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McCain Notebook: Tributes, memories, tears, civility lessons

By LAURIE KELLMAN,  Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Memories mixed with humor, grief and lessons on civility marked Sen. John McCain’s memorial service Saturday at Washington National Cathedral, the last event in Washington of the five-day farewell tour. A few scenes:


Keep on talking, even to rivals. That was the message of two former presidents McCain asked to testify that reconciliation, even amid the knife fight of national politics, is an effort worth making.

George W. Bush, who defeated McCain’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, recalled “a hard-fought personal journey.”

“In recent years, we sometimes talked of that intense period like football players remembering a big game,” Bush said from the pulpit. “In the process, rivalry melted away. In the end, I got to enjoy one of life’s great gifts: the friendship of John McCain. And I will miss him.”

Barack Obama, meanwhile, said he and McCain “didn’t advertise it,” but they would meet almost weekly in the Oval Office to talk about policy and also their families.

“And our disagreements didn’t go away during these private conversations. Those were real and they were often deep,” Obama said. “But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights and we laughed with each other and we learned from each other and we never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other’s patriotism — or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team.”



If Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney could sit next to each other, could there be hope for the divided nation, or Middle East peace?

Unclear. But the McCainesque pairing of people who have never been close raised eyebrows.

The Democratic presidential nominee and Republican former vice president were among the luminaries and their spouses seated in the front row during McCain’s memorial service.

Clinton, of course, was there as the wife of former President Bill Clinton. Cheney was there because he had been Bush’s vice president. But at a service McCain designed to break down rivalries and encouraged civility, Clinton and Cheney, two of their parties’ sharpest partisans, drew stares.

It’s not clear if the two exchanged any words.



Bush and Michelle Obama did.

Seated elsewhere in McCain Row 1, the former Republican president at one point could be seen handing the former first lady, wife of Bush’s Democratic successor, something — which she accepted. It was too far away in the massive cathedral to say for sure. But that didn’t stop Twitter from speculating that the object might have been candy, or a tissue.

During Obama’s speech, Mrs. Obama and Bush turned to each other, smiled and nodded.

Retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted a photo of the front row with the caption, “Decency wins.”



President Donald Trump stuck to his Saturday routine — heading to the golf course — as political dignitaries gathered at Washington National Cathedral.

Trump left the White House as the late senator’s daughter Meghan McCain delivered an emotional rebuke to Trump without mentioning his name.

Dressed in a white polo shirt and baseball hat, he entered his motorcade, which whisked him to Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.

The president did not offer any commentary on McCain’s memorial service. The White House did not respond to questions about whether he was watching.



Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson tweeted her own contrast with McCain.

“@realDonaldTrump ran for @POTUS ONE time and WON! Some people will never recover from that. #SorryNotSorry Yes, #MAGA,” she tweeted during McCain’s service.

She appears to be alluding to McCain’s two unsuccessful presidential bids, in 2000 and 2008, but lost the general election to Obama. Pierson pinned her tweet to the top of her feed, so it would not be buried under future tweets.



Every aspect of the senator’s weeklong memorial carried political and personal significance, including his pall bearers Saturday.

Among them, former Vice President Joe Biden, actor Warren Beatty, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Russian democracy advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and former Sens. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat; Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican; and Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat.

The group sat together near the side of the altar.



McCain’s wife, Cindy, was composed during most of the service and other events throughout the five-day farewell to her husband. But she broke down at Saturday’s memorial service as opera singer Renee Fleming sang “Danny Boy” at the request of the music-loving late senator.

During the performance, Mrs. McCain shut her eyes and put her hand over her mouth. She then rested her head on the shoulder of her son Jack. Tears streamed down her face, which she wiped away as Fleming finished.

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