Washington — with one glaring exception — came together Friday to bid farewell to John McCain, including top pols from both parties, Hollywood glitterati and the senator’s family, including his feisty, 106-year-old mother.
It suddenly started to pour on an otherwise hot and sultry day as military members somberly carried his casket from a hearse into the Capitol at roughly 10:40 a.m. — only to abruptly taper off as he was carried into the building.
Attendees included former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, top GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, actors Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, Roberta McCain, the senator’s mother, his widow Cindy, their children and other relatives.
“Airing our great debates is a gentle way to describe how John approached the work of a senator,” said McConnell, who spoke first.
“I have long joked that his guards at the Hanoi Hilton probably needed group therapy after John was finished with them. Let’s say there were times when some of his Senate colleagues attempted to form a support group of our own,” he continued.
“He treated every issue with the intensity the people’s business deserved. 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,” the Senate majority leader added.
“He had America’s fighting spirit, our noble idealism, our solemn patriotism and our slightly irreverent streak all rolled into one. I will miss a dear friend whose smile reminded us that service is a privilege and whose scars reminded us of the great cost that brave souls pay for our freedom.”
Vice President Pence spoke next, and hailed the man his boss relished denigrating.
“We gather here today to honor an American Patriot who served a cause greater than himself. And we gather here remembering a man who knew how he wanted to be remembered,” Pence said.
“And so let me say to all those gathered and his beloved family, on behalf of a grateful nation, we will ever remember that John McCain served his country and John McCain served his country honorably. May God bless the memory of John McCain. May God comfort his family and friends. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.”
The six-term Republican senator and war hero, who lived and worked in the nation’s capital for over four decades, was to lie in state under the US Capitol rotunda for a ceremony and public visitation.
It was the first of the weekend-long schedule of events honoring the former Navy pilot and Vietnam War POW, who painstaking planned his services over his final months as he battled terminal brain cancer.
He pointedly did not invite President Trump, who had repeatedly mocked and belittled the respected GOP senator, first saying he wasn’t a war hero because he was captured and later attacking him for not voting to repeal Obamacare.
But Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis were among a number of Team Trump officials were also in attendance, with Pence delivering one of the first speeches.
Others in the bipartisan crowd included Henry Kissinger in a wheelchair, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his deputy Rod Rosenstein, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and New York Reps. Joe Crowley, Pete King and Eliot Engel.
Trump, meanwhile, was heading to a country club in North Carolina for a fundraiser.
On Saturday, McCain’s procession will pause by the Vietnam Memorial and head for Washington National Cathedral for a formal funeral service.
At McCain’s request, two former presidents — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush — are expected to speak there.
McCain’s funeral puts him back in the spotlight a few miles from Trump’s doorstep, in the city where the senator, who died last Saturday at 81, worked and collected friends and enemies — and some people were both at different times.
The procession was expected to continue highlighting issues that McCain found important, some of which contrasted with Trump’s style and priorities.
McCain chose a Russian dissident as a pallbearer after Trump repeatedly expressed his affinity and admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin — praise that came amid special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The procession’s pause at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where McCain’s widow, Cindy, was expected to lay a wreath, would highlight McCain’s military service and his more than five years as a prisoner of war.
Trump obtained deferments during the Vietnam War for his college education and for bone spurs in his heels.
The McCain farewell began Wednesday and Thursday in Arizona, where he and Cindy McCain raised their family.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and others provided a preview of the tributes to come.
At the end of the nearly 90-minute ceremony, McCain’s casket was wheeled out of the church to “My Way,” in tribute to a politician known for following his own path.
Trump and his wife, Melania, danced to the same song at the new president’s inauguration in 2017.
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