Relatives for US Senator John McCain, 81, the Republican stalwart from Arizona, announced on Friday that he would no longer be receiving treatment for terminal brain cancer. Late Saturday, he succumbed to his illness.
Family and friends had gathered to be near him in his final hours as tributes poured in from both Republicans and Democrats for McCain, who in 2008 was his party’s presidential nominee.
John McCain was an American hero, a man of decency and honor and a friend of mine. He will be missed not just in the U.S. Senate but by all Americans who respect integrity and independence. Jane and I send our deepest condolences to his family.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 26, 2018
A conservative war hawk, McCain did much during a 30-year-long legislative career to vex Democrats and liberals. But at the time of his death, he had also alienated many in his own party by being one of the few Republican voices who dared to loudly and consistently challenge President Donald Trump.
McCain also earned unstinting respect and gratitude from some on the left when he cast a vote in July 2017 that saved Obamacare. Upon entering the White House President Trump, determined to take a wrecking ball to the entire legacy of his predecessor, decided that he would start his efforts with the landmark health care bill, Barack Obama’s crowning domestic achievement during his two terms in the presidency.
Set aside your political issues with @SenJohnMcCain for now and remember the night he saved the ACA, saving lives.
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) August 26, 2018
Passage for the Obamacare repeal measure came down to McCain’s vote. During a scene of high drama in the middle of the night, the senator, already showing the early signs of illness, gave a thumbs down, killing the bill.
I’m saddened by the passing of Senator McCain who knew how to put his country first, over party. 20 million people have health care because he took a heroic vote to keep the ACA, one of his last votes.
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) August 26, 2018
McCain continued to challenge the president in the year after he left the Senate to convalesce at home in Arizona. From his @SenJohnMcCain Twitter handle, McCain lambasted the president’s “naivete” in cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naïveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” said Senator John McCain. “But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.” https://t.co/4iDa4Aoqfw
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) July 17, 2018
He also condemned an embarrassing, toadying performance by Trump at a post-summit press conference in Helsinki.
Today’s press conference in #Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 16, 2018
This past June, McCain, who worked during his time in the Senate to try to advance immigration reform, called Trump’s family separation policy “an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded.”
The administration’s current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded. The administration has the power to rescind this policy. It should do so now.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) June 18, 2018
And throughout his career, he took an outspoken position against torture, which led him in May to oppose Gina Haspel as Trump’s CIA director. A naval aviator who served during the Vietnam War, McCain spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison where he was subjected to torture.
I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country & has devoted her professional life to its service & defense. However, her role in overseeing the use of torture is disturbing & her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. https://t.co/ocDtdqU2Sx
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) May 10, 2018
Amid the myriad tributes there were also detractors who did not refrain from pointing out his lifelong militarism and — most egregiously for many — his elevation of Sarah Palin to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election.
Vox’s Laura McGann called it “one of the most important moments of McCain’s career. He proved willing to empower a demagogue when he thought doing so would improve his political fortunes, exactly the sin so many of his colleagues in the Republican Party have committed since Trump won their party’s nomination.”
John McCain’s legacy includes empowering a demagogue. https://t.co/BRQL4DY1vO
— Laura McGann (@lkmcgann) August 26, 2018
McGann and many others see a through line from the ascent of Palin to the reality politics of Donald Trump and the many abominations of his administration.