PHOENIX — Sen. John McCain expressed his deep gratitude and love of country in his final letter and implored Americans to put aside “tribal rivalries” and focus on what unites.
Rick Davis, former presidential campaign manager for the Arizona Republican and Vietnam War hero who is serving as a family spokesman, read the farewell message Monday at a press briefing in Phoenix.
In the statement, McCain reflected on the privilege of serving his country and said he tried to do so honorably. He also touched on today’s politics.
“Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here,” McCain wrote. “Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”
McCain died Saturday from an aggressive form of brain cancer. Plans taking shape called for McCain to lie in state Wednesday in the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on what would have been his 82nd birthday. A funeral will be conducted Thursday at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix with former Vice President Joe Biden speaking.
In Washington, McCain will lie in state Friday in the Capitol Rotunda with a formal ceremony and time for the public to pay respects. On Saturday, a procession will pass the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and arrive for a public funeral at Washington National Cathedral. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama are expected to speak at the service.
At the request of the McCain family, President Donald Trump, who often clashed with McCain and denigrated the senator’s war record, will not attend any of the events.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., paid tribute to McCain on Monday by recalling their own legislative battles while echoing the late senator’s belief that there’s more that unites than divides Americans.
Speaking from the Senate floor, McConnell said that while McCain served the state of Arizona in Congress, “he was America’s hero all along.”
He spoke near McCain’s desk in the Senate, which has been draped in black and adorned with white roses in his honor.
McConnell and McCain tangled over several issues, including McConnell’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which failed on McCain’s surprise and dramatic thumbs-down “no” vote. McConnell said serving with McCain “was never a dull affair.”
A private funeral is planned for Sunday afternoon at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel followed by a private burial at the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Md. McCain will be buried on a grassy hill right next to a lifelong friend, within earshot of the next generation of midshipmen and within view of the banks of the Severn River.
The senator’s choice was another that showed his trademark individuality. McCain selected the out-of-the-way spot over the grandeur and solemnity of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where his father and grandfather — both four-star admirals — are buried. Instead, the decorated Vietnam War veteran, prisoner of war and six-term senator opted for a front-row position next to his friend Chuck Larson, himself a four-star admiral and ally throughout McCain’s remarkable life.
“Near, where our paths first crossed,” McCain wrote in his memoir of the site.
McCain’s office said on Sunday that Larson, who died in 2014, had reserved four plots at the site — for himself, McCain and their wives, both now widows.
McCain’s and Larson’s friendship began at the academy, where McCain ranked near the bottom of the class of 1958. His best friend, Larson, finished near the top.
They were roommates through flight school. Larson went on to become commander in chief of military forces in the Pacific. He was the second-youngest admiral in history. Larson also was named superintendent of the Naval Academy twice, the last time in 1994 with a mission to restore morale after the largest cheating scandal in its history.
McCain was shot down over Vietnam and tortured for 5½ years as a prisoner of war. After his return to the U.S., he was elected to the House in 1982 and the Senate in 1986. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2000 and again in 2008, the second time as his party’s nominee.
His rebellious nature sometimes frustrated his political allies and strained friendships. But Larson, who died in 2014, and McCain stayed “the closest of friends,” McCain wrote.
In Arizona, high-profile campaigns announced that they have suspended some activity this week.
McCain was just one of 11 U.S. senators in the state’s 116-year history, and on Tuesday, primary voters will decide the nominees in races across all levels of government. There’s also the sensitive question of who will succeed McCain.
Arizona law requires the governor of the state to name an appointee of the same political party who will serve until the next general election. Since the time to qualify for November’s election is past, the election would take place in 2020, with the winner filling out the remainder of McCain term until 2022.
Possible appointees whose names circulate among Arizona politicos include McCain’s widow, Cindy, former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s chief of staff, Kirk Adams.
Throughout the weekend, Arizona politicos across all levels of government offered remembrances of McCain. Noting McCain’s death, several candidates, including Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Rep. Martha McSally, who are expected to win their party’s races for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat, on Sunday evening said they would suspend their campaigns on Wednesday and Thursday. Ducey, whose office is coordinating services at the Arizona Capitol for McCain, will not attend any campaign events between now and when McCain is buried.
In Phoenix, a memorial outside McCain’s office drew James Olsen, who was on a business trip from Columbia, S.C.
“I’m all the way here. I need to pay my respects,” Olsen said.
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.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told CNN’s “State of the Union,” “He had a joy about politics and a love for his country that was unmatched. And while he never made it to the presidency, in the Senate, he was the leader that would see a hot spot in the world and just say, we need to go there and stand up for that democracy.”