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After John McCain’s death, the White House flag flew at full mast

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
The White House, August 27, 2018.
  • Heather Timmons
By Heather Timmons

White House correspondent

This article is more than 2 years old.

Update Aug. 27 at 4:30 pm: The White House reversed course Monday afternoon, and will fly the flag at half-staff until McCain’s body is buried, the president said in a proclamation, as a “mark of respect for the memory and longstanding service.” Flags will be lowered on “all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels” until sunset on the day of McCain’s burial. 

The American flag atop the White House was flying on the top of its mast on Monday morning after the death of Arizona senator John McCain, putting the presidential residence at odds with many other federal buildings in the United States.

The senator died on Aug. 25, and American flags on the US Capitol Building and on other federal buildings are still flying at half-mast at time of writing. The flags in front of the US Capitol will fly at half mast until McCain “is buried,” an official in the Congressional flag office told Quartz.

Reuters/Joshua Roberts
Flags in front of the Washington Monument are lowered for Senator McCain’s death.

The White House lowered the flag briefly on August 26, after McCain’s death was announced.

White House staff also drafted a statement on McCain’s death that mentioned the Navy veteran’s long military service and referred to him as a “hero,” but Trump did not allow them to issue it, the Washington Post and CNN reported. Instead, Trump tweeted his “sympathies and respect” to McCain’s family, and posted the same quote on Instagram over a photo of himself.

During Trump’s political rise, he and McCain clashed repeatedly: Trump mocked McCain’s war hero status; McCain criticized the way Trump spoke about Gold Star military families and his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. McCain also torpedoed Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare with a dramatic thumbs-down gesture.

Flying the White House flag at full mast goes against earlier presidential protocol (after Senator Ted Kennedy’s death, the White House kept its flag at half-mast until he was buried, for example).

But it doesn’t run counter to written proclamations about how the flag should be flown. In 1954, president Dwight Eisenhower issued this presidential proclamation about flying the flag after the death of major political military figures:

The flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels of the Federal Government in the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia on the day of death and on the following day upon the death of a United States Senator, Representative, Territorial Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and it shall also be flown at half-staff on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels of the Federal Government in the State, Congressional District, Territory, or Commonwealth of such Senator, Representative, Delegate, or Commissioner, respectively, from the day of death until interment.

McCain will be buried at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, this coming weekend. His family requested that former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deliver eulogies at his funeral in Washington’s National Cathedral, the New York Times reports. Trump is not expected to attend.

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