Programming note: For more on the late senator’s legacy, tune in to “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Sen. John McCain, a legend in the Senate, a hero for the country and a statesman who shaped the country on everything from US foreign policy to immigration reform, has left a hole in the heart of Washington.
The maverick and conservative who was, at times, willing to take on his own party died Saturday at a time when tumult and uncertainty looms in both the nation’s capital and the Capitol and McCain’s brand of straight-talking politics seems almost to be slipping away.
“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,” Former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday night. “John McCain will cast a long shadow. His impact on America hasn’t ended. Not even close. It will go on for many years to come.”
The Vietnam veteran survived more than five years as a prisoner of war, ran for President twice, won the Republican nomination in 2008 and became known for his frankness, humor and stubbornness in the Capitol Building. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were devastated by the loss Saturday, struggling to imagine Washington without him.
“In an era filled with cynicism about national unity and public service, John McCain’s life shone as a bright example. He showed us that boundless patriotism and self-sacrifice are not outdated concepts or clichés, but the building blocks of an extraordinary American life,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement about McCain.
In an emotional interview, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, lamented on CNN how hard it would be to go on without McCain.
“It’s tough. I am going to miss him,” Flake said. “I have admired him my entire life. It’s tough to imagine the Senate without him. It’s tough to imagine politics without John McCain.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement saying he’d introduce a resolution to rename the Russell office building after him.
“As you go through life, you meet few truly great people. John McCain was one of them. 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,” Schumer said. “The Senate, the United States, and the world are lesser places without John McCain.”
Inside the halls of Congress
McCain prized the Senate as an institution and the Senate floor as a hotbed for debate. He preferred working bills through the committee process before bringing them to the floor and worked across the aisle on some of the Senate’s most controversial issues, including immigration reform, a topic that landed him on the wrong side of the right wing of his party sometimes.
In 2017, just after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, McCain openly addressed some of his fears for the Senate, admonishing his own colleagues in a stirring speech for bending to what he believed was a partisan brand of politicking, warning them that grave consequences awaited a body that only careened blindly from one party’s control to another.
“We are getting nothing done, my friends, we’re getting nothing done,” McCain said.
While he prized unity and conservatism, he will be remembered for opposing a narrow repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 with a dramatic thumbs-down that shocked the chamber and reset the fate of Obamacare – a decision that seemed almost unimaginable at a time when Republicans had spent almost a decade campaigning to undo the law.
In McCain’s absence, it’s hard to know what will come of the Senate – his beloved institution – or the Republican Party, for whom he was the standard-bearer in 2008.
“John cared deeply about the Senate. He fought tirelessly for the Senate and invested a lot of time and care in younger senators,” Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, told Dana Bash on CNN. “When I first met him, he was pretty intimidating and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, two-time presidential candidate, a global leading figure, and he could be gruff, and he put me through my paces, but once you demonstrated to him you would stand up for your own principles and push back and debate with him, he was a remarkable friend and great mentor.”
McCain will lie in state in the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday, the day McCain *would have* turned 82 years old, according to the state’s governor, Doug Ducey. After that service, he will be taken to Washington on Thursday, and will lie in state in the Capitol on Friday, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
McCain will have a national memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral on Saturday, according to the family statement. After that, he will be taken to Annapolis, Maryland, where he will be laid to rest.
CNN’s Dana Bash, Jeff Zeleny and Keith Allen contributed to this report.