate over his decisions on when and where not to lower the flag, especially after mass shootings. He issued proclamations after massacres in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida. After the newsroom shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, he didn't initially bring the flags to half-staff. He ultimately lowered them five days after the shooting.
He lowered the flag for other public figures. When former first lady Barbara Bush died, Trump issued a proclamation in her honor – keeping the flags at half-staff until the day she was buried.
Amid an outpouring of praise for McCain – a former prisoner of war, a longtime lawmaker and former GOP presidential candidate – Trump made only a brief statement about the senator's death, offering condolences to his family on Twitter but no words of praise for McCain himself. The two had a long history of mutual disdain.
Veterans groups on Monday criticized the decision to lower the flag for only two days.
"On the 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," Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, said in a statement.
The president's full statement:
"Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment.
I have asked Vice President Mike Pence to offer an address at the ceremony honoring Senator McCain at the United States Capitol this Friday.
At the request of the McCain family, I have also authorized military transportation of Senator McCain’s remains from Arizona to Washington, D.C., military pallbearers and band support, and a horse and caisson transport during the service at the United States Naval Academy.
Finally, I have asked General John Kelly, Secretary James Mattis, and Ambassador John Bolton to represent my Administration at his services."