U.S. Senator John McCain and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake speak to reporters after attending a "Conversation On Immigration" during a town hall event in Mesa,...
Joshua Lott/Reuters

Was Trump’s ‘far-less-green pastures’ line directed at McCain?

Updated

In the wake of John McCain’s passing last summer, Donald Trump has gone to surprising lengths to mock and condemn the late Arizona senator. What the president has not done, however, is say he’s glad McCain is gone.

It was against this backdrop that Trump spoke this morning at a Faith and Freedom Coalition event – a prominent annual gathering for the religious right movement – and went a little off-script. In context, the Republican was talking about a fight to pass an immigration-reform package in the last Congress, at which point Trump said the following:

“[E]ven when we had both houses, where we had Congress, where we have the Senate and we had wonderful congressman, we had the House of Representatives and the Senate. But we didn’t have enough votes because it was very close. We needed 60 votes, and we had 51 votes. And sometimes, you know, they had a little hard time with a couple of them, right?

“Fortunately they’re gone now. They have gone on to greener pastures. Or perhaps far-less-green pastures. But they are gone. They are gone, Bill, I’m very happy they are gone.”

In this case, “Bill” was an apparent reference to former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, who introduced Trump at the event.

For the record, when the president said “we had 51 votes” for an immigration bill, it’s not altogether clear what he was referring to. In February 2015, the Senate took up several competing alternatives, but the only one that enjoyed the White House’s backing ended up with 39 votes, not 51.

But putting that aside, the idea that Trump is “very happy” that one or more senators are gone, perhaps to “far-less-green pastures,” raises a couple of possibilities.

The benign explanation is that the president was referring to former Republican senators like Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Arizona’s Jeff Flake, and Nevada’s Dean Heller, each of whom were occasionally a thorn in the White House’s side, and each of whom left Capitol Hill in January.

The more malevolent explanation is that Trump was celebrating John McCain’s death and suggesting the late senator ended up somewhere unpleasant.

I won’t guess about the president’s intended meaning, though it’s worth noting for context that Corker and Heller actually voted for Trump’s immigration plan, while Flake and Heller were replaced by new Democratic senators – something Trump probably shouldn’t be “very happy” about.