White House chief of staff says request to move USS John McCain was not 'unreasonable'

Mick Mulvaney said the president's feelings toward the late senator are "well known," adding that it's "silly" to consider firing anyone over the request.

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By Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney defended the administration’s advance team for asking the Navy to obscure the USS John McCain during the president’s recent state visit to Japan, arguing the request was not “unreasonable.”

Appearing on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Mulvaney said that “it was probably someone on the advance team” in the White House who was responsible, adding that the unidentified staffer who requested to hide the ship, named for the grandfather of the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, would not be fired.

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"The fact that some 23, 24-year-old person on the advance team went to that site and said, 'oh my goodness, here's the John McCain, we all know how the president feels about the former senator, maybe that's not the best backdrop, can somebody look into moving it?' That's not an unreasonable thing," Mulvaney said.

"The president's feeling towards the former senator are well known. They are well known throughout the office, they are well known in the media, but to think you're gonna get fired over this is silly."

The episode was sparked by a Wall Street Journal report detailing an effort to keep the ship out of sight during Trump's visit to Japan because of his frosty relationship with the late senator.

Trump initially drew the ire of Republicans by chiding McCain's past as a prisoner of war during the 2016 presidential campaign and has blasted the late senator, including in the months since his death, for his decision to vote against the GOP's health care bill in 2017. Before his death, McCain was one of the few Republican lawmakers who criticized Trump in public.

Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, a Navy spokesman, confirmed in a statement that "a request was made to the "U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President's visit."

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan asked his staff to "look into the matter" on Friday.