John Sidney McCain III (August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018) was an American politician and military officer, who served as a United States senator for Arizona from January 1987 until his death in 2018. He previously served two terms in the United States House of Representatives and was the Republican nominee for president of the United States in the 2008 election, which he lost to Barack Obama.
McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958 and received a commission in the United States Navy. He became a naval aviator and flew ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, he almost died in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. While on a bombing mission during Operation Rolling Thunder over Hanoi in October 1967, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a prisoner of war until 1973. He experienced episodes of torture and refused an out-of-sequence early release. During the war, he sustained wounds that left him with lifelong physical disabilities. He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1981 and moved to Arizona, where he entered politics.
In 1982, McCain was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where he served two terms. He entered the U.S. Senate in 1987 and easily won reelection five times. While generally adhering to conservative principles, McCain also had a reputation as a “maverick” for his willingness to break from his party on certain issues. His supportive stances on LGBT rights, gun regulations, and campaign finance reform were significantly more liberal than those of the party’s base. McCain was investigated and largely exonerated in a political influence scandal of the 1980s as one of the Keating Five; he then made campaign finance reform one of his signature concerns, which eventually resulted in passage of the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002. He was also known for his work in the 1990s to restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam. McCain chaired the Senate Commerce Committee and opposed pork barrel spending. He belonged to the bipartisan “Gang of 14“, which played a key role in alleviating a crisis over judicial nominations.
McCain entered the race for the Republican nomination for president in 2000, but lost a heated primary season contest to Governor George W. Bush of Texas. He secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, but lost the general election. McCain subsequently adopted more orthodox conservative stances and attitudes and largely opposed actions of the Obama administration, especially with regard to foreign policy matters. In 2015, he became Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He refused to support then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in 2016. While McCain opposed the Affordable Care Act, he cast the deciding vote against the ACA-repealing American Health Care Act of 2017.
After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017, McCain reduced his role in the Senate in order to focus on treatment. He died on August 25, 2018 at age 81. Following his death, McCain lay in state in the Arizona State Capitol rotunda and then in the United States Capitol rotunda. His funeral was televised from the Washington National Cathedral, with former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama giving eulogies.
2000 presidential campaign
McCain announced his candidacy for president on September 27, 1999, in Nashua, New Hampshire, saying he was staging “a fight to take our government back from the power brokers and special interests, and return it to the people and the noble cause of freedom it was created to serve”. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination was Texas Governor George W. Bush, who had the political and financial support of most of the party establishment.
McCain focused on the New Hampshire primary, where his message appealed to independents. He traveled on a campaign bus called the Straight Talk Express. He held many town hall meetings, answering every question voters asked, in a successful example of “retail politics”, and he used free media to compensate for his lack of funds. One reporter later recounted that, “McCain talked all day long with reporters on his Straight Talk Express bus; he talked so much that sometimes he said things that he shouldn’t have, and that’s why the media loved him.” On February 1, 2000, he won New Hampshire’s primary with 49 percent of the vote to Bush’s 30 percent. The Bush campaign and the Republican establishment feared that a McCain victory in the crucial South Carolina primary might give his campaign unstoppable momentum.
The Arizona Republic wrote that the McCain-Bush primary contest in South Carolina “has entered national political lore as a low-water mark in presidential campaigns”, while The New York Times called it “a painful symbol of the brutality of American politics”. A variety of interest groups, which McCain had challenged in the past, ran negative ads. Bush borrowed McCain’s earlier language of reform, and declined to dissociate himself from a veterans activist who accused McCain (in Bush’s presence) of having “abandoned the veterans” on POW/MIA and Agent Orange issues.
Incensed, McCain ran ads accusing Bush of lying and comparing the governor to Bill Clinton, which Bush said was “about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary”. An anonymous smear campaign began against McCain, delivered by push polls, faxes, e-mails, flyers, and audience plants. The smears claimed that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock (the McCains’ dark-skinned daughter was adopted from Bangladesh), that his wife Cindy was a drug addict, that he was a homosexual, and that he was a “Manchurian Candidate” who was either a traitor or mentally unstable from his North Vietnam POW days. The Bush campaign strongly denied any involvement with the attacks.
McCain lost South Carolina on February 19, with 42 percent of the vote to Bush’s 53 percent, in part because Bush mobilized the state’s evangelical voters and outspent McCain. The win allowed Bush to regain lost momentum. McCain said of the rumor spreaders, “I believe that there is a special place in hell for people like those.” According to one acquaintance, the South Carolina experience left him in a “very dark place”.
McCain’s campaign never completely recovered from his South Carolina defeat, although he did rebound partially by winning in Arizona and Michigan a few days later. He made a speech in Virginia Beach that criticized Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, as divisive conservatives, declaring “… we embrace the fine members of the religious conservative community. But that does not mean that we will pander to their self-appointed leaders.” McCain lost the Virginia primary on February 29, and on March;7 lost nine of the thirteen primaries on Super Tuesday to Bush. With little hope of overcoming Bush’s delegate lead, McCain withdrew from the race on March 9, 2000. He endorsed Bush two months later, and made occasional appearances with the Texas governor during the general election campaign.
Senate career, 2000-2008″]
Remainder of third Senate term
McCain began 2001 by breaking with the new George W. Bush administration on a number of matters, including HMO reform, climate change, and gun control legislation; McCain-Feingold was opposed by Bush as well. In May 2001, McCain was one of only two Senate Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts. Besides the differences with Bush on ideological grounds, there was considerable antagonism between the two remaining from the previous year’s campaign. Later, when a Republican senator, Jim Jeffords, became an Independent, thereby throwing control of the Senate to the Democrats, McCain defended Jeffords against “self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty”. Indeed, there was speculation at the time, and in years since, about McCain himself leaving the Republican Party, but McCain had always adamantly denied that he ever considered doing so. Beginning in 2001, McCain used political capital gained from his presidential run, as well as improved legislative skills and relationships with other members, to become one of the Senate’s most influential members.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks, McCain supported Bush and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. He and Democratic senator Joe Lieberman wrote the legislation that created the 9/11 Commission, while he and Democratic senator Fritz Hollings co-sponsored the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that federalized airport security.
