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Politicians of all stripes, including former adversaries, paid tribute to Senator John McCain at his memorial service in Washington on Saturday.
Former presidents Barack Obama, a Democrat who defeated McCain in the 2008 election, and George W. Bush, who won the 2000 GOP nomination over McCain, spoke at the service at the Washington National Cathedral. Close friend former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also spoke.
The ceremony began with an emotional tribute from Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter. Her eulogy focused on the senator’s legacy in the military, in public service and as a father. She also took swipes at President Donald Trump, though she never mentioned him by name.
“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness,” Meghan McCain said. “The real thing. Not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege.”
Later in the ceremony, she defined the America of John McCain as one that is “generous, welcoming and bold.”
“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” she said to thundering applause.
Trump was notably absent on Saturday after he was asked to stay away from all events during McCain’s five-day, cross-country procession. Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, as well as her husband Jared Kushner, another adviser to the president, were both in attendance.
Many other notable figures from both sides of the aisle also contributed to Saturday’s ceremony and much of the focus was on McCain’s ability to unite the country — even in death.
“His death seems to have 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,” said Lieberman, a registered Democrat whom McCain considered to serve as his vice presidential nominee in 2008. “This week’s celebration of the life and values and patriotism of this hero, I think, have taken our country above all that. In a way it’s the last great gift that John McCain gave America.”
Kissinger echoed that sentiment, speaking of how his path crossed with McCain while Kissinger served as Secretary of State during the Vietnam War.
“None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much-needed moment of unity and a renewed faith in the possibilities of America,” Kissinger said. “Henceforth America’s honor is ours to sustain.”
Of particular note on Saturday was McCain’s decision to have Russian Vladimir Kara-Murza act as a pallbearer. Kara-Murza, who was twice poisoned while in Russia, is a well-known critic of the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Saturday’s procession began at 9 a.m. ET and paused at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where McCain’s wife Cindy laid a ceremonial wreath. She was escorted to the site by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Members of the Armed Forces Body Bearers carried McCain’s casket, draped with the American flag, into the cathedral just prior to the service, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET. The senator’s family stood to the side as the service members slowly marched up the stairs and through the door.
Former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton sat next to Obama and Bush in the front row as the service began.
Before the ceremony, a number of McCain’s Senate colleagues, friends, family and numerous notable political and business figures chatted and milled around the National Cathedral.
A handful of Trump administration officials were in attendance. Beyond Mattis, Kelly, Ivanka Trump and Kushner, National Security Adviser John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats were all in attendance.
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Trump ignored repeated questions from reporters inside the Oval Office on whether he had any thoughts on the legacy of the late senator.
The White House had lowered its flag to half-staff Saturday night following McCain’s death but raised it to full staff Monday morning, sparking outrage from veterans groups and lawmakers.
Later in the day, Trump said in a statement he had signed a proclamation to keep the flag at half-staff through until Sunday’s funeral service.
McCain died on Aug. 25 following a battle with brain cancer. He was 81.