President Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out at Republican Sen. John McCain, accusing the veteran of emboldening the enemy for disputing the administration's insistence that the deadly U.S. military mission in Yemen was a success.
Trump took to Twitter to assail the chairman of the Armed Services Committee after the Arizona lawmaker initially called last month's raid a "failure." McCain softened his stand in a statement Tuesday in which he said that while many objectives of the raid were met, "I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success."
"Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media," Trump said over several tweets. "Only emboldens the enemy! He's been losing so ... long he doesn't know how to win anymore."
The raid was supposed to be an intelligence gathering mission but turned into a lengthy battle with al-Qaida fighters in which a Navy SEAL, Ryan Owens, was killed, a $75 million aircraft was lost and there were multiple casualties, including women and children.
"Our hero ... Ryan died on a winning mission (according to General Mattis), not a 'failure.' Time for the U.S. to get smart and start winning again!" Trump tweeted. Retired Gen. Jim Mattis is Trump's secretary of defense.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer has called the raid "absolutely a success."
McCain, who spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has not been shy about criticizing Trump, especially over his accommodating attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and his controversial order suspending all immigration for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, including Yemen, for 90 days.
But on Thursday, McCain was not eager to respond to Trump's latest missives.
"I have my responsibilities on the Armed Services Committee and we just had a hearing where the general in charge of Afghanistan says we're not winning. We're in a stalemate. That's where I'm focusing my efforts," he said. "I just have to do my job."
But his daughter, Meghan McCain, showed no reluctance to answer the president.
"Trump has never served. My father can't bend one of his knees or lift one of his arms above his head. I am done with this today. DONE," she tweeted.
McCain, 80, cruised to a sixth Senate term in November, defeating a Democratic challenger who hounded the senator for standing by Trump even after the billionaire businessman insulted him as a "loser" and appeared to question whether he is a war hero.
Trump, who received draft deferments during the Vietnam era, also said there was nothing heroic about McCain's military record after he was shot down during the war.
McCain dropped his support for Trump in early October after a 2005 recording surfaced in which Trump boasted about groping women. The move led to an outcry from conservative voters firmly behind Trump. McCain has sought to limit his public criticism of Trump to policy differences but often struggles to hide his exasperation when encountering reporters in the corridors of the Capitol.