In March 2002, McCain-Feingold, officially known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, passed in both Houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bush. Seven years in the making, it was McCain’s greatest legislative achievement.
Meanwhile, in discussions over proposed U.S. action against Iraq, McCain was a strong supporter of the Bush administration’s position. He stated that Iraq was “a clear and present danger to the United States of America”, and voted accordingly for the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002. He predicted that U.S. forces would be treated as liberators by a large number of the Iraqi people. In May 2003, McCain voted against the second round of Bush tax cuts, saying it was unwise at a time of war. By November 2003, after a trip to Iraq, he was publicly questioning Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, saying that more U.S. troops were needed; the following year, McCain announced that he had lost confidence in Rumsfeld.
In October 2003, McCain and Lieberman co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act that would have introduced a cap and trade system aimed at returning greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels; the bill was defeated with 55 votes to 43 in the Senate. They reintroduced modified versions of the Act two additional times, for the final time in January 2007 with the co-sponsorship of Barack Obama, among others.
In the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, McCain was once again frequently mentioned for the vice-presidential slot, only this time as part of the Democratic ticket under nominee John Kerry. McCain said that Kerry had never formally offered him the position and that he would not have accepted it if he had. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, McCain supported Bush for re-election, praising Bush’s management of the War on Terror since the September 11 attacks. At the same time, he defended Kerry’s Vietnam War record. By August 2004, McCain had the best favorable-to-unfavorable rating (55 percent to 19 percent) of any national politician; he campaigned for Bush much more than he had four years previously, though the two remained situational allies rather than friends.
Start of fourth Senate term
In May 2005, McCain led the so-called Gang of 14 in the Senate, which established a compromise that preserved the ability of senators to filibuster judicial nominees, but only in “extraordinary circumstances”. The compromise took the steam out of the filibuster movement, but some Republicans remained disappointed that the compromise did not eliminate filibusters of judicial nominees in all circumstances. McCain subsequently cast Supreme Court confirmation votes in favor of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, calling them “two of the finest justices ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court.”
Breaking from his 2001 and 2003 votes, McCain supported the Bush tax cut extension in May 2006, saying not to do so would amount to a tax increase. Working with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, McCain was a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, which would involve legalization, guest worker programs, and border enforcement components. The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act was never voted on in 2005, while the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed the Senate in May 2006 but failed in the House. In June 2007, President Bush, McCain, and others made the strongest push yet for such a bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, but it aroused intense grassroots opposition among talk radio listeners and others, some of whom furiously characterized the proposal as an “amnesty” program, and the bill twice failed to gain cloture in the Senate.
By the middle of the 2000s (decade), the increased Indian gaming that McCain had helped bring about was a $23 billion industry. He was twice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, in 1995-1997 and 2005-2007, and his Committee helped expose the Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal. By 2005 and 2006, McCain was pushing for amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which would have limited creation of off-reservation casinos, and also limited the movement of tribes across state lines to build casinos.
Owing to his time as a POW, McCain was recognized for his sensitivity to the detention and interrogation of detainees in the War on Terror. An opponent of the Bush administration’s use of torture and detention without trial at Guantnamo Bay, saying: “some of these guys are terrible, terrible killers and the worst kind of scum of humanity. But, one, they deserve to have some adjudication of their cases;… even Adolf Eichmann got a trial”. In October 2005, McCain introduced the McCain Detainee Amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill for 2005, and the Senate voted 90-9 to support the amendment. It prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners, including prisoners at Guantnamo, by confining military interrogations to the techniques in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation. Although Bush had threatened to veto the bill if McCain’s amendment was included, the President announced in December 2005 that he accepted McCain’s terms and would “make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad”. This stance, among others, led to McCain being named by Time magazine in 2006 as one of America’s 10 Best Senators. McCain voted in February 2008 against a bill containing a ban on waterboarding, which provision was later narrowly passed and vetoed by Bush. However, the bill in question contained other provisions to which McCain objected, and his spokesman stated: “This wasn’t a vote on waterboarding. This was a vote on applying the standards of the field manual to CIA personnel.”
Meanwhile, McCain continued questioning the progress of the war in Iraq. In September 2005, he remarked upon Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers‘ optimistic outlook on the war’s progress: “Things have not gone as well as we had planned or expected, nor as we were told by you, General Myers.” In August 2006, he criticized the administration for continually understating the effectiveness of the insurgency: “We not told the American people how tough and difficult this could be.” From the beginning, McCain strongly supported the Iraq troop surge of 2007. The strategy’s opponents labeled it “McCain’s plan” and University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said, “McCain owns Iraq just as much as Bush does now.” The surge and the war were unpopular during most of the year, even within the Republican Party, as McCain’s presidential campaign was underway; faced with the consequences, McCain frequently responded, “I would much rather lose a campaign than a war.” In March 2008, McCain credited the surge strategy with reducing violence in Iraq, as he made his eighth trip to that country since the war began.
2008 presidential campaign
McCain formally announced his intention to run for President of the United States on April 25, 2007, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He stated that: “I’m not running for president to be somebody, but to do something; to do the hard but necessary things, not the easy and needless things.”
McCain’s oft-cited strengths as a presidential candidate for 2008 included national name recognition, sponsorship of major lobbying and campaign finance reform initiatives, his ability to reach across the aisle, his well-known military service and experience as a POW, his experience from the 2000 presidential campaign, and an expectation that he would capture Bush’s top fundraisers. During the 2006 election cycle, McCain had attended 346 events and helped raise more than $10.5 million on behalf of Republican candidates. McCain also became more willing to ask business and industry for campaign contributions, while maintaining that such contributions would not affect any official decisions he would make. Despite being considered the front-runner for the nomination by pundits as 2007 began, McCain was in second place behind former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani in national Republican polls as the year progressed.
McCain had fundraising problems in the first half of 2007, due in part to his support for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which was unpopular among the Republican base electorate. Large-scale campaign staff downsizing took place in early July, but McCain said that he was not considering dropping out of the race. Later that month, the candidate’s campaign manager and campaign chief strategist both departed. McCain slumped badly in national polls, often running third or fourth with 15 percent or less support.
