WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump this weekend hailed the “unyielding and devout allegiance” of American prisoners of war, less than two years after he sparked a firestorm by questioning the heroism of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a Vietnam War POW.
Trump the candidate drew criticism in July 2015 when he said of McCain’s war service, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
But on Friday Trump the president signed a proclamation declaring Sunday as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, a day for “honoring the service and sacrifice of all our former prisoners of war and to express our nation’s eternal gratitude for their sacrifice.”
McCain – who responded to the 2015 swipe by saying Trump should apologize to all POWs and their families – did not respond to a request for comment Monday on the president’s apparent about-face.
In a statement Monday, the White House said simply that the POW proclamation “speaks for itself” and shows the president’s support for veterans.
Some veterans welcomed the proclamation and said it’s time to move past the rhetoric of the campaign, but others were not as ready to let it go.
Tucson resident Nate Terani, who spent nine years in the military between the Navy and the Air National Guard, said the presidential proclamation does not change the “abhorrent” comments Trump made about McCain, comments Terani called “hurtful, shameful and un-
Terani, a spokesman for Common Defense, a veterans’ progressive action group, said Trump’s comments showed that he “fundamentally does not grasp what military service requires.”
But Scottsdale resident Randy Deines welcomed the proclamation.
Deines, the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3513, said he was bothered by Trump’s remarks toward McCain but that he is “a big Trump supporter” and was happy to see the president recognizing POWs.
The American Legion defended McCain and other POWs in 2015, saying “there can be no argument” that they are heroes. But it made no mention of the 2015 comments Monday when it issued a statement applauding the president’s proclamation.
James Carafano, vice president of foreign and domestic studies at the Heritage Foundation, said comments Trump made about McCain during the campaign are “largely irrelevant” to his behavior as president.
“It’s hard to think that somehow he doesn’t value the military, doesn’t value veterans, doesn’t value POWs,” Carafano said. “So if people want to obsess about campaign rhetoric, they can do that.”
Carafano, a 25-year veteran of the Army, said he has not heard any concerns from veterans about whether or not Trump supported them. He said the president showed “serious commitment” to serving veterans, citing the time and effort Trump spent in selecting Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
“If there’s concern out there, I haven’t seen it,” Carafano said.
Terani disagreed, saying that the veterans, military families and supporters who make up Common Defense were “taken aback by the appalling comments” Trump made on the campaign trail.
He said that if Trump really supported veterans, he would not be targeting programs that many rely on, like Meals on Wheels, in his proposed budget.
“His words simply are not enough,” Terani said.
But one political analyst said he did not expect Trump’s apparent turnabout with the proclamation to have any more of an impact on him this his original comments did.
“If hypocrisy was Donald Trump’s kryptonite, he wouldn’t have been elected president of the United States,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of political analysis website Inside Elections, in an email.