Vice President Mike Pence spoke Friday of John McCain’s love of his country, service in the military and public office, tirelessness, iron will in honoring the senator’s 35 years in Congress.
“In every generation, there are those who put country first, who prize service ahead of self, who summon idealism from a cynical age. John McCain was such a man,” Pence said in the Capitol Rotunda, standing before congressional leaders, military brass and government officials.
Pence said during his years in Congress and as vice president, he and McCain didn’t always agree, and McCain “almost always noticed.”
He spoke of the time he traveled with McCain to Iraq to visit US troops, when, after an 18-hour day, he found himself “literally falling asleep in the middle of a dinner with Iraqi officials.”
“After the dinner, John, who was more than 20 years older than me, walked up, put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Mike, we have a few more meetings tonight. But why don’t you turn in? You look like you could use some rest,’” Pence recalled.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan also spoke of their colleague as one of the “bravest souls our country ever produced” and who embodied “America’s fighting spirit.”
Pence attended Friday’s ceremony on the behalf of President Donald Trump, who was not invited to any of McCain’s services. Pence made little mention of the man who feuded with the senator.
“The President asked me to be here on the behalf of a grateful nation to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life in uniform and in public office, and it’s my great honor to be here,” Pence said.
He added, “As President Trump said yesterday, we respect his service to the country.”
Besides Pence, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway was also in attendance at Friday’s ceremony.
In the past, Trump attacked McCain’s record of service, saying the Vietnam veteran was “not a war hero” because he was captured, later declined to apologize for his comment, and blasted McCain’s deciding vote on health care when the senator was receiving treatment for brain cancer.
McCain had made clear he did not want Trump to attend his funeral services, and Trump had to be urged by aides to make a statement honor McCain and reordering the flags at half staff.
McCain criticized Trump’s policies and politics, cautioning Americans against turning toward “half-baked, spurious nationalism.” He called Trump’s news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
McCain will lie in state at the US Capitol for the remainder of the day and the public will be invited to view his casket.
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.