The Arizona senator subsequently resumed his familiar position as a political underdog, riding the Straight Talk Express and taking advantage of free media such as debates and sponsored events. By December 2007, the Republican race was unsettled, with none of the top-tier candidates dominating the race and all of them possessing major vulnerabilities with different elements of the Republican base electorate. McCain was showing a resurgence, in particular with renewed strength in New Hampshirethe scene of his 2000 triumphand was bolstered further by the endorsements of The Boston Globe, the New Hampshire Union Leader, and almost two dozen other state newspapers, as well as from Senator Lieberman (now an Independent Democrat). McCain decided not to campaign significantly in the January 3, 2008, Iowa caucuses, which saw a win by former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee.
McCain’s comeback plan paid off when he won the New Hampshire primary on January 8, defeating former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney in a close contest, to once again become one of the front-runners in the race. In mid-January, McCain placed first in the South Carolina primary, narrowly defeating Mike Huckabee. Pundits credited the third-place finisher, Tennessee‘s former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, with drawing votes from Huckabee in South Carolina, thereby giving a narrow win to McCain.A week later, McCain won the Florida primary, beating Romney again in a close contest; Giuliani then dropped out and endorsed McCain.
On February 5, McCain won both the majority of states and delegates in the Super Tuesday Republican primaries, giving him a commanding lead toward the Republican nomination. Romney departed from the race on February;7. McCain’s wins in the March;4 primaries clinched a majority of the delegates, and he became the presumptive Republican nominee.
McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Had he been elected, he would have become the first president who was born outside the contiguous forty-eight states. This raised a potential legal issue, since the United States Constitution requires the president to be a natural-born citizen of the United States. A bipartisan legal review, and a unanimous but non-binding Senate resolution, both concluded that he was a natural-born citizen. If inaugurated in 2009 at the age of 72 years and 144 days, he would have been the oldest person to become president.
McCain addressed concerns about his age and past health issues, stating in 2005 that his health was “excellent”. He had been treated for melanoma and an operation in 2000 for that condition left a noticeable mark on the left side of his face. McCain’s prognosis appeared favorable, according to independent experts, especially because he had already survived without a recurrence for more than seven years. In May 2008, McCain’s campaign briefly let the press review his medical records, and he was described as appearing cancer-free, having a strong heart, and in general being in good health.
McCain clinched enough delegates for the nomination and his focus shifted toward the general election, while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought a prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination. McCain introduced various policy proposals, and sought to improve his fundraising. Cindy McCain, who accounted for most of the couple’s wealth with an estimated net worth of $100 million, made part of her tax returns public in May. After facing criticism about lobbyists on staff, the McCain campaign issued new rules in May 2008 to avoid conflicts of interest, causing five top aides to leave.
When Obama became the Democrats’ presumptive nominee in early June, McCain proposed joint town hall meetings, but Obama instead requested more traditional debates for the fall. In July, a staff shake-up put Steve Schmidt in full operational control of the McCain campaign.Rick Davis remained as campaign manager but with a reduced role. Davis had also managed McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign; in 2005 and 2006, U.S. intelligence warned McCain’s Senate staff about Davis’s Russian links but gave no further warnings.
Throughout the summer of 2008, Obama typically led McCain in national polls by single-digit margins, and also led in several key swing states. McCain reprised his familiar underdog role, which was due at least in part to the overall challenges Republicans faced in the election year. McCain accepted public financing for the general election campaign, and the restrictions that go with it, while criticizing his Democratic opponent for becoming the first major party candidate to opt out of such financing for the general election since the system was implemented in 1976. The Republican’s broad campaign theme focused on his experience and ability to lead, compared to Obama’s.
On August 29, 2008, McCain revealed Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his surprise choice for a running mate. McCain was only the second U.S. major-party presidential nominee (after Walter Mondale, who chose Geraldine Ferraro) to select a woman as his running mate and the first Republican to do so. On September 3, 2008, McCain and Palin became the Republican Party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota. McCain surged ahead of Obama in national polls following the convention, as the Palin pick energized core Republican voters who had previously been wary of him. However, by the campaign’s own later admission, the rollout of Palin to the national media went poorly, and voter reactions to Palin grew increasingly negative, especially among independents and other voters concerned about her qualifications.
McCain’s decision to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate was criticized; New York Times journalist David Brooks said that “he took a disease that was running through the Republican party – anti-intellectualism, disrespect for facts – and he put it right at the centre of the party”. Laura McGann in Vox says that McCain gave the “reality TV politics” and Tea Party movement more political legitimacy, as well as solidifying “the Republican Party’s comfort with a candidate who would say absurdities;… unleashing a political style and a values system that animated the Tea Party movement and laid the groundwork for a Trump presidency.” Although McCain later expressed regret for not choosing the independent Senator Joe Lieberman as his VP candidate instead, he consistently defended Palin’s performances at his events.
On September 24, McCain said he was temporarily suspending his campaign activities, called on Obama to join him, and proposed delaying the first of the general election debates with Obama, in order to work on the proposed U.S. financial system bailout before Congress, which was targeted at addressing the subprime mortgage crisis and the financial crisis of 2007-2008. McCain’s intervention helped to give dissatisfied House Republicans an opportunity to propose changes to the plan that was otherwise close to agreement. After Obama declined McCain’s suspension suggestion, McCain went ahead with the debate on September 26. On October 1, McCain voted in favor of a revised $700 billion rescue plan. Another debate was held on October 7; like the first one, polls afterward suggested that Obama had won it. A final presidential debate occurred on October 15. Down the stretch, McCain was outspent by Obama by a four-to-one margin.
During and after the final debate, McCain compared Obama’s proposed policies to socialism and often invoked “Joe the Plumber” as a symbol of American small business dreams that would be thwarted by an Obama presidency. He barred using the Jeremiah Wright controversy in ads against Obama, but the campaign did frequently criticize Obama regarding his purported relationship with Bill Ayers. His rallies became increasingly vitriolic, with attendees denigrating Obama and displaying a growing anti-Muslim and anti-African-American sentiment. During a campaign rally in Minnesota, Gayle Quinnell, a McCain supporter, told him she did not trust Obama because “he’s an Arab”. He replied, “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” McCain’s response was considered one of the finer moments of the campaign and was still being viewed several years later as a marker for civility in American politics. Meghan McCain said that she cannot “go a day without someone bringing up (that) moment,” and noted that at the time “there were a lot of people really trying to get my dad to go (against Obama) with;… you’re a Muslim, you’re not an American aspect of that,” but that her father had refused. “I can remember thinking that it was a morally amazing and beautiful moment, but that maybe there would be people in the Republican Party that would be quite angry,” she said.
