John S. McCain, the proud naval aviator who climbed from depths of despair as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to pinnacles of power as a Republican congressman and senator from Arizona and a two-time contender for the presidency, died on Saturday at his home in Arizona. He was 81.
He had suffered from a malignant brain tumor, called a glioblastoma, for which he had been treated periodically with radiation and chemotherapy since its discovery in 2017.
McCain’s office said in a statement “Senator John Sidney McCain III died at 4:28 p.m. on August 25, 2018.” He announced on July 19, 2017, that he had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor. Earlier this week his family announced he was discontinuing treatment.
“With the Senator when he passed were his wife Cindy and their family. At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years,” McCain’s office said in the statement.
Cindy McCain on the passing of her husband: “My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years.”
“The View” co-host Meghan McCain honored her father :
“I was with my father at his end, as he was with me at my beginning,” Meghan McCain said in a Twitter statement. “In the thirty-three years we shared together, he raised me, taught me, corrected me, comforted me, encouraged me, and supported me in all things.”
I love you forever – my beloved father @SenJohnMcCain — Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) August 26, 2018
She praised her father’s “love, his care, ever present, always unfailing” and said he showed her “what it is to be a man.” Meghan McCain said her father’s passing comes with “sorrow and grief” for her mother, Cindy, and brothers and sisters.
“He has a great fire who burned bright, and we lived in his light and earth for so long,” Meghan McCain wrote. “We know that his flame lives on, in each of us. The days and years to come will not be the same without my dad — but they will be good days, filled with life and love, because of the example he lived for us.”
In his 36 years in Congress, McCain became one of the country’s most respected and influential politicians, challenging his fellow lawmakers to reach across the aisle for the good of the country, and often sparring with reporters with a biting if self-deprecating wit.
On a variety of issues — torture, immigration, campaign finance, the Iraq War — McCain was often known as the moral center of the Senate and of the Republican Party.
Last year, in his last act of defiance, McCain returned to the Capitol less than a week after his cancer was diagnosed to cast his vote on the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act — the biggest legislative achievement of President Barack Obama, the man who defeated him in the 2008 election.
McCain first voted in favor of debating the bill, giving his fellow Republicans hope that their long-sought goal of repealing Obamacare was in sight. McCain then dashed those hopes by casting the decisive vote against repeal.
Before the vote, McCain denounced the rise of partisanship in a heartfelt speech from the Senate floor on July 25, 2017.
“Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act?” McCain said. “Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work.”
But in recent months, the man who had been a mainstay on Capitol Hill for more than three decades was noticeably absent.
He missed a White House ceremony on Dec. 12, 2017, in which President Donald Trump signed the annual defense bill into law — one of McCain’s signature achievements.
A statement issued the following day by the senator’s office said he was at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland receiving treatment for the “normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy” and looked forward to returning to work as soon as possible.
McCain’s life was punctuated by wild highs and lows, from the horrific conditions he endured for nearly 2,000 days as a prisoner of war to subsequent professional successes that brought him to the forefront of American politics.
Over the course of his career he rallied against pork-barrel spending and went against his own party’s president, George W. Bush, on strategy for the Iraq war. He earned a reputation as a party maverick by advocating campaign finance reform, lending his name to the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, and supporting overhauling the nation’s immigration system over the years.
But the pinnacle of his political career came in 2008, when he clinched the Republican nomination for president, only to lose to Obama amid the global financial meltdown and dragged down by Bush’s low approval ratings. His contentious choice for a running mate, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska at the time, was also believed to have contributed to the loss, and is still seen by some as a tarnish on his reputation.
But long before then, McCain was a Navy brat who had little interest in being studious.
John Sidney McCain III was born on Aug. 29, 1936, to a prominent naval family steeped in patriotism. Both his father and grandfather were four-star admirals, with his father, John McCain Jr., advancing to commander in chief of Pacific forces during the Vietnam War.
While McCain followed in his family’s military footsteps, he did so with his own flair: When he graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1958, he was ranked 894th of 899 graduates.
In a speech to midshipmen at his alma mater in October 2017, McCain joked about his abysmal academic performance.
“My superiors didn’t hold me in very high esteem in those days,” he said. “To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled to be here back then, and I was as relieved to graduate — fifth from the bottom of my class — as the Naval Academy was to see me go.”
After graduation, McCain volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War and, as a lieutenant commander, got orders to ship out in 1967. He narrowly escaped death in July of that year, when, while preparing for a routine bombing mission, an explosion on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal engulfed his plane in flames, killing 134 men on board.
Only three months later, on Oct. 26, 1967, McCain’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam. Both of his arms and his knee were broken, and McCain was knocked unconscious and taken as a prisoner of war.
That began a five-and-a-half-year nightmare inside a prison where Vietnamese soldiers, upon learning that McCain was the son of an admiral, set out to use him for propaganda purposes. They tortured and beat him, but McCain refused an early release, denying communist North Vietnam a propaganda victory, and followed a code of conduct that POWs must be released in the order they were captured.
When the war ended in 1973, McCain finally returned to a hero’s welcome.
In 2008, he spoke passionately about the patriotism he maintained while imprisoned in Hanoi.
“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s,” he said in accepting the Republican presidential nomination.
McCain was first elected to office in 1982, when he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona. Four years later he was elected to the Senate, and he was re-elected five times.
He first ran for president in 2000, becoming the main GOP challenger to George W. Bush, who went on to win the nomination and the White House.
In October, he reflected on his life in an interview with GQ.
“I have had the most fortunate life of anybody you will ever talk to, and I have nothing but gratitude, gratitude and joy, because I’ve had the most fortunate life that anybody has ever had,” he said. “So I spend my time in gratitude and work as hard as I can to get done what I can get done while I can.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi: “John McCain was a leader & public servant of deep patriotism, outstanding bravery & undaunted spirit. Throughout his career, we all saw his integrity, humility, courage & grace.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a statement mourning the death of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Saturday, saying he plans to introduce a resolution to rename a Senate office building after the war hero.
“As you go through life, you meet few truly great people. John McCain was one of them,” Schumer wrote. “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. The Senate, the United States, and the world are lesser places without John McCain.”
“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 added.
Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to Sen. John McCain on Saturday after the announcement of the senator’s death, writing that “we are all in his debt.”
“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own,” the Obamas wrote in a statement. “At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family.”
The Obamas said that, despite differences in their political viewpoints, both they and McCain were united in fighting for America’s values.
“[W]e 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,” they wrote. “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.”
President Donald Trump offered his condolences to the family of Sen. John McCain after his death on Saturday. “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain,” Trump said on Twitter. “Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
The White House flag has been lowered to half-staff in honor of Senator John McCain.
Former Defense Sec. Robert Gates: “No one in modern times had greater physical and political courage defending the United States and its values than John McCain. A true American hero has left us.”
Former Pres. Jimmy Carter : “John McCain was a man of honor, a true patriot in the best sense of the word… for his heroic military service and for his steadfast integrity as a member of the United States Senate.”
Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwell: “Arizona, the United States and the world will never be the same without the voice of Senator John McCain.”
Bill and Hillary Clinton: “Senator John McCain believed that every citizen has a responsibility to make something of the freedoms given by our Constitution…He lived by his creed every day.”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has ordered flags lowered to half-staff in honor and remembrance of Sen. John McCain.
Senator Lindsey Graham : “America and Freedom have lost one of her greatest champions… And I’ve lost one of my dearest friends and mentor.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Today is a deeply sad day for the Senate and for our nation…It’s an understatement to say the Senate will not be the same without our friend John.”
Joe Biden: “John McCain’s life is proof that some truths are timeless. Character. Courage. Integrity. Honor. A life lived embodying those truths casts a long, long shadow. John McCain will cast a long shadow. His impact on America hasn’t ended.”
Sarah Palin: “Sen. John McCain was a maverick and a fighter, never afraid to stand for his beliefs. John never took the easy path in life – and through sacrifice and suffering he inspired others to serve something greater than self.”
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel: “Senator McCain dedicated his life to serving his country…We at the RNC are praying for the entire McCain family at this difficult time.”
Fellow senator from Arizona Jeff Flake: “Words cannot express the sorrow I feel at John McCain’s passing. The world has lost a hero and a statesman. Cindy and the McCain family have lost a loving husband and father. I have lost a wonderful friend.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “Susan and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the family of @senjohnmccain – an American patriot. We wish you fair winds and following seas.”
:VP Mike Pence : “Karen and I send our deepest condolences to Cindy and the entire McCain family on the passing of Senator John McCain. We honor his lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life.”
Former President George H.W. Bush on John McCain: “A patriot of the highest order, a public servant of rarest courage. Few sacrificed more for, or contributed more to, the welfare of his fellow citizens — and indeed freedom-loving peoples around the world.”
Paul Ryan : “John McCain was a giant of our time—not just for the things he achieved, but for who he was and what he fought for all his life. He will always be listed among freedom’s most gallant and faithful servants.”
Rep. Joe Kennedy III : “John McCain’s story is America’s story. He served our nation with courage, compassion and civility. He will be missed dearly and our thoughts are with the entire McCain family.”
Chris Murphy : “How lucky us chosen few were to count John McCain as a friend or a colleague or a mentor. How lucky America was to have him as as our inspiration, our rock. A masterclass in life, leadership and patriotism. I miss him already”
Dan Rather : “America has lost one of its iconic political leaders with the passing of John McCain. He was of course a senator of distinction and a presidential candidate. Born into a storied military family, McCain first earned national attention during his years of imprisonment in Vietnam.”
EARLIER : John McCain Discontinues Medical Treatment For Brain Cancer
The family of Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, said on Friday that the U.S. senator, who has been battling brain cancer for more than a year, has stopped medical treatment for his brain cancer, a sign that the Republican war hero is most likely entering his final days. The 2008 Republican candidate for president, now 81, was diagnosed with brain cancer last July.
McCain’s family released this statement:
“Last summer, Senator John McCain shared with Americans the news our family already knew: he had been diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma, and the prognosis was serious. In the year since, John has surpassed expectations for his survival. But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment. Our family is immensely grateful for the support and kindness of all his caregivers over the last year, and for the continuing outpouring of concern and affection from John’s many friends and associates, and the many thousands of people who are keeping him in their prayers. God bless and thank you all.”
“My family is deeply appreciative of all the love and generosity you have shown us during this past year,” Meghan McCain tweeted today. “We could not have made it this far without you – you’ve given us strength to carry on.”
Mr. McCain had been undergoing treatment since July 2017, and has been absent from Washington since December. Mr. McCain’s family has gathered in Arizona, and people close to him say his death is imminent.
From his ranch in Arizona, Mr. McCain had managed to maintain a voice in key foreign policy and military policy debates, sharply criticizing President Trump after his summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, an old adversary of Mr. McCain. At home, he has welcomed close friends to renew ties. But after decades as a fixture in Washington and a larger-than-life character, he had largely retreated from the public eye.
The son and grandson of four-star Navy admirals who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Mr. McCain rose to become one of the towering figures in American politics, twice seeking the presidency and winning the 2008 Republican nomination for president. In the Senate, he has been both revered as an iconoclast and criticized by many, including Mr. Trump, for his willingness to buck his party on issues like campaign finance reform and, last summer, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
President Donald Trump ignored Sen. John McCain during his only public remarks Friday, declining to say anything about the former prisoner of war and 35-year veteran of Congress who has decided to end his treatment for terminal brain cancer.
At a fundraising dinner for the Ohio Republican Party in Columbus Friday night, Trump reiterated the staples of his stump speech, touting his economic record, railing against illegal immigration and insulting a series of prominent Democrats.
The president even gave shout-outs to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West. But he said nothing about the Arizona Republican.
Trump’s silence about his fellow Republican — a frequent critic who the president often mocks at his campaign rallies — stood in jarring contrast to a bipartisan national outpouring of esteem Friday afternoon for McCain, who endured torture after his Navy plane was shot down in Vietnam and who launched a political career that saw him rise to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, after his family announced he had opted to stop being treated for cancer.
“I would just ask each and every one of you to hold John McCain in your prayers,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a tax policy event in his home state Friday. “John is obviously entering the last stages, and this is a man who served our country in so many ways and capacities —who was a prisoner of war for several years at thee Hanoi Hilton, and then fought for us in Congress, and we just want to keep John McCain, Cindy and their entire family in our prayers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas and Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., all mentioned McCain Monday.
Mitch McConnell, who at times broke with McCain on issues like immigration and healthcare, said he was “very sad to hear” the announcement from McCain’s family.
“We are so fortunate to call him our friend and colleague,” he said in a tweet. “John, Cindy, and the entire McCain family are in our prayers at this incredibly difficult hour.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), one of his closest friends and allies in the Senate, praised McCain’s family for their “continuing and abiding love, care and dedication.”
“The entire McCain clan is doing exactly what the McCains have done through generations — rise to the meet the challenge,” Graham said in a statement.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, said McCain was “still inspiring us [with] his courage, grit, determination & grace.”
“Scarred but never broken, John has always defied the odds,” he said in a tweet. “I’m not in denial, just in awe of my friend & a true patriot. Thank you for everything, Mr. Chairman.”
Mitt Romney, a fellow GOP presidential candidate in 2008 who later endorsed McCain, said that “no man this century better exemplifies honor, patriotism, service, sacrifice, and country first than Senator John McCain.”
And John Kerry — who served with McCain for decades in the Senate before going on to be secretary of State during the Obama administration — said the GOP senator has shown Americans what “the words grace and grit really mean.”
“God bless John McCain, his family, and all who love him,” Kerry said. “A brave man showing us once again what the words grace and grit really mean.”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) called McCain an “American hero.”
“Always putting country before self. From Vietnam to the halls of the U.S. Senate, the spirit of service and civility that has guided Senator McCain’s life stands as a model for all Americans, regardless of political affiliation,” Ducey said in a statement.
Neither Ducey nor McCain’s family indicated that McCain intends to resign from his Senate seat, and both sides have publicly admonished speculation about who will succeed him.
If McCain resigns or dies while in office, Ducey would be required to appoint someone to fill the seat through the next general election, in 2020.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who began his House service alongside McCain in 1983, recalled being able to fight with McCain one day and work with him the next.
“There were times when we were cursing each other and staring one another down and other times we were in a warm embrace,” Durbin said. “That was the nature of a relationship with John McCain. When he was by your side as friend and ally, you couldn’t have had a stronger ally, a stronger friend, and a better result.”
But Trump was never able to forge that kind of relationship with McCain, who called Trump’s supporters “crazies” during the 2016 election. Trump responded by questioning whether McCain was really a “war hero” because he was shot down.
“I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said in July 2015.
In recent months, as McCain has battled for his life, Trump has singled out the senator’s vote against an effort to repeal Obamacare to rile up his own anti-McCain supporters. And he did not apologize after reports this spring that a White House aide had mocked the senator’s cancer prognosis at a closed-door meeting.
Earlier this year, a source close to McCain confirmed that people close to the senator had told the White House that the Arizona Republican did not want the president to attend his funeral and wanted Vice President Mike Pence to come instead.