John McCain lauded by presidents past and present

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In this Nov. 3, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain speaks at a rally in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
In this Nov. 3, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain speaks at a rally in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Washington (AP) — Presidents past and present joined members of Congress from both parties and world leaders in mourning Sen. John McCain and praising him for a lifetime of service and accomplishments.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who blocked the Arizona Republican’s own White House ambitions, are among those expected to speak at McCain’s funeral.

“These were bitter contests, both of them,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and “to ask them to speak at your funeral, and for them to be honored at the opportunity, that tells you all you need to know.”

Flake told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that McCain “was quick to forgive — certainly put the good of the country above himself, and the fact that his former opponents will be there speaking says all we need to know.”

McCain is expected to be remembered at ceremonies in Arizona and Washington before being buried, likely this coming week, at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery on a peninsula overlooking the Severn River in Annapolis, Maryland.

President Donald Trump, who once criticized McCain for being taken prisoner during the Vietnam War, said his “deepest sympathies and respect” went out to McCain’s family.

McCain, 81, died Saturday at his ranch in Arizona after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

A black hearse, accompanied by a police motorcade, could be seen driving away from the ranch near Sedona where McCain spent his final weeks. For 50 miles along Interstate 17 southbound, on every overpass and at every exit ramp, people watched the procession. Hundreds, including many waving American flags, parked their cars and got out to watch.

Trump’s brief Twitter statement said “hearts and prayers” are with the McCain family.

Trump and McCain were at odds until the end. The president, who as a candidate in 2016 mocked McCain’s capture in Vietnam, had jabbed at the ailing senator for voting against Republican efforts to roll back President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Earlier this summer, McCain issued a blistering statement criticizing Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Obama, who triumphed over McCain in 2008, said that despite their differences, McCain and he shared a “fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.”

Obama said they “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.”

Bush, who defeated McCain for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, called McCain a “man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order” and a “friend whom I’ll deeply miss.”

Other tributes poured in from around the globe.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted in English that McCain “was a true American hero. He devoted his entire life to his country.” Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said McCain’s support for the Jewish state “never wavered. It sprang from his belief in democracy and freedom.” And Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, called McCain “a tireless fighter for a strong trans-Atlantic alliance. His significance went well beyond his own country.”

McCain was the son and grandson of admirals and followed them to the U.S. Naval Academy. A pilot, he was shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years. He went on to win a seat in the House and in 1986, the Senate, where he served for the rest of his life.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called McCain a “fascinating personality.”

“He would occasionally be in a bad place with various members, including myself, and when this would blow over it was like nothing ever happened,” McConnell said Saturday after a GOP state dinner in Lexington, Kentucky. “He also had a wicked sense of humor and it made every tense moment come out better.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who developed a friendship with McCain while they served together in the Senate, said the Arizona lawmaker will “cast a long shadow.”

“The spirit that drove him was never extinguished: we are here to commit ourselves to something bigger than ourselves,” Biden said

The Senate’s top Democrat, New York’s Chuck Schumer, said he wants to rename the Senate building that housed McCain’s suite of offices after McCain.

“As you go through life, you meet few truly great people. John McCain was one of them,” Schumer said. “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.”