The election took place on November 4, and Barack Obama was declared the projected winner at about 11:00 pm Eastern Standard Time; McCain delivered his concession speech in Phoenix, Arizona about twenty minutes later. In it, he noted the historic and special significance of Obama being elected the nation’s first African American president. In the end, McCain won 173 electoral votes to Obama’s 365; McCain failed to win most of the battleground states and lost some traditionally Republican ones. McCain gained 46 percent of the nationwide popular vote, compared to Obama’s 53 percent.
Senate career after 2008
Remainder of fourth Senate term
Following his defeat, McCain returned to the Senate amid varying views about what role he might play there. In mid-November 2008 he met with President-elect Obama, and the two discussed issues they had commonality on. Around the same time, McCain indicated that he intended to run for re-election to his Senate seat in 2010. As the inauguration neared, Obama consulted with McCain on a variety of matters, to an extent rarely seen between a president-elect and his defeated rival, and President Obama’s inauguration speech contained an allusion to McCain’s theme of finding a purpose greater than oneself.
Nevertheless, McCain emerged as a leader of the Republican opposition to the Obama economic stimulus package of 2009, saying it had too much spending for too little stimulative effect. McCain also voted against Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayorsaying that while undeniably qualified, “I do not believe that she shares my belief in judicial restraint”and by August 2009 was siding more often with his Republican Party on closely divided votes than ever before in his senatorial career. McCain reasserted that the War in Afghanistan was winnable and criticized Obama for a slow process in deciding whether to send additional U.S. troops there.
McCain also harshly criticized Obama for scrapping construction of the U.S. missile defense complex in Poland, declined to enter negotiations over climate change legislation similar to what he had proposed in the past, and strongly opposed the Obama health care plan. McCain led a successful filibuster of a measure that would allow repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards gays. Factors involved in McCain’s new direction included Senate staffers leaving, a renewed concern over national debt levels and the scope of federal government, a possible Republican primary challenge from conservatives in 2010, and McCain’s campaign edge being slow to wear off. As one longtime McCain advisor said, “A lot of people, including me, thought he might be the Republican building bridges to the Obama Administration. But he’s been more like the guy blowing up the bridges.”
In early 2010, a primary challenge from radio talk show host and former U.S. Congressman J. D. Hayworth materialized in the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Arizona and drew support from some but not all elements of the Tea Party movement. With Hayworth using the campaign slogan “The Consistent Conservative”, McCain saiddespite his own past use of the term on a number of occasions“I never considered myself a maverick. I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities.” The primary challenge coincided with McCain reversing or muting his stance on some issues such as the bank bailouts, closing of the Guantnamo Bay detention camp, campaign finance restrictions, and gays in the military.
When the health care plan, now called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed Congress and became law in March 2010, McCain strongly opposed the landmark legislation not only on its merits but also on the way it had been handled in Congress. As a consequence, he warned that congressional Republicans would not work with Democrats on anything else: “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year. They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.” McCain became a vocal defender of Arizona SB 1070, the April 2010 tough anti-illegal immigration state law that aroused national controversy, saying that the state had been forced to take action given the federal government’s inability to control the border. In the August 24 primary, McCain beat Hayworth by a 56 to 32 percent margin. McCain proceeded to easily defeat Democratic Tucson city councilman Rodney Glassman in the general election.
In the lame duck session of the 111th Congress, McCain voted for the compromise Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, but against the DREAM Act (which he had once sponsored) and the New START Treaty. Most prominently, he continued to lead the eventually losing fight against “Don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. In his opposition, he sometimes fell into anger or hostility on the Senate floor, and called its passage “a very sad day” that would compromise the battle effectiveness of the military.
Fifth Senate term
While control of the House of Representatives went over to the Republicans in the 112th Congress, the Senate stayed Democratic and McCain continued to be the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. As the Arab Spring took center stage, McCain urged that the embattled Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, step down and thought the U.S. should push for democratic reforms in the region despite the associated risks of religious extremists gaining power. McCain was an especially vocal supporter of the 2011 military intervention in Libya. In April of that year he visited the Anti-Gaddafi forces and National Transitional Council in Benghazi, the highest-ranking American to do so, and said that the rebel forces were “my heroes”. In June, he joined with Senator Kerry in offering a resolution that would have authorized the military intervention, and said: “The administration’s disregard for the elected representatives of the American people on this matter has been troubling and counterproductive.” In August, McCain voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011 that resolved the U.S. debt ceiling crisis. In November, McCain and Senator Carl Levin were leaders in efforts to codify in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 that terrorism suspects, no matter where captured, could be detained by the U.S. military and its tribunal system; following objections by civil libertarians, some Democrats, and the White House, McCain and Levin agreed to language making it clear that the bill would not pertain to U.S. citizens.
In the 2012 Republican Party presidential primaries, McCain endorsed former 2008 rival Mitt Romney and campaigned for him, but compared the contest to a Greek tragedy due to its drawn-out nature with massive super PAC-funded attack ads damaging all the contenders. He labeled the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision as “uninformed, arrogant, nave”, and, decrying its effects and the future scandals he thought it would bring, said it would become considered the court’s “worst decision;… in the 21st century”. McCain took the lead in opposing the defense spending sequestrations brought on by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and gained attention for defending State Department aide Huma Abedin against charges brought by a few House Republicans that she had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
McCain continued to be one of the most frequently appearing guests on the Sunday morning news talk shows.He became one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, saying it was a “debacle” that featured either “a massive cover-up or incompetence that is not acceptable” and that it was worse than the Watergate scandal. As an outgrowth of this strong oppositi, he and a few other senators were successful in blocking the planned nomination of Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State; McCain’s friend and colleague John Kerry was nominated instead.
