Flag at half-staff for McCain at Statehouse

Flags fly at half-staff atop the S.C. Statehouse on Monday to honor the passing of Arizona Sen. John McCain. Flags at the White House were not lowered until Monday afternoon after a barrage of criticism directed at President Donald Trump. Andy Shain/Staff

What a confusing day for flags.

Flags over the South Carolina Statehouse were lowered Monday to honor the passing of Arizona Sen. John McCain while, for much of the day, they flew at full-staff at the White House.

Because President Donald Trump did not issue a flag order until late Monday, the confusion reached the South Carolina coast and beyond. A visitor from Kentucky reported that the Isle of Palms City Hall had a flag at full-staff while the flag on Sullivan’s Island was lowered.

The flag flap was a continuation of the bitter feud between McCain and Trump that started on the campaign trail and carried on into the capital where they disagreed on foreign policy and the direction of the Republican Party.

Their relationship deteriorated to the point that before he died from brain cancer Saturday at age 81, McCain's family requested that Trump not attend his funeral.

The fight did not extend to South Carolina's most prominent building.

Gov. Henry McMaster ordered lowering flags at the Statehouse on Sunday until McCain's burial, which is set for this weekend. State agencies usually follow the governor's lead.

McMaster lowered flags because of his respect for McCain's "service and sacrifice," his spokesman Brian Symmes said. McCain, who twice ran unsuccessfully for president, spent more than five years as a prisoner of war after being shot down in Vietnam.

But McMaster's Sunday announcement said "the President has issued a proclamation" to lower the flags. The governor mentioned the president when he ordered flags lowered because his office assumed a proclamation was coming, Symmes said.

Trump, however, did not issue the order for another day.

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The president did so on Monday afternoon after a deluge of criticism, including a plea from the American Legion veterans group, as flags were lowered in other parts of the nation's capital but not at the White House. The flag over the White House was at half-staff on Sunday.

Asked what the governor, a Trump ally, thought of the president's role in the flag dispute, Symmes said McMaster can control only what happens inside South Carolina.

Trump said Monday that he asked Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol and will have Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor John Bolton represent the administration at services.

McCain will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

"Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Sen. John McCain’s service to our country," Trump said in a statement.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.