McCain called on us to be 'bigger than politics of fear,' Obama says

John McCain funeral: Former US presidents, senators, Vietnam-era officials pay tribute


Former US president Barack Obama has honoured John McCain as “a warrior, a statesman, a patriot who embodied so much that is best in America” as he led tributes to the late US senator at a funeral service in Washington.

Mr Obama, who along with former president George W Bush, had been asked by Mr McCain before his death to speak at his funeral, said that Mr McCain had made both men “better presidents.”

“President Bush and I are among the fortunate few who competed against John at the highest level of politics. He made us better presidents, just as he made the Senate better just as he made this country better.”

Mr Obama said that Mr McCain understood that membership of the American nation was based “not on our bloodline, not what we look like, what our last names are… or how recently they arrived, but on their adherence to a common freedom. That all of us are created equal.”

In an implicit reference to the current administration, he said: “So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insults, phony controversies, manufactured outrage. It is a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that, he called on us to be better than that.”

“On the surface, John and I could not have been more different,” he said, noting their different family backgrounds, temperament and politics. But he said: “We never doubted the other man’s sincerity, or the other man’s patriotism — that when all was said and done we were on the same team.”

Referencing the incident during a presidential debate when Mr McCain stepped in to defend Mr Obama when one of his supporters described him as “an arab,” Mr Obama said that he believed his opponent was defending, not just him, but the idea of America.

He disclosed that, during his presidency, McCain would visit him in the White House where they would sit and talk in the Oval Office.

Earlier, former president George W Bush, McCain’s rival in the 2000 presidential nomination contest, said that the “world is much smaller for his departure.”

“Some lives are so vivid, it’s difficult to imagine them ended,” he said.

Among the mourners at the funeral in Washington National Cathedral was Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, and White House chief of staff John Kelly. Three former presidents and their spouses – president Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton – sat in the front row of the cathedral.

President Trump, who was not invited to the service, left the White House while the funeral service was taking place and travelled to his golf course in Virginia. He tweeted about the Nafta trade deal during the service.

In an often politically-charged service, the late senator’s daughter Meghan McCain delivered a powerful speech.

“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” she said in a veiled reference to president Trump. “We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”

Independent senator Joe Lieberman appealed to the spirit of bipartisanship epitomised by John McCain.

He said that his decision to travel back to Washington last summer while he was receiving cancer treatment and vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act last year, was a vote, not against the policy, but against the partisanship that has inflected the US Congress.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said that McCain had weighed heavily on his mind during negotiations to end the Vietnam War, describing how on his release he simply said “thank you for saving my life,” without revealing that he had had the opportunity to be released years earlier but had refused.

Mr McCain had been “guided by core principles for which American foreign policy must always stand, with liberty and justice for all is not an empty sentiment he argued. It is the foundation of our national consciousness.”

Noting his “instinctive sense of moral duty,” he said: “John McCain’s name became synonymous with an America that reached out,” he said.

Earlier, the cortege carrying Mr McCain’s body, left the US Capitol and stopped by the Vietnam War Memorial near the White House, where Mr McCain’s wife Cindy left a wreath in honour of her husband.

He will be buried at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Sunday.

In Congress, Mr McCain was a leading voice for revamping the country’s immigration, campaign finance and environmental laws. But it was his military service, punctuated by years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, that moulded Mr McCain’s political life.

Mr McCain, who rose to the rank of captain in the US Navy, was shot down over Hanoi while on a bombing mission in 1967.

Held as a prisoner until 1973, Mr McCain was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors in a jail that Americans dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Pallbearers for Saturday’s service reflect the eclectic political company Mr McCain kept, which helped him earn the reputation of a maverick willing to work with the other side of the aisle.

They include Hollywood actor and liberal political activist Warren Beatty, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, liberal former Senator Russ Feingold who crafted landmark campaign finance legislation with Mr McCain, and former Senator Gary Hart, a Democrat who like Mr McCain ran unsuccessfully for president.