The Slatest

Senate Republicans Didn’t Confront Trump Over His Staffer’s McCain Joke. That’s Fine.

President Trump leaves the Senate Republican lunch.
President Trump leaves the Senate Republican lunch.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump popped into Senate Republicans’ caucus lunch Tuesday and proceeded to talk at them for roughly 45 minutes, with few interruptions. The president was loose, touching on everything from midterms to the economy to trade to health care. He was “really quite funny,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said afterward. Several senators declined to share these uproarious zingers, but Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy insisted the lines were all “clean.” (A bunch of dirty jokes should leak in in the next few hours.)

By the time Trump’s monologue was complete, only a couple of senators had time to pose questions. Neither of those questions, nor any of the monologue, involved confronting the president over his aide Kelly Sadler’s joke about “dying” Sen. John McCain, a remark that leaked from a White House staff meeting and is now in its sixth day of dominating the news cycle in a very busy world. Though Sadler has apologized to the McCain family in private, she has not issued a public apology, and neither has the White House. Maybe members of the Senate Republican caucus, who are always rarin’ to confront the Trump White House over its moral lapses, might do the trick? Yeah, no.

And that’s just fine.

For those who do believe that a White House staffer making such a joke about McCain without publicly apologizing afterward is a grave offense that merits this much coverage, there’s no use pressing it anymore. The White House has given its answer—it is not apologizing—and yet the question keeps being asked, as though something might change. Even if it did change, a public apology at this point would not be sincere, so it won’t matter. If the lack of a public apology would make someone judge this administration in a new light, they should make that judgment now, because all of the information is in. For most people, though, the White House’s handling of the issue likely reinforced whatever prior opinion they had about the Trump administration.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent presidential critic, was one of the many senators who was asked after the lunch why none of his colleagues brought up the McCain comment. “The notion that he’s going to change anything or say anything different, I just don’t see it,” Flake told a reporter from NBC News. “I mean, they’re not apologizing.” Bingo. There’s no use or public interest served by trying to force an apology from those unwilling to offer one.

What is more interesting about the lunch is that the senators didn’t seem to press the president on much of anything, including those issues that matter greatly to the broader public. They probably view it as better to work the president in confidence rather than confront him in a meeting, details of which would certainly leak and cause a scene. Yet when the president talked about trade or what’s going on with his threat to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement—the fear of all fears among the Senate Republican caucus—he neither solicited nor got much feedback. They didn’t press him about his weird hyping of a Chinese company. According to Sen. John Kennedy, the president said he would have a health care announcement coming in a few weeks, but he didn’t say what. The president said things were going great with North Korea, and everywhere. He insisted he wanted his border wall but didn’t give any guidance about how they might secure that. Eh, details, details. For lunch, they enjoyed the president’s jokes, and moved past his staffers’ leaked ones.