Regarding the Syrian civil war that had begun in 2011, McCain repeatedly argued for the U.S. intervening militarily in the conflict on the side of the anti-government forces. He staged a visit to rebel forces inside Syria in May 2013, the first senator to do so, and called for arming the Free Syrian Army with heavy weapons and for the establishment of a no-fly zone over the country. Following reports that two of the people he posed for pictures with had been responsible for the kidnapping of eleven Lebanese Shiite pilgrims the year before, McCain disputed one of the identifications and said he had not met directly with the other. Following the 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons attack, McCain argued again for strong American military action against the government of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and in September 2013 cast a Foreign Relations committee vote in favor of Obama’s request to Congress that it authorize a military response. McCain took the lead in criticizing a growing non-interventionist movement within the Republican Party, exemplified by his March 2013 comment that Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and Representative Justin Amash were “wacko birds”.
Kerry (far left) and McCain (third from left) with members of the Saudi Royal Family after greeting the new King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, January 2015
During 2013, McCain was a member of a bi-partisan group of senators, the “Gang of Eight“, which announced principles for another try at comprehensive immigration reform. The resulting Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 passed the Senate by a 68-32 margin, but faced an uncertain future in the House. In July 2013, McCain was at the forefront of an agreement among senators to drop filibusters against Obama administration executive nominees without Democrats resorting to the “nuclear option” that would disallow such filibusters altogether. However, the option would be imposed later in the year anyway, to the senator’s displeasure. These developments and some other negotiations showed that McCain now had improved relations with the Obama administration, including the president himself, as well as with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and that he had become the leader of a power center in the Senate for cutting deals in an otherwise bitterly partisan environment. They also led some observers to conclude that the “maverick” McCain had returned.
McCain was publicly skeptical about the Republican strategy that precipitated the U.S. federal government shutdown of 2013 and U.S. debt-ceiling crisis of 2013 in order to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act; in October 2013 he voted in favor of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, which resolved them and said, “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.” Similarly, he was one of nine Republican senators who voted for the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 at the end of the year. By early 2014, McCain’s apostasies were enough that the Arizona Republican Party formally censured him for having what they saw as a liberal record that had been “disastrous and harmful”. McCain remained stridently opposed to many aspects of Obama’s foreign policy, however, and in June 2014, following major gains by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in the 2014 Northern Iraq offensive, decried what he saw as a U.S. failure to protect its past gains in Iraq and called on the president’s entire national security team to resign. McCain said, “Could all this have been avoided?;… The answer is absolutely yes. If I sound angry it’s because I am angry.”
McCain was a supporter of the Euromaidan protests against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his government, and appeared in Independence Square in Kiev in December 2013. Following the overthrow of Yanukovych and subsequent 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, McCain became a vocal supporter of providing arms to Ukrainian military forces, saying the sanctions imposed against Russia were not enough. In 2014, McCain led the opposition to the appointments of Colleen Bell, Noah Mamet, and George Tsunis to the ambassadorships in Hungary, Argentina, and Norway, respectively, arguing they were unqualified appointees being rewarded for their political fundraising. Unlike many Republicans, McCain supported the release and contents of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture in December 2014, saying “The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.” He added that the CIA’s practices following the September 11 attacks had “stained our national honor” while doing “much harm and little practical good” and that “Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.” He opposed the Obama administration’s December 2014 decision to normalize relations with Cuba.
The 114th United States Congress assembled in January 2015 with Republicans in control of the Senate, and McCain achieved one of his longtime goals when he became chairman of the Armed Services Committee. In this position, he led the writing of proposed Senate legislation that sought to modify parts of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 in order to return responsibility for major weapons systems acquisition back to the individual armed services and their secretaries and away from the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. As chair, McCain tried to maintain a bipartisan approach and forged a good relationship with ranking member Jack Reed. In April 2015, McCain announced that he would run for a sixth term in Arizona’s 2016 Senate election. While there was still conservative and Tea Party anger at him, it was unclear if they would mount an effective primary challenge against him. During 2015, McCain strongly opposed the Obama administration’s proposed comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program (later finalized as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)), saying that Secretary of State Kerry was “delusional” and “giv away the store” in negotiations with Iran. McCain supported the Saudi Arabian-led military intervention in Yemen against the Shia Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, saying: “I’m sure civilians die in war. Not nearly as many as the Houthis have executed.”
McCain accused President Obama of being “directly responsible” for the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting “because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures.”
During the 2016 Republican primaries, McCain said he would support the Republican nominee even if it was Donald Trump, but following Mitt Romney’s 2016 anti-Trump speech, McCain endorsed the sentiments expressed in that speech, saying he had serious concerns about Trump’s “uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues”. Relations between the two had been fraught since early in the Donald Trump presidential campaign, 2016, when McCain referred to a room full of Trump supporters as “crazies”, and the real estate mogul then said of McCain: “He insulted me, and he insulted everyone in that room;… He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured;… perhaps he was a war hero, but right now he’s said a lot of very bad things about a lot of people.” Following Trump becoming the presumptive nominee of the party on May 3, McCain said that Republican voters had spoken and he would support Trump.
McCain himself faced a primary challenge from Kelli Ward, a fervent Trump supporter, and then was expected to face a potentially strong challenge from Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in the general election. The senator privately expressed worry over the effect that Trump’s unpopularity among Hispanic voters might have on his own chances but also was concerned with more conservative pro-Trump voters; he thus kept his endorsement of Trump in place but tried to speak of him as little as possible given their disagreements. However McCain defeated Ward in the primary by a double-digit percentage point margin and gained a similar lead over Kirkpatrick in general election polls, and when the Donald Trump Access Hollywood controversy broke, he felt secure enough to on October;8 withdraw his endorsement of Trump. McCain stated that Trump’s “demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults” made it “impossible to continue to offer even conditional support” and added that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton, but would instead “write in the name of some good conservative Republican who is qualified to be president.” McCain, at 80 years of age, went on to defeat Kirkpatrick, securing a sixth term as United States Senator from Arizona.
In November 2016, McCain learned of the existence of a dossier regarding the Trump presidential campaign’s links to Russia compiled by Christopher Steele. McCain sent a representative to gather more information, who obtained a copy of the dossier. In December 2016, McCain passed on the dossier to FBI Director James Comey in a 1-on-1 meeting. McCain later wrote that he felt the dossier’s “allegations were disturbing” but unverifiable by himself, so he let the FBI investigate.
On December 31, 2016, in Tbilisi, Georgia, McCain stated that the United States should strengthen its sanctions against Russia. One year later, on December 23, 2017, the State Department announced that the United States would provide Ukraine with “enhanced defensive capabilities”.
Sixth and final Senate term
McCain chaired the January 5, 2017, hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee where Republican and Democratic senators and intelligence officers, including James R. Clapper Jr., the Director of National Intelligence, Michael S. Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command presented a “united front” that “forcefully reaffirmed the conclusion that the Russian government used hacking and leaks to try to influence the presidential election.”
Repeal and replacement of Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) was a centerpiece of McCain’s 2016 re-election campaign, and in July 2017 he said, “Have no doubt: Congress must replace Obamacare, which has hit Arizonans with some of the highest premium increases in the nation and left 14 of Arizona’s 15 counties with only one provider option on the exchanges this year.” He added that he supports affordable and quality health care, but objected that the pending Senate bill did not do enough to shield the Medicaid system in Arizona.
In response to the death of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died of organ failure while in government custody, McCain said that “this is only the latest example of Communist China’s assault on human rights, democracy, and freedom.”
In October 2017, McCain praised President Trump’s decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) while not yet withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement, saying that the Obama-era policy failed “to meet the multifaceted threat Iran poses. The goals President Trump presented in his speech today are a welcomed long overdue change.”
Brain tumor diagnosis and surgery
On July 14, 2017, McCain underwent a minimally invasive craniotomy at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, in order to remove a blood clot above his left eye. His absence prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay a vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Five days later, Mayo Clinic doctors announced that the laboratory results from the surgery confirmed the presence of a glioblastoma, which is a very aggressive brain tumor. Standard treatment options for this tumor include chemotherapy and radiation, although even with treatment, average survival time is approximately 14 months. McCain was a survivor of previous cancers, including melanoma.
President Trump made a public statement wishing Senator McCain well, as did many others, including former President Obama. On July 19, McCain’s senatorial office issued a statement that he “appreciates the outpouring of support he has received over the last few days. He is in good spirits as he continues to recover at home with his family in Arizona. He is grateful to the doctors and staff at Mayo Clinic for their outstanding care, and is confident that any future treatment will be effective.” On July 24, McCain announced via Twitter that he would return to the United States Senate the following day.
Return to the Senate
McCain returned to the Senate on July 25, less than two weeks after brain surgery. He cast a deciding vote allowing the Senate to begin consideration of bills to replace the Affordable Care Act. Along with that vote, he delivered a speech criticizing the party-line voting process used by the Republicans, as well as by the Democrats in passing the Affordable Care Act to begin with, and McCain also urged a “return to regular order” utilizing the usual committee hearings and deliberations. On July 28, he cast the decisive vote against the Republicans’ final proposal that month, the so-called “skinny repeal” option, which failed 49-51.
McCain did not vote in the Senate after December 2017, remaining instead in Arizona to undergo cancer treatment. On April 15, 2018, he underwent surgery for an infection relating to diverticulitis and the following day was reported to be in stable condition.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Senators Joni Ernst, Daniel Sullivan, John McCain, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner attending the 2016 International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit in Singapore
- Committee on Armed Services (Chair)
- as chair of the full committee may serve as an ex-officio member of any subcommittee
- Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- Committee on Indian Affairs
- Committee on Intelligence (ex-officio)
- International Conservation Caucus
- Senate Diabetes Caucus
- Senate National Security Caucus (Co-Chair)
- Sportsmen’s Caucus
- Senate Wilderness and Public Lands Caucus
- Senate Ukraine Caucus
- Republican Main Street Partnership.
Death and funeral
On August 24, 2018, McCain’s family announced that he would no longer receive treatment for his cancer. He died the following day at 4:28 p.m. MST (11:28 p.m. UTC), with his wife and family beside him, at his home in Cornville, Arizona.
McCain lay in state in the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on August 29, which would have been his 82nd birthday. This was followed by a service at North Phoenix Baptist Church on August 30. His remains were then moved to Washington, D.C. to lie in state in the rotunda of the United States Capitol on August 31, which was followed by a service at the Washington National Cathedral on September 1. He was a “lifelong Episcopalian” who attended, but did not join, a Southern Baptist church for at least 17 years; memorial services were scheduled in both denominations. Prior to his death, McCain requested that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deliver eulogies at his funeral, and asked that both President Donald Trump and former Alaska Governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin not attend any of the services. McCain himself planned the funeral arrangements and selected his pallbearers for the service in Washington; the pallbearers included former Vice President Joe Biden, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, actor Warren Beatty, and Russian dissident Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza.
Multiple foreign leaders attended McCain’s service: Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, Speaker of Taiwan’s Congress Su Jia-chyuan, National Defense Minister of Canada Harjit Sajjan, Defense Minister Jri Luik and Foreign Minister Sven Mikser of Estonia, Foreign Minister of Latvia Edgars Rinkvis, Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Antanas Linkeviius, and Foreign Affairs Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir.
Dignitaries who gave eulogies at the Memorial Service in Washington National Cathedral included Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Joe Lieberman, and his daughter Meghan McCain. The New Yorker magazine hailed the service as the biggest resistance meeting of the Trump era.
Many American political figures paid tribute at the funeral. Those who attended included former United States Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, Carter; First Ladies Michelle, Laura, Hillary, Rosalyn; and former Vice Presidents Biden, Cheney, Gore, and Quayle. Former President George H.W. Bush (who died 3 months and 5 days after McCain) was too ill to attend the service and President Trump was not invited. Many figures from political life both current and former from both political parties attended. Figures included, John F. Kelly, Jim Mattis, Bob Dole, Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Elizabeth Warren, Jon Huntsman. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner attended to the displeasure of Meghan McCain. Journalists Carl Bernstein, Tom Brokaw, and Charlie Rose, as well as actors Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, and comedians Jay Leno, and Joy Behar also attended the funeral.
On September 2, the funeral cortege traveled from Washington, D.C. through Annapolis, Maryland, where the streets were lined with crowds of onlookers, to the Naval Academy. A private service was held at the Naval Academy Chapel, attended by the brigade of midshipmen and McCain’s classmates. After the chapel service, McCain was buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery, next to his Naval Academy classmate and lifelong friend Admiral Charles R. Larson.
Many celebrities paid tribute to the late Senator on Twitter. Those included, Tom Hanks who tweeted “Duty. Honor. Country. Our nation thanks you, John McCain. There has been no finer son of America”. Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Reese Witherspoon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Khloe Kardashian also tweeted out remembrances of the late Senator.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was empowered to appoint McCain’s interim replacement until a special election is held in 2020 to determine who is to serve out the remainder of McCain’s term, which ends in January 2023 and thus appointed the then former Arizona U.S. Senator Jon Kyl to fill the vacancy. Under Arizona law, the appointed replacement must be of the same party as McCain, a Republican. Newspaper speculation about potential appointees has included McCain’s widow Cindy, former Senator Jon Kyl, and former Representatives Matt Salmon and John Shadegg. Ducey said that he would not make a formal appointment until after McCain’s final funeral and burial; on September 4, two days after McCain was buried, Ducey appointed Kyl to fill McCain’s seat.
McCain received many tributes and condolences, including from Congressional colleagues, all living former Presidents – Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama – and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Vice President Mike Pence and President Richard Nixon‘s daughters Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. French President Emmanuel Macron, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had just taken office the previous day, and former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, British Prime Minister Theresa May and former Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister Heiko Maas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the 14th Dalai Lama, and former Vietnamese ambassador to Washington Nguyn Quc Cng also sent condolences.
Colonel Trn Trng Duyt, who ran the Ha L Prison when McCain was held there, remarked, “At that time I liked him personally for his toughness and strong stance. Later on, when he became a US Senator, he and Senator John Kerry greatly contributed to promote Vietnam-US relations so I was very fond of him. When I learnt about his death early this morning, I feel very sad. I would like to send condolences to his family.” In a TV interview, Senator Lindsey Graham said McCain’s last words to him were “I love you, I have not been cheated.” His daughter, Meghan McCain, shared her grief, stating that she was present at the moment he died.
At the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, McCain was recognized in the “In Memoriam” segment, right before Aretha Franklin. Many fans questioned the inclusion of McCain in the segment because he wasn’t known for television. He had, however, appeared in various television projects, including hosting and several cameo appearances on Saturday Night Live. He also made appearances on Parks and Recreation and 24. McCain was also a good friend of SNL creator Lorne Michaels, who produced that year’s Emmy Awards ceremony.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he would introduce a resolution to rename the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain. A quarter peal of Grandsire Caters in memory of McCain was rung by the bellringers of Washington National Cathedral the day following his death. Another memorial quarter peal was rung on September;6 on the Bells of Congress at the Old Post Office in Washington.
Negative reaction from the White House
Trump reportedly rejected the White House’s plans to release a statement praising McCain’s life, and he initially said nothing about McCain himself in a tweet that extended condolences to McCain’s family. In addition, the flag at the White House, which had been lowered to half-staff the day of McCain’s death (August 25), was raised back to full-staff at 12:01 a.m. on August 27. Trump reportedly felt that media coverage of McCain’s death was excessive given that McCain was never president. In contrast with the White House’s initial decision, many governors, both Democratic and Republican, had ordered flags in their states to fly at half-staff until McCain’s interment, and Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer requested support from the Defense Department so that flags would be flown at half-staff on all government buildings. Following public backlash from the American Legion and AMVETS, Trump relented and ordered the White House flag back to half-staff later in the day on August 27. Trump belatedly issued a statement praising McCain’s service to the country, and he signed a proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff until McCain’s interment at the Naval Academy Cemetery.
In March 2019seven months after McCain’s deathTrump issued a series of public statements that criticized McCain at least four times in five days. Trump also claimed that he approved McCain’s funeral but was not thanked for it. However, the Washington National Cathedral responded that no governmental or presidential approval was needed for McCain’s funeral because he was not a former president. McCain’s lying in state was approved by the Senate, while Trump did approve the transport for McCain’s body. Trump also described himself as having “got the job done” on the Veterans Choice Act while claiming McCain failed on the same issue. However, McCain was actually one of the two main authors of the bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2014. Trump simply signed the VA MISSION Act of 2018 (S. 2372), an expansion of that law, which was worked on by McCain and others, and includes McCain’s name in its full title. Trump also falsely claimed that McCain graduated “last in his class” when McCain was actually fifth from last.
Various advocacy groups have given McCain scores or grades as to how well his votes align with the positions of each group. The American Conservative Union awarded McCain a lifetime rating of 82 percent through 2015, while McCain registered an average lifetime 12 percent “Liberal Quotient” from Americans for Democratic Action through 2015. CrowdPac, which rates politicians based on donations made and received, gave Senator McCain a score of 4.3C with 10C being the most conservative and 10L being the most liberal.
The non-partisan National Journal rates a Senator’s votes by what percentage of the Senate voted more liberally than he or she, and what percentage more conservatively, in three policy areas: economic, social, and foreign. For 2005-2006 (as reported in the 2008 Almanac of American Politics), McCain’s average ratings were as follows: economic policy: 59 percent conservative and 41 percent liberal; social policy: 54 percent conservative and 38 percent liberal; and foreign policy: 56 percent conservative and 43 percent liberal. In 2012, the National Journal gave McCain a composite score of 73 percent conservative and 27 percent liberal, while in 2013 he received a composite score of 60 percent conservative and 40 percent liberal.
Columnists such as Robert Robb and Matthew Continetti used a formulation devised by William F. Buckley Jr. to describe McCain as “conservative” but not “a conservative”, meaning that while McCain usually tended towards conservative positions, he was not “anchored by the philosophical tenets of modern American conservatism”. Following his 2008 presidential election loss, McCain began adopting more orthodox conservative views; the magazine National Journal rated McCain along with seven of his colleagues as the “most conservative” Senators for 2010 and he achieved his first 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union for that year. During Barack Obama’s presidency, McCain was one of the top five Republicans most likely to vote with Obama’s position on significant votes; McCain voted with Obama’s position on such votes more than half the time in 2013 and was “censured by the Arizona Republican party for a so-called ‘liberal’ voting record”.
From the late 1990s until 2008, McCain was a board member of Project Vote Smart which was set up by Richard Kimball, his 1986 Senate opponent. The project provides non-partisan information about the political positions of McCain and other candidates for political office. Additionally, McCain used his Senate website to describe his political positions.
Cultural and political image
McCain’s personal character was a dominant feature of his public image. This image includes the military service of both himself and his family, the circumstances and tensions surrounding the end of his first marriage and beginning of second, his maverick political persona, his temper, his admitted problem of occasional ill-considered remarks, and his close ties to his children from both his marriages.
McCain’s political appeal was more nonpartisan and less ideological compared to many other national politicians. His stature and reputation stemmed partly from his service in the Vietnam War. He also carried physical vestiges of his war wounds, as well as his melanoma surgery. When campaigning, he quipped: “I am older than dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein.”
Writers often extolled McCain for his courage not just in war but in politics, and wrote sympathetically about him. McCain’s shift of political stances and attitudes during and especially after the 2008 presidential campaign, including his self-repudiation of the maverick label, left many writers expressing sadness and wondering what had happened to the McCain they thought they had known. By 2013, some aspects of the older McCain had returned, and his image became that of a kaleidoscope of contradictory tendencies, including, as one writer listed, “the maverick, the former maverick, the curmudgeon, the bridge builder, the war hero bent on transcending the call of self-interest to serve a cause greater than himself, the sore loser, old bull, last lion, loose cannon, happy warrior, elder statesman, lion in winter.”
In his own estimation, McCain was straightforward and direct, but impatient. His other traits included a penchant for lucky charms, a fondness for hiking, and a sense of humor that sometimes backfired spectacularly, as when he made a joke in 1998 about the Clintons that was widely deemed not fit to print in newspapers: “Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? – Because Janet Reno is her father.” McCain subsequently apologized profusely, and the Clinton White House accepted his apology. McCain did not shy away from addressing his shortcomings, and he apologized for them. He was known for sometimes being prickly and hot-tempered with Senate colleagues, but his relations with his own Senate staff were more cordial, and inspired loyalty towards him. He formed a strong bond with two senators, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, over hawkish foreign policy and overseas travel, and they became dubbed the “Three Amigos”.
McCain acknowledged having said intemperate things in years past, though he also said that many stories have been exaggerated. One psychoanalytic comparison suggested that McCain was not the first presidential candidate to have a temper, and cultural critic Julia Keller argued that voters want leaders who are passionate, engaged, fiery, and feisty. McCain employed both profanity and shouting on occasion, although such incidents became less frequent over the years. Lieberman made this observation: “It is not the kind of anger that is a loss of control. He is a very controlled person.” Senator Thad Cochran, who knew McCain for decades and had battled him over earmarks, expressed concern about a McCain presidency: “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” Yet Cochran supported McCain for president when it was clear he would win the nomination. The Chicago Tribune editorial board called McCain a patriot, who although sometimes wrong was fearless, and that he deserves to be thought of among the few US senators in history, whose names are more recognizable than some presidents.
All McCain’s family members were on good terms with him, and he defended them against some of the negative consequences of his high-profile political lifestyle. His family’s military tradition extends to the latest generation: son John Sidney IV (“Jack”) graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2009, becoming the fourth generation John S. McCain to do so, and is a helicopter pilot; son James served two tours with the Marines in the Iraq War; and son Doug flew jets in the navy. His daughter Meghan became a blogging and Twittering presence in the debate about the future of the Republican Party following the 2008 elections, and showed some of his maverick tendencies. In 2017 Meghan joined the cast of the popular ABC talk show The View as a co-host. Senator McCain himself also appeared as a guest on the program.
McCain appeared in several television shows and films while he was a sitting senator. He made uncredited cameo appearances in Wedding Crashers and 24 and had two uncredited cameos in Parks and Recreation. McCain also hosted Saturday Night Live in 2002 and appeared in two episodes in 2008.
Awards and honors
In addition to his military honors and decorations, McCain was granted a number of civilian awards and honors.
In 1997, Time magazine named McCain as one of the “25 Most Influential People in America”.In 1999, McCain shared the Profile in Courage Award with Senator Russ Feingold for their work towards campaign finance reform. The following year, the same pair shared the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government. In 2005, The Eisenhower Institute awarded McCain the Eisenhower Leadership Prize. The prize recognizes individuals whose lifetime accomplishments reflect Dwight D. Eisenhower‘s legacy of integrity and leadership. In 2006, the Bruce F. Vento Public Service Award was bestowed upon McCain by the National Park Trust. The same year, McCain was awarded the Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Service Award by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, in honor of Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson. In 2007, the World Leadership Forum presented McCain with the Policymaker of the Year Award; it is given internationally to someone who has “created, inspired or strongly influenced important policy or legislation”. In 2010, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia awarded McCain the Order of National Hero, an award never previously given to a non-Georgian. In 2015, the Kiev Patriarchate awarded McCain its own version of the Order of St. Vladimir. In 2016, Allegheny College awarded McCain, along with Vice President Joe Biden, its Prize for Civility in Public Life. In August 2016, Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, awarded McCain with the highest award for foreigners, the Order of Liberty. In 2017, Hashim Thai, the President of Kosovo, awarded McCain the “Urdhr i Liris” (Order of Freedom) medal for his contribution to the freedom and independence of Kosovo, and its partnership with the U.S. McCain also received the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in 2017. In the spring of 2018 McCain was decorated with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese Emperor for ‘strengthening bilateral relations and promoting friendship between Japan and the United States’.
McCain received several honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the United States and internationally. These include ones from Colgate University (LL.D 2000),The Citadel (DPA 2002),Wake Forest University (LL.D May 20, 2002), the University of Southern California (DHL May 2004),Northwestern University (LL.D June 17, 2005),Liberty University (2006),The New School (2006), and the Royal Military College of Canada (D.MSc June 27, 2013). He was also made an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society at Trinity College Dublin in 2005.