News World Washington lauds John McCain as one of US’s ‘bravest souls’, while Donald Trump is absent

Washington lauds John McCain as one of US’s ‘bravest souls’, while Donald Trump is absent

Congressional leaders say goodbye to the late Senator John McCain. Photo: AAP
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Washington’s bitterly divided leaders have come together on Friday to praise the late Senator John McCain as an embodiment of America’s fighting spirit, idealism and sense of humour, but there was one notable absentee: President Donald Trump.

At a Capitol Rotunda ceremony, Republicans and Democrats called a temporary political truce to honour Senator McCain on the third of five days of memorial celebrations in Arizona and Washington for the Vietnam War hero and two-time Republican presidential candidate.

“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,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who frequently clashed with Senator McCain on issues such as healthcare and campaign finance reform.

“He had America’s fighting spirit, our noble idealism, our solemn patriotism, and our slightly irreverent streak – all rolled into one,” Senator McConnell said.

The absence of Mr Trump – who on Friday will travel to one of his private golf clubs for a campaign fundraiser – reflected the animosity between the two men that lingered even after Senator McCain’s death on Saturday from brain cancer.

Vice-President Mike Pence told mourners Mr Trump had asked him to attend to pay his respects.

“He will be missed … As President Trump said yesterday, we respect his service to the country,” Mr Pence said.

Vice President Mike Pence described Senator McCain as an ‘American patriot’. Photo: AAP

Mr Trump will also miss Saturday’s service at the Washington National Cathedral, where former president Barack Obama, the Democrat who defeated Senator McCain in 2008, and former Republican president George W Bush, who beat Senator McCain in their party’s 2000 presidential nominating contest, will pay tribute to Senator McCain.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was sometimes on the receiving end of Senator McCain’s “distinct brand of candour”.

“This is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced,” Mr Ryan said.

After the ceremony, the public will pass through the Rotunda for six hours to pay their respects to Senator McCain by filing past his coffin, which was brought into the Rotunda and placed atop a pine board catafalque originally built in 1865 for president Abraham Lincoln’s casket.

‘Firing up the crazies’

The Trump-McCain feud dated back to at least 2015, not long after Mr Trump kicked off his presidential campaign.

Senator McCain condemned the candidate’s hard-line rhetoric on illegal immigration, accusing Mr Trump of “firing up the crazies”.

The New York businessman hit back, saying of Senator McCain’s five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam: “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Mr Trump received five deferments that got him out of military service.

More recently, Senator McCain accused Mr Trump of kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin at July’s Helsinki summit, calling it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

Mr Trump in turn delayed issuing any statement after Senator McCain’s death.

Earlier this week, the American flag atop the White House that had been at half-staff was raised back up, then lowered again after Mr Trump drew fire from Congress and veterans.

Senator McCain helped plan the events around his funeral. He made it clear to family and friends that he wanted Democratic former vice-president Joe Biden, Mr Bush and Mr Obama to speak – but that Mr Trump was not welcome.

‘We need more people like him’

In the summer heat in Washington, thousands of people queued for hours to get a moment inside the Capitol Rotunda where Senator McCain’s body lay.

In the Rotunda, people from all walks of life bowed their heads in front of Senator McCain’s casket, draped in stars and stripes.

For Yuwynn Ho who worked on the Senator’s presidential campaign in 2008, it was a final chance to say goodbye.

Mr Ho said Senator McCain was his “hero”.

“I loved what he stood for, the fact that he promoted bipartisanship, working together and getting things done,” he said.

“We need more people like him in American politics.”

Bonita Maharama and her family waited hours under umbrellas in the heat to pay their respects.

“He was brave. He stood for what he believed in, he didn’t let other people influence him.

“It’s a very sad day for the nation.”