Bush, Obama Pay Tribute to John McCain At Washington Memorial Service

Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, along with several others, paid tribute to Sen. John McCain at his memorial service in Washington D.C. on Saturday, noting McCain’s dedication to serