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Donald Trump called Sen. John McCain a "nice man" but did not retract his comments from last summer that McCain was "not a war hero" because he was captured

McCain criticized Trump in a Senate floor speech for saying that waterboarding should be revived

Washington CNN  — 

Donald Trump is no longer questioning Sen. John McCain’s credentials as a war hero, but he is still hitting the 2008 Republican nominee for his handling of veterans issues.

“John McCain is a nice man. I like John McCain. But he has not been effective in taking care of the Veterans Administration. The veterans are absolutely in a bad way, they’re being treated worse in many cases than illegal immigrants that come over our borders,” Trump said Tuesday in a phone call to Fox News.

Trump said last summer that McCain “was not a war hero” because he was captured and later refused to apologize for the comment. Asked again about the comment Tuesday, Trump did not reverse his position, but he did soften his tone, praising McCain personally and limiting his criticism of the Arizona senator to his handling of veterans issues.

McCain, who was tortured while being held captive during the Vietnam War, criticized Trump on Monday after the Republican candidate said he would revive waterboarding.

“It’s been so disappointing to see some presidential candidates engaged in loose talk on the campaign trail about reviving waterboarding and other inhumane interrogation techniques,” McCain said in a Senate floor speech. “It might be easy to dismiss this bluster as cheap campaign rhetoric, but these statements must not go unanswered.”

Trump said Saturday night during the eighth Republican debate that he would support bringing back waterboarding of suspected terrorists and “worse” – but he has not specified what he would support beyond waterboarding.

“As far as John McCain is concerned, when you say we can’t waterboard but they can chop off the heads of Christians and they can chop off the heads of everybody in the Middle East as far as they want, I think that’s pretty bad,” Trump said on Fox News Tuesday. “So I said I’m totally in favor of waterboarding. Waterboarding is peanuts compared to chopping off heads.”