"Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run special operations and ground missions against suspected terrorists in the wake of the recent raid there that claimed so many civilian lives," NBC News' Kristen Welker asked Spicer during his daily press briefing. "Do you stand by your assessment that it is a success?"
"It's absolutely a success, and I think anyone that would suggest it's not a success does a disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens," Spicer replied.
"But even Senator John McCain—" Welker began.
"I understand that. I think my statement's very clear on that," Spicer said. "I think anybody who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and ... [it's] a disservice to the life of Chief Owens."
"So you're saying that Senator John McCain owes him an apology?" Welker asked.
"Let me finish. The raid, the action that was taken in Yemen was a huge success," Spicer said. "The life of Chief Ryan Owens was done in service to this country and we owe him and his family a great debt for the information that we received during that raid. I think any suggestion otherwise is a disservice to his courageous life and the actions he took, full stop."
"Is that your message to Senator John McCain?" Welker pressed. "He's called it a failure."
"That's my message to anybody who says that, anybody," Spicer said. "I don't know how much more clearer I can be."
Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens died Jan. 28 of wounds sustained during a raid on an al-Qaida base in Yemen. President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base last week to meet Owens' remains.
"While many of the objectives of the recent raid in Yemen were met, I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrote in a statement obtained by TPM. "Going forward, I am confident that our military will act on lessons learned from this operation."
McCain said Wednesday afternoon that his comments on the mission were not a criticism of the operatives who took part, and cited a failed rescue mission from his own experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes," he said, as quoted by NBC News. "Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story."