The tweet did not acknowledge McCain's service, and the Instagram image Trump posted featured himself but not the late senator

By Maura Hohman
August 27, 2018 02:39 PM

The Trump White House prepared a statement to pay tribute to Sen. John McCain, who died Saturday at 81 from stage-four brain cancer, but President Donald Trump decided not to release it, opting to tweet instead, The Washington Post reports.

The official statement reportedly went through internal approvals and was supposed to be sent out when the news of Sen. McCain’s death broke, a source told CNN. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Chief of Staff John Kelly and other officials reportedly wanted a statement to call Sen. McCain a hero for his service in the Vietnam War and time in the Senate, according to the Post. (The White House did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.)

President Trump’s tweet contained no references to Sen. McCain’s life and was directed at his grieving family. “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain,” the president wrote. “Our hearts and prayers are with you!”

The 45th commander in chief also posted an Instagram to honor the late six-term senator. The image — with the text of Trump’s tweet placed over it — features the president but not Sen. McCain.

The presidential precedent for responding to the death of impactful Americans has been to release statements honoring their lives, the Post notes. In fact, many members of the president’s cabinet, including Vice President Mike Pence, and former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush did just that. First lady Melania Trump also thanked Sen. McCain for his service.

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee and President Trump had a famously tense relationship. In July 2015, then-candidate Trump said Sen. McCain was “not a war hero” because he “[likes] people that weren’t captured.”

McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years. The former Navy pilot previously told PEOPLE he survived thanks to his “faith in God, faith in my fellow prisoners and faith in my country.”

Sen. John McCain
| Credit: AFP/Getty

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After the 2016 election, Sen. McCain became one of the president’s most staunch critics on the right. In July, when Trump convened with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Sen. McCain said of the summit, “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”

Sen. McCain described Trump and Putin’s press conference in Helsinki as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

On Friday, when Sen. McCain’s family announced that he would be stopping treatment for his condition, Trump did not comment, and now Trump is facing criticism for not keeping White House flags at half-staff for the Arizona Republican.

The White House lowered its flags to half-staff on Saturday night and had raised them to full-staff by Monday morning, according to the Post. Senate leaders have requested that American flags at government buildings remain at half-staff to honor McCain.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “the flag is to be flown at half-staff … on the day and day after the death of a United States senator, representative,” or other leaders. However, in order to keep the White House flags at half-staff in honor of Sen. McCain longer, Trump would need to issue a proclamation, which he has not done. (The White House did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)

Trump’s lack of action breaks with precedent. When Sen. Ted Kennedy died in 2009 and Sen. Daniel Inouye died in 2012, former President Obama asked in both cases that flags remain at half-staff “until sunset on the day of his interment,” which has not yet arrived for Sen. McCain, NBC News noted.

Sen. John McCain and Former President Barack Obama
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty

According to reports from earlier this year, President Trump is not expected to attend McCain’s funeral. However, McCain family sources tell PEOPLE Sen. McCain did not prohibit Trump from attending his funeral.

There will be four separate memorials and services honoring McCain’s life — two in Arizona and two in the nation’s capital — and he will be buried in the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland, on Sept. 1.

Sen. John McCain
| Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP

Before his death, Sen. McCain asked that former presidents Obama and George W. Bush speak at his funeral, and Obama and Bush have already been requested to offer eulogies. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden will speak at an Arizona service in Sen. McCain’s honor.