Official Washington came together last week to honor John McCain. A memorial service for the Republican senator from Arizona on Friday at the Capitol felt like a throwback to a different, more civil time in America. On Saturday, two former presidents—one a Democrat, one a Republican, both of whom defeated McCain to reach the Oval Office—delivered stirring eulogies at the Washington National Cathedral. Barack Obama said McCain “believed in honest argument and hearing other views. He understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work. That’s why he was willing to buck his own party at times, occasionally work across the aisle on campaign-finance reform and immigration reform.”
George W. Bush said McCain “was motivated by a vision of America carried ever forward, ever upward, on the strength of its principles. He saw our country not only as a physical place or power, but as the carrier of enduring human aspirations. As an advocate for the oppressed, as a defender of the peace, as a promise, unwavering, undimmed, unequal.”
The American virtues championed by McCain that Obama and Bush described will be tested this week, when the first item on the Senate agenda Tuesday morning is the Judiciary Committee’s hearing for the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. His confirmation is not yet certain despite GOP control and the need for only a simple majority, thanks to last year’s expansion of the so-called nuclear option to prohibit filibusters for Supreme Court nominees. (In an instance of the sharp tongue whose mention drew laughter at his funeral, McCain last year said that only “a stupid idiot” could think the change was good for the Senate.) Kavanaugh’s fate depends on a small collection of red-state Democrats and centrist Republicans—plus Rand Paul, if the nominee’s comments on surveillance raise his libertarian hackles. Several senators spoke about the confirmation process on the Sunday-morning talk shows.