(CBS News) — Before President Trump holds his Fourth of July “Salute to America” celebration on the National Mall — complete with tanks and military aircraft flying overhead — a veterans group will hand out thousands of T-shirts to the crowd featuring the USS John McCain. The ship shares a name with one of the president’s arch political rivals, the Vietnam War POW turned longtime Republican senator who died last year.
VoteVets, a liberal advocacy group founded by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, said it plans to distribute the USS McCain shirts on the National Mall ahead of Mr. Trump’s holiday event. Before that, they will also give the shirts to members of Congress. The group said it has raised enough money to make 5,000 McCain shirts.
“Today, we learned the news that Donald Trump is turning the national 4th of July celebration into a 2020 campaign event, complete with a ticketed VIP section for friends and supporters,” VoteVets said in an email Sunday. “That’s not what America is about.”
Rags of Honor, a company that employs homeless veterans, is making the shirts.
The shirts show the USS John McCain — a Navy destroyer named after McCain, his father and grandfather, who all served in the Navy — along with the words “Big Bad John.” In May, a brief controversy erupted when officers were told to keep the USS John McCain out of Mr. Trump’s sight during a Memorial Day visit to Japan because of the president’s disdain for the late Arizona senator.
Mr. Trump started feuding with McCain in the first weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, after saying that McCain — who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — was not a war hero because he was “captured.” The president has continued disparaging McCain even months after his death in August 2018. While speaking to pro-military tank plant workers in March, Mr. Trump said he “wasn’t a fan” of McCain and didn’t get thanked for giving McCain “the kind of funeral that he wanted.”