From left to right, former representative of South Carolina Bakari Sellers, CNN host Chris Cuomo, and former senator of Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.

  • President Donald Trump's mixed reaction to Senator John McCain's death fuelled a heated CNN debate on Monday night.
  • Lawmakers from both political parties rebuked the president for the way he handled McCain’s passing, which included criticism over the lowering of flags at the White House

President Donald Trump's mixed reaction to the death of Senator John McCain fuelled a CNN debate on Monday night, during which panellists took verbal shots at each other over the proper way to honour the longtime senator and Vietnam War veteran who died on Saturday after a long battle with brain cancer.

A discussion between former Democratic South Carolina representative Bakari Sellers, CNN host Chris Cuomo, and former Republican Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, went off the rails as they examined Trump's action and inaction in the first 48 hours after McCain's death.

The CNN panelists on Monday night acknowledged McCain's sacrifices to his country, but Santorum insisted that Trump's response was not relevant to the public discourse.

"I just don't think it does anything to the memory of John McCain to use him as a cudgel to beat up the president at this point," Santorum said. "Let's focus on the man and what he did, and his life — but the media seems to have this fascination to try to use the death of John McCain to further betlittle and beat up Donald Trump."

Cuomo asked, jokingly: "You think we need this to find reasons to criticise him?

Sellers said of Trump's behaviour around McCain's passing:

"I think what we're seeing right now is that Donald Trump has turned this Republican Party into one of cowardice," accusing Santorum of trying to "contort themselves into pretzels" in order to defend Trump.

Sellers continued: "You have a president this week who did not stand up and show the best of what we can be."

"You don't have to cow-tow like Rick's doing right now on TV and make excuses for a president who does not deserve excuses," Sellers said.

Santorum fired back with a reference to Cuomo's older brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was chastised after claiming America "was never that great" during a speech on Wednesday.

Governor Cuomo's earlier remarks, which were made during a bill-signing ceremony in New York City last week, drew some sharp response. He later walked back the comment. Here's the full quote, via The Washington Post:

"We're not going to make America great again; it was never that great. We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged."

On his CNN interview on Monday night, Santorum said Cuomo's comments amounted to an indictment of America. He "doesn't think America is exceptional, that America is a deeply flawed country," Santorum said.

"You're so petty," Sellers said, shaking his head.

The CNN host Chris Cuomo jumped in: "Come on, don't play cheap," he said. "You talk about my brother ... you can't do better than that? I'll give you a hundred things about my brother that are true that are much worse than that."

Amid all the bickering, Sellers sought to bring the focus back to the late Arizona senator: "I will just say this, John McCain deserves a better dialogue than what we're having right now."

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