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Report: White House wanted warship named for John McCain "out of sight" in Japan

USS John McCain
USS John S. McCain after an August 2017 collision. Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

The White House reportedly requested that the U.S. Navy move the warship — named USS John S. McCain for the late senator — "out of sight" during President Trump's state visit to Japan over Memorial Day weekend, per an email obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line: It's unclear why the White House wanted the ship to be moved "out of sight," but WSJ reports that the directive resulted from conversations between the White House Military Office and the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. Navy. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was aware of the concern "and approved measures to ensure it didn't interfere with the president's visit."

Details: The warship is in the thick of extensive repairs following a 2017 collision. The restoration process normally would have made it difficult to move the ship, but following the White House directive, the Navy covered the ship with a tarp before relocating it, per WSJ. Sailors aboard the ship — who often wear hats donning its name — reportedly received the day off during Trump's visit.

  • A senior White House official confirmed on Wednesday that the decision did not involve the president, "but the request was made to keep Trump from becoming upset," per the Washington Post.

Context: McCain was one of the few Republican senators to publicly challenge Trump, most memorably by voting against the repeal of Obamacare. Since McCain died in August 2018, Trump has repeatedly attacked the senator.

What they're saying:

  • Trump went on to call the direction to obscure the Navy warship "well-meaning," on Thursday morning saying, "I don't know what happened. I was not involved. I would not have done that," per the Post. He also confirmed that he "was not a big fan of John McCain."
  • Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, chief of Navy information, said, "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...There were also no intentional efforts to explicitly exclude Sailors assigned to USS John S. McCain."
  • McCain's daughter and "The View" co-host Meghan McCain tweeted Wednesday evening, "Trump is a child who will always be deeply threatened by the greatness of my dads incredible life. There is a lot of criticism of how much I speak about my dad, but nine months since he passed, Trump won't let him RIP. So I have to stand up for him. It makes my grief unbearable."
  • Shanahan stressed that he neither authorized nor knew about the White House request, saying on Thursday morning: "What I read this morning was the first I heard about it,” per the Daily Beast. He added: "I would never dishonor the memory of a great American patriot like Senator McCain... I'd never disrespect the young men and women who crew that ship.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the responses of President Trump, Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Meghan McCain.