Trump Criticized for White House Flag at Full Mast Only Two Days After McCain's Death, What Is the Code?

On Monday morning, the U.S. flags flying at the White House were raised to full-staff after they had been lowered to half-staff over the weekend to honor Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday. The quick return of the flags to full-staff has shocked some and raised questions about what it signals. Was it a sign of President Donald Trump’s thoughts on McCain, with whom he has famously feuded, or was it the White House following flag protocol?

United States Flag Code dictates where, when and how the flag should be displayed. To be in accordance with the code, when a flag is set to be flown at half-staff, it first must be raised to the top of the flagpole and then lowered, not simply moved to the halfway mark.

Following the death of principal government figures, including senators, representatives and governors, the president can order the flag to be flown at half-staff as a mark of respect for their memory. The length of time the flag remains at half-staff depends on the person’s title. The code states:

  • President or former president: 30 days from the day of death
  • Vice president, chief justice, retired chief justice or speaker of the House of Representatives: 10 days from the day of death
  • Associate justice of the Supreme Court, secretary of an executive or military department, former vice president or governor: from the day of death until burial

For members of Congress, which the Flag Code defines as a senator, representative, delegate or the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico, the flag is to be flown at half-staff on the day of death and the following day.

McCain died on Saturday, and the flag was lowered to half-staff that day. The flag was returned to full-staff on Monday morning. Shortly before 4:00 p.m. EDT, the Associated Press tweeted that the flag at the White House had once again been lowered to half-staff.  In a presidential proclamation issued on Monday afternoon, Trump announced that flags would be lowered to half-staff until sunset on the day of McCain's internment as a mark of respect for his "memory and longstanding service." 

Some called the raising of the flag to full-staff a disgrace, while others pointed out that the flags at the Capitol remained at half-staff on Monday morning. 

While code dictates the flag to be flown at half-staff on a congressional member's day of death and the following day, some people noted that the tradition was to keep the flag at half-staff until the person was buried.

Following the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, President Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor, opted to not follow the code and announced that the flags would be lowered to half-staff for five days. Kennedy died on August 25, 2009, and Obama’s declaration kept flags at half-staff until August 30, 2009. 

trump half mast mccain death flag code The flag over the White House flies at half-staff after the death of Senator John McCain on August 26. The White House returned the flag to full-staff on Monday morning, in accordance with the flag code. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

McCain died just shy of his 82nd birthday after a battle with glioblastoma, a complex and aggressive form of brain cancer. Both he and Kennedy battled glioblastoma, and both died on the same day, August 25, nine years apart.

In a statement posted to Twitter, McCain’s daughter Meghan announced her father’s death and praised him for being an incredible dad for the 33 years they had together.

“All that I am is thanks to him,” she wrote. “Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations, and his love.”

Although her father is gone and the whole family grieves his loss, Meghan said “his flame lives on” in each and every one of them. Meghan concluded her statement with a message of her faith, saying she knew her father woke up to “something more glorious than anything on this earth.”

McCain will be buried in Annapolis, Maryland, on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, next Sunday, following him lying in state at the Arizona and U.S. Capitols. Both Obama and former President George W. Bush are set to eulogize the late senator. 

This story has been updated to include information from the Associated Press that the flag has been once again lowered to half-staff Monday afternoon and Trump's presidential proclamation. 

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