White House aide Kelly Sadler responded to Sen. John McCain's opposition to President Donald Trump's pick for CIA director by saying Thursday morning that "he's dying anyway," a White House official told CNN.
The official said Sadler, who is in charge of surrogate communications, meant it as a joke, "but it fell flat."
McCain announced last year that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and he issued a statement Wednesday calling on his fellow senators to oppose Gina Haspel, Trump's nominee for CIA director, whose ties to the use of interrogation methods widely considered torture have drawn significant criticism.
Asked about Sadler's comment, a White House official said, "We respect Senator McCain's service to our nation, and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time."
Sadler called the senator's daughter Meghan McCain on Thursday to apologize for the remark, a source close to the situation told CNN, although it's unclear what her response was.
The Hill first reported on Sadler's remark.
McCain called Haspel a "patriot" in his statement in Wednesday but referenced her record and testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee to implore the Senate to vote down her nomination.
"Ms. Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing," McCain's statement read. "Her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination."
Haspel said in a statement Thursday evening that she has the "utmost respect" for McCain.
"I have the utmost respect for Senator McCain, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which he has approached this nomination process."
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend of John McCain, said of the White House aide's comment, "Ms. Sadler, may I remind you that John McCain has a lot of friends in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. Nobody is laughing in the Senate."
Sadler's remark about the Arizona Republican echoed Trump's remark at the outset of his campaign for president, when he mocked McCain's time as a prisoner of war by saying, "I like people that weren't captured."
The divide between the two came up again last summer, when McCain traveled to Washington as the Senate considered a repeal of Obamacare and offered a thumbs down to help sink the effort.