On Sunday afternoon, McCain will be laid to rest in a private ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis. He will be buried next to his Naval Academy classmate and friend, Adm. Charles R. Larson, whose wife, Sarah, told CNN on Friday: “Chuck has his wingman back now.”
As opera singer Renée Fleming sang the haunting ballad “Danny Boy,” Cindy McCain covered her mouth with her hand and rested her head on the shoulder of her son Jack. She bit her bottom lip, and tears stained her cheeks. When the aria finished, McCain bowed her head silently and wiped her tears.
It was a favorite song of John McCain’s, and he reportedly requested that Fleming sing it at his funeral.
After prayers, the congregation stood and everyone, including three former presidents, sang together “America the Beautiful.”
When John McCain called Barack Obama earlier this year to ask him to speak at his funeral, the former president admitted to being surprised. Obama is, after all, the man who ended McCain’s Oval Office dreams.
“What better way to get the last laugh than make George and I say nice things about him before a national audience,” Obama said to extended laughter.
But Obama, like speakers before him, used his eulogy to speak not just of McCain’s virtues, but America, too, and called on Americans to use McCain’s example to be better.
“John understood that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our bloodline, not on what we look like . . . but on our adherence to a common creed that all of us are created equal, endowed by our Creator certain unalienable rights.”
He noted that McCain “championed a free and independent press that’s vital to our democratic debate,” a clear swipe at Trump’s repeated attacks on the news media.
And taking on politics directly, Obama addressed Trump without ever saying his name.
“So much of our politics can seem small and mean and petty. Trafficking in bombast and insult, phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but is instead born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that, to be better than that,” Obama said. “Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be, but what will happen in all the other days will depend on what you do today. What better way to honor John McCain than follow his example.”
Former president George W. Bush, who went toe to toe with McCain in a bitter GOP primary in 2000, spoke of that time and how years later the men would discuss their battle like former football rivals.
“In the process rivalry melted away, and I got to enjoy one of life’s great gifts, the friendship of John McCain,” Bush said.
As a theme developed over this memorial of distinguishing McCain from the rancor of today’s politics, Bush too made several remarks that could be interpreted as swipes at the Trump administration.
He said that McCain “detested the abuse of power and could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.”
“He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators,” Bush said.
The former president said if, as a nation, we forget who we are, “John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: ‘We’re better than this, America is better than this.’ ”
Joseph I. Lieberman told the story of when McCain approached him in 2008 about joining the Republican presidential ticket. The former Connecticut senator said he was honored, but he didn’t understand how that would work.
“You’re a Democrat, I’m a Republican; we could give our country the bipartisanship leadership it needs for a change,” Lieberman said McCain told him.
Lieberman, who became an independent in 2006, also took aim at the current political climate, saying McCain’s death has “reminded the American people that these values are what makes us a great nation, not the tribal partisanship and personal-attack politics that have recently characterized our life.”
Lieberman said in all of their years of friendship, he never heard McCain “say a bigoted word about anyone.” He referenced the famous moment in the 2008 campaign when McCain shut down a woman denigrating his opponent Barack Obama. “It was pure reflex; it was who John was,” he said.
After Lieberman, Henry Kissinger, Richard M. Nixon’s secretary of state during the Vietnam War, honored McCain.
“Our country has had the good fortune that at times of national trial a few great personalities have emerged to remind us of our essential unity and inspire us to fulfill our sustaining values,” he said. “John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny.”
“The world will be lonelier without John McCain.”
Meghan McCain, in an emotional and deeply personal eulogy of her father, took a tacit swipe at President Trump several times during her remarks.
But the most pointed was when she said, “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great” — a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan. Rare for such a solemn gathering, applause rippled through the cathedral for several long seconds, passing over an audience which included Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who sat stone-faced.
Trump, a frequent antagonist of McCain, was not invited to the memorial service.
Earlier in her speech, she also referenced her father’s “greatness,” saying his was the “real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly.”
She listed all of her father’s many titles: “He was a sailor. He was an aviator. He was a husband. He was a warrior. He was a prisoner. He was a hero. He was a congressman. He was a senator. He was a nominee for president of the United States.”
“The best of John McCain, the greatest of his titles and the most important of his roles, was as a father,” she said.
She recalled the softer side of her father, known in politics for his temper and quick wit, telling stories of them singing “Singing in the Rain” together and his encouragement of her when she fell off a horse and was scared to get back on.
“Nothing is going to break you,” he told her.
John McCain’s widow, Cindy, greeted mourners and his flag-draped casket was placed near the front of Washington National Cathedral as the memorial service began.
Among the honorary pallbearers were former vice president Joe Biden, actor Warren Beatty and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Outside the Cathedral, James Butcher, an 85-year-old veteran of the Korean War, stopped and peered through the iron fence and throngs of onlookers to get a better view of the McCain procession.
“I have a lot of respect for Senator McCain,” said Butcher, who, in Korea, was an infantry platoon sergeant on the front lines for nine months. There, he said, he witnessed some of the same violence McCain would see in Vietnam years later.
“This is a tribute to his comrades in arms,” said Carolyn Williams, 67, said of the funeral.
An honor guard carried John McCain’s casket into Washington National Cathedral. Former senator Joseph. I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), whom McCain almost chose as his 2008 running mate, was seen chatting with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. McCain’s 2008 running mate, Sarah Palin, reportedly was not invited to the service.
Arriving together were former presidents and first ladies Barack and Michelle Obama, George and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton stopped and spoke for a while with his former vice president, Al Gore.
Current and former lawmakers, political rivals and a retired Supreme Court justice were among the mourners filling the pews at Washington National Cathedral for John McCain’s memorial service.
President Trump, a frequent antagonist of McCain’s, was not invited, but the president’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, arrived for the service.
The late senator’s 106-year-old mother, Roberta, was in attendance, wheeled in by McCain’s brother, Joe, 76. She was immediately approached by a group of military veterans, who took the opportunity to wish her well. “Thank you,” she replied.
Many of McCain’s congressional colleagues filtered in, including former senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.)
Retired Supreme Court justice Anthony M. Kennedy and former vice president Al Gore also joined the mourners.
The procession stopped at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where several hundred people stood nearby to honor John McCain, a naval aviator and decorated Vietnam War veteran.
McCain’s widow, Cindy, laid a wreath of red and white roses at the memorial, which the senator frequently visited. She was accompanied by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.
Onlookers placed their hands over their hearts as McCain’s body passed. Cindy and the retired generals paused in front of the names of veterans who died in the war and since and those still missing in action. Cindy McCain clasped her hands and bowed her head, as McCain’s children stood and watched.
At the cathedral, attendees in dark suits or black dresses, and many in white Navy dress uniform, streamed in, past dozens of television news cameras camped out on the front lawn behind yellow police tape near the invitation-only entrance.
Former congresswoman Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) said she came to honor a colleague she will best remember as an “independent thinker” whom she worked with on campaign finance reform.
“He put country above everything else,” Morella said before entering the cathedral.
Former senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) recalled McCain’s “integrity, his directness and his friendship.”
“Everything said about him is true,” Bradley said as he approached the cathedral. “He was a patriot more than a politician.”
John McCain left the U.S. Capitol for the last time Saturday morning, a place where over a 35-year congressional career he was labeled a “maverick” for taking on difficult legislative battles on issues where he was sometimes successful, such as campaign finance, and others not, such as immigration overhaul.
The McCain family was in attendance at the East Front of the Capitol as an honor guard carried the casket down the steps.
As a processional led McCain’s body across Washington from Capitol Hill to Washington National Cathedral, mourners such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Ann Romney began to arrive at the church. Romney ran against McCain in the 2008 Republican presidential primary.
Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush — the two men who dashed John McCain’s dreams of the White House — will deliver eulogies for the late senator Saturday at a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral.
Obama and Bush, each described as a friend in the memorial program, will join members of the McCain family and current and former senators at the Cathedral to offer prayers and tributes.
The six-term senator from Arizona and two-time Republican presidential candidate died Aug. 25 after a year-long battle with brain cancer. He was 81.
The ceremony marks the end of a week of national mourning and the last of the public services for McCain, who has laid in state in both the capital in Phoenix and the U.S. Capitol’s grand Rotunda.
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, said more than 2,500 mourners will attend, making it the largest memorial service since former president Gerald R. Ford’s in 2007. “It is an opportunity to honor a grieving family and to help a grieving nation,” he told the Episcopal News Service.
Ahead of the 10 a.m. service, McCain’s casket will leave the Capitol via motorcade. His family will follow along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where his widow, Cindy, will lay a wreath in his honor, before proceeding to the cathedral — which sits atop the highest point in Washington.
The procession will pass the White House, although its current occupant, President Trump, who had criticized McCain publicly even as the senator drew close to death, is not invited to the service.
Vice President Pence was the administration designee and attended McCain’s memorial service at the Capitol.
Anticipating his death, McCain began calling close friends in April and asked them to deliver remarks or read prayers, including former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Graham will read from John 15:12-13, one of many readings or poems to touch explicitly on the theme of McCain’s decorated military career.
Those scheduled to speak include McCain’s daughters, Meghan, 33, and Sidney, 51, his eldest, who was born in 1966, a year before he was taken captive while serving in Vietnam when his plane was shot down by a missile in Hanoi.
Their grandmother and McCain’s 106-year-old mother, Roberta, is expected to be present.
In a display of his magnanimous nature, McCain personally asked Bush, his Republican rival in 2000, and Obama, his Democratic foe in 2008, to deliver eulogies.
The list of lawmakers, ex-aides and friends who will serve as his pallbearers is also replete with symbolism: they include Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian dissident and a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has survived two poisoning attempts.
Opera singer Renée Fleming will sing “Danny Boy.”
On Sunday afternoon, McCain will be laid to rest in a private ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis. He will be buried next to his Naval Academy classmate and friend, Adm. Charles R. Larson, whose wife, Sarah, told CNN Friday: “Chuck has his wingman back now.”
Katie Shaver and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.