After the death of Arizona Sen. John McCain on Saturday, politicians on both sides of the aisle immediately began paying tribute to the man who the knew not just as a war hero and veteran, but also as a mentor and a friend.
“America and Freedom have lost one of her greatest champions,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was famously close with McCain, wrote on Twitter. “And I’ve lost one of my dearest friends and mentor.”
McCain announced he was stopping medical treatment for his brain cancer on Friday, a little more than a year after he revealed he was diagnosed with glioblastoma. He passed away less than 48 hours later, surrounded by his wife Cindy and his family.
Within an hour of his office’s announcement that McCain had died, tributes began pouring in from his Senate colleagues, recollections that not only reflected on the late Senator’s career, but touched on what he meant to them personally.
“Words cannot express the sorrow I feel at John McCain’s passing. The world has lost a hero and a statesman,” Senator Jeff Flake, who also represents Arizona, wrote on Twitter.
“As you go through life, you meet few truly great people. John McCain was one of them,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “His dedication to his country and the military were unsurpassed, and maybe most of all, he was a truth teller – never afraid to speak truth to power in an era where that has become all too rare.”
Schumer also said in his statement mourning McCain that he would be introducing a resolution to name the Russell Senate building in his honor. “Nothing will overcome the loss of Senator McCain, but so that generations remember him I will be introducing a resolution to rename the Russell building after him,” he said.
The Arizona lawmaker, who was absent from Washington, D.C. in the last months of his life, was known as someone willing to stand up to his own party, usually through words and sometimes through votes. In July 2017, he voted “no” on the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in July 2017. The dramatic thumbs down on the Senate floor drew the ire of President Donald Trump, and the two have often traded barbs. Trump in August notably neglected to mention McCain’s name when signing a $716 billion defense policy bill named for the Senator — continuing a years long feud that dates to Trump’s campaign rallies during the 2016 election.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence weighed in on McCain’s passing with brief posts on Twitter. “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain,” he wrote. “Our hearts and prayers are with you!” Melania Trump also issued her condolences.
All five of the living former presidents also honored McCain’s legacy and service to the country. “John McCain believed that every citizen has a responsibility to make something of the freedoms given by our Constitution, and from his heroic service in the Navy to his 35 years in Congress, he lived by his creed,” said Bill Clinton. Clinton’s predecessor, George H.W. Bush, called him “a patriot of the highest order, a public servant of rarest courage.”
Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, released a statement reflecting on their shared belief in the importance of public service.
“…we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher – the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed,” Obama said in his statement. “We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible – and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.”
Former President Jimmy Carter released a statement calling McCain a “true patriot in the best sense of the word.”
And former President George W. Bush, who defeated McCain for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2000, called him “a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.” “He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I’ll deeply miss,” Bush wrote in a Facebook post, accompanied by a photograph of him and McCain in the Oval Office.
Joe Biden, Obama’s Vice President and McCain’s longtime Senate colleague whose son Beau passed away from brain cancer in 2015, said that McCain’s impact on America will continue to resonate for generations. “John was many things – a proud graduate of the Naval Academy, a Senate colleague, a political opponent. But to me, more than anything, John was a friend.”
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who McCain selected as his running mate in 2008 – a pick that propelled Palin into the national spotlight, and a choice McCain later said he regretted – tweeted that she was sending prayers to the McCain family. “John McCain was my friend. I will remember the good times,” she wrote. “My family and I send prayers for Cindy and the McCain family.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called McCain’s passing “a deeply sad day for the Senate and our nation.”
McCain wrote about how his cancer diagnosis forced him to realize his current term in the Senate would be his last in his book The Restless Wave, saying that it allowed him the freedom to “vote my conscience without worry” about getting re-elected. He also confronted his illness in the book, with a reference to a line from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls: “The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
“I hate to leave it. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one,” McCain wrote. “It’s been quite a ride. I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make a peace. I made a small place for myself in the story of American and the history of my times.”