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White House can't stop controversy over staffer's John McCain comment

The White House hoped Monday to put to rest a five-day controversy over a crass remark about Sen. John McCain. But th...

Posted: May 15, 2018 5:18 AM
Updated: May 15, 2018 5:18 AM

The White House hoped Monday to put to rest a five-day controversy over a crass remark about Sen. John McCain. But the matter seemed poised to continue festering as the staffer in question, Kelly Sadler, declined to offer a public apology for saying the Arizona Republican is "dying anyway."

Instead, deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Sadler's remark -- made last week during an internal staff meeting -- had been "dealt with internally" and wouldn't comment further.

Over the weekend, a number of Republican lawmakers and officials expressed puzzlement at how the White House could allow Sadler's remark to go without a public apology.

In a phone call last week, Sadler called the senator's daughter Meghan McCain to apologize. In that conversation, Sadler indicated she would issue a public apology as well, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

But such a public acknowledgment of regret hasn't yet come forward, spurring the story into another week.

"This is an internal matter. It's being addressed internally and I don't have anything further to add," Shah told reporters at Monday's press briefing. He added later that Sadler remains a White House employee, and that she had come to work on Monday.

Political figures have condemned the remark, including many Republicans. Speaking Sunday on CBS, Sen. Lindsey Graham -- a South Carolina Republican who's a close friend to McCain -- said he wanted someone in the White House to denounce the remark publicly.

"If it was a joke, it was a terrible joke. I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate, that's not who we are in the Trump administration," he said on "Face the Nation."

Meghan McCain addressed the remark again during Monday's "The View" on ABC, where she is a host.

"People are going to have to answer for their own conscience," she said.

Inside the White House, blame has been cast on the person who leaked the comment rather than on Sadler herself. On Sunday, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney told Fox News it was a "badly considered joke that she said fell flat," and he bemoaned whoever leaked the internal conversation.

Shah echoed those gripes on Monday, saying it was unfortunate that staffers can't feel comfortable speaking their minds.

"If you aren't able in internal meetings to speak your mind, or convey thoughts, or say anything that you feel without feeling like your colleagues will betray you, that creates a very difficult work environment," he said. "I think anyone who works anywhere would recognize that."

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