The nation is bidding a final, public farewell to Arizona Senator John McCain with a funeral Saturday at Washington National Cathedral that will feature eulogies from the two men who delivered his biggest political defeats, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Former President Bill Clinton and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were among the thousands of relatives, friends, members of Congress and staff, and other U.S. and international leaders who filed into the cathedral to remember and mourn the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, irascible lawmaker, and courageous prisoner of war.
President Donald Trump won’t be in attendance, which the New York Times reported was at McCain’s request — a contrast with the theme of reconciliation demonstrated by the addresses from Bush, who defeated McCain for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, and Obama, his chief rival in the 2008 presidential race. However, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, both White House advisers, were among those in attendance. The Trump administration was also represented by National Security Adviser John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others.
The funeral was preceded by a honors Friday at the Capitol Rotunda. Vice President Mike Pence represented the executive branch at that ceremony.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we will ever remember John McCain served his country, and John McCain served his country honorably,” the vice president said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called McCain, who spent 5 1/2 years in captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, “one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced.”
McCain died Aug. 25 at age 81 after a battle with brain cancer. He will be laid to rest Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he graduated in 1958, after a private service at the academy’s chapel.
Trump’s absence from the service will be conspicuous. It means that a ceremony for a senator known for working across the political aisle won’t, at least entirely, provide an occasion for the nation to briefly put aside its divisions.
The animosity between McCain and Trump had been mutual, and they clashed repeatedly. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump — who received draft deferments during the Vietnam war — disparaged McCain’s POW status, saying he preferred people who were not captured. The president has since repeatedly criticized McCain for not providing the last vote needed in the Senate to repeal Obamacare last year.
This week, after McCain’s death, the American flag at the White House was lowered to half-staff and then raised to full position after a little over a day. Trump agreed to return it to half-staff only after a barrage of criticism.
“I disagreed with many of the things that I assume he believed in. With that being said, I respect his service to the country,” Trump said in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg News.
McCain frequently acknowledged his own temper in his writings. During Friday’s ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “He would fight tooth and nail for his vision of the common good. Depending on the issue, you knew John would either be your staunchest ally or your most stubborn opponent.”
Trump isn’t the first president to be absent from a funeral for a prominent American. Obama didn’t attend a Catholic service in 2016 in Washington for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Before McCain’s casket arrived at the National Cathedral, the former Navy pilot is to pay respects one last time, in death, to lives lost during the Vietnam War.
The motorcade carrying McCain’s body from the U.S. Capitol paused at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where his widow, Cindy McCain, was to place a ceremonial wreath. She is viewed as a potential choice to be appointed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to serve as an interim successor to her husband until a special election is held in 2020.
McCain is the 35th American to have the honor of lying in the Capitol Rotunda. McCain served since 1983 in the U.S. House and Senate, including being elected to six Senate terms and rising to be a senior voice on defense and foreign policy. The funeral is to be live-streamed on McCain’s Senate website.
Since Congress approved the National Cathedral’s charter in 1893, it has been the location for funerals or memorial services for almost all U.S. presidents as well as other prominent Americans, including astronaut Neil Armstrong in 2012 and newspaperman Ben Bradlee in 2014. The last farewell held there for a U.S. senator was in 2012 for Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
In addition to Bush and Obama, a number of other luminaries will speak at Saturday’s service, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who McCain had considered as a possible 2008 running mate. Meghan McCain, the eldest daughter of the senator and Cindy McCain, also will eulogize her father.
The pallbearers include former Vice President Joe Biden, actor and filmmaker Warren Beatty and former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who co-authored with McCain a 2002 campaign finance overhaul that was the late senator’s signature legislative achievement.
Michael R. Bloomberg, the owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP, also is a pallbearer, as is former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, another potential 2008 running mate McCain considered before deciding on then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, as well as Fred Smith, founder and chief executive officers of FedEx Corp.
On Friday, thousands of people waited for hours in the heat outside the Capitol to pay their respects to McCain. The line snaked through barricades on a street near the entrance. Many stood with umbrellas to shield them from the sun.
In the Capitol this week, McCain was lauded by colleagues in both parties. They heralded the legacy of a lawmaker who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services and Commerce committees, and who struggled to guard the institution from increasing partisanship.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, reflected on his work with McCain on bipartisan initiatives including Senate passage in 2013 of an immigration-law overhaul, which the House never took up, and a successful effort more than a decade ago to end a partisan standoff over judicial confirmations.
“He believed in the Senate’s ability to make progress. To set aside, for a moment, our party affiliations, political interests and personal ambitions in the service of a larger cause,” Schumer said.
The senator’s closest friend in the chamber, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said McCain made one of his biggest marks by speaking out against a too-rapid pullout of troops after the Iraq war, and by championing the broader needs of the military.
“To those who accused him of wanting endless wars, you have no idea what you were talking about,” Graham said. “He wanted sustainable peace and understood the consequences of not seeing it through. The soldiers adored him.”
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