As Sen. John McCain’s casket was brought into the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Friday, Republican and Democratic colleagues of past and present stood in silence as he entered the iconic building where he made his legacy one final time.
“I will miss a dear friend whose smile reminded us that service is a privilege and whose scars reminded us of the great cost that brave souls pay for our freedom,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
McConnell thanked McCain’s family, including his 106-year-old mother, Roberta, who was also in attendance.
“On behalf of the Senate and the entire nation — thank you,” McConnell said. “Thank you for lending him to us longer than we had a right. Thank you for supporting him while he supported us.”
Last year, he famously helped tank the Republican-led effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature healthcare law.
McCain made the iconic thumbs down motion during a Senate floor vote in the middle of the night, while McConnell stood by, arms crossed and head down, looking defeated.
“He treated every issue with the intensity the people’s business deserves,” McConnell remembered. “He would fight tooth and nail for his vision of the common good. Depending on the issue, you knew John would either be your staunchest ally or your most stubborn opponent.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan remembered McCain as a man who “relished the fight,” and spoke of his strength in times of difficult circumstances.
He quoted Ernest Hemingway, one of McCain’s favorite authors, saying, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
“No one was stronger at the broken places than John McCain,” Ryan continued. “The brokenness was his ballast. He never lost the joy that time can dull or the edge that political life so often sands away.”
Ryan added: “I myself was, from time to time, on the receiving end of John’s distinct brand of candor.”
Vice President Mike Pence was also in attendance, but President Donald Trump was not invited to attend any of the events celebrating McCain’s life throughout the course of the week.
“The president asked me to be here on behalf of a grateful nation to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office,” Pence said. “It’s my great honor to be here.”
Several members of the Trump administration were also in attendance, including White House chief of staff John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Capitol Rotunda will remain open throughout the day so that the public can pay their respects to McCain. The United States Capitol Police honor guard will protect McCain’s casket throughout the night.
On Saturday, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama will eulogize the late senator at a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral. On Sunday, the senator will be laid to rest in a private burial service at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Half a world away, wearing our nation’s uniform, John McCain stood up for every value that this Capitol Building represents,” McConnell said. “Then, he brought that same patriotism inside its walls — to advocate for our servicemembers, our veterans, and our moral leadership in the world.”
“So it is only right that today, near the end of his long journey, John lies here.”