Sen. McCain declines to label Trump as a draft dodger

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. John McCain declined to label President Donald Trump a “draft dodger” Monday even as he renewed his veiled criticism of medical deferments that kept Trump from serving in the Vietnam War.

“I don’t consider him so much a draft dodger as I feel that the system was so wrong that certain Americans could evade their responsibilities to serve the country,” McCain said on ABC’s “The View.” McCain, a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war, was being pressed about comments in a C-SPAN interview aired Sunday where he lamented that the military “drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say they had a bone spur.”

One of Trump’s five draft deferments came as a result of a physician’s letter stating he suffered from bone spurs in his feet. Trump’s presidential campaign described the issue as a temporary problem.

McCain, meanwhile, spent 5¢ years as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. Yet during last year’s presidential campaign Trump said McCain was not a war hero because “I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain left little doubt during Monday’s interview that he had been referring to Trump in his C-SPAN comments. When one of the hosts remarked that people thought he was talking about Trump because the president had sought a medical deferment, McCain interjected, “More than once, yes.”

McCain was asked to describe his relationship with the president. “Almost none” he simply said.

The six-term Arizona lawmaker, battling brain cancer at age 81, made his appearance on The View in honor of his daughter Meghan McCain’s birthday. She recently joined the daytime talk show as one of its panel of co-hosts.

The White House has declined to comment on McCain’s remarks on C-SPAN.

The tacit criticism from McCain reflected the ongoing tension between Trump and McCain, which began during last year’s campaign and has flared on and off. Trump responded furiously when McCain’s “no” vote sunk Senate efforts to repeal and replace “Obamacare” earlier this year.

And last week, in a speech in Philadelphia, McCain questioned “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in America’s foreign policy. Trump lashed out, insisting he would fight back and “it won’t be pretty.”

That prompted McCain to retort: “I have faced tougher adversaries.”

The senator burst into sustained laughter on Monday when one of the hosts mentioned Trump’s threats and asked McCain, “Are you scared?”

After he stopped laughing, McCain said, “I mentioned that I have faced greater challenges.”

“Let’s stop insulting each other. Let’s start respecting each other,” McCain recommended.

The back-and-forth between the president and McCain stands as the latest skirmish between the two Republican Party heavyweights and another example of Trump tangling with GOP senators who could make or break his agenda in Congress.