John McCain’s final letter to America
McCain’s memorial service in the Capitol Rotunda offered official Washington a rare reprieve from the presidential drama. The result was a scene that felt plucked from another time, when politics was secondary to the personal, and partisan affiliations were more formality than battle cry. No era in American history has been quite so idyllic, of course. Yet for a brief hour in Washington, sans the specter of Trump, the idea of such a polity didn’t feel so laughable.
You’d be forgiven for wanting to linger as long as possible.
People began filing into the Rotunda well before the program’s start time at 11 a.m. ET. Secret Service populated much of Capitol Hill. The room filled with McCain’s former Senate colleagues, current and former House members, and the ambassadorial corps. Representing the administration were Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and assorted members of the Cabinet and White House staff. McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, sat alongside Pence and his wife, Karen. McCain’s family, including his 106-year-old mother, Roberta, was in attendance as well.
A military honor guard carried McCain’s body into the Capitol for the 81-year-old Republican’s final visit, where he’d lie in state at the center of the Rotunda. Flanked by rose-dotted wreaths, his casket was draped with an American flag. Fellow Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona placed his hand over his heart as the honor guard processed in. He struggled to hold back tears.
In prepared remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan lauded McCain as a war hero, patriot, and principled leader. “Generations of Americans will continue to marvel at the man who lies before us,” McConnell said. “The cocky, handsome naval aviator who barely scraped through school, and then fought for freedom in the skies. Who witnessed to our highest values even through terrible torture, and who became a generational leader in the United States Senate, where our nation airs its great debates.”
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“We share your anguish in losing this great man. Rarely does this glorious Rotunda fall silent at this hour,” Ryan said, addressing McCain’s family. “But in this quiet hour, we are left to ponder how his life speaks to us.” McCain, he said, “is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced.”
The air seemed to thicken slightly when Pence stood to deliver his remarks, as though the mere prospect of Trump’s name being uttered threatened the moment of solace. Pence kept his remembrance warm. But he quoted his boss’s own words about McCain: “As President Trump said yesterday, we respect his service to the country.” Missing was the quote’s full context; Trump had told Bloomberg he “disagreed with many of the things I assume [McCain] believed in.” It was the morning’s only attempt to invoke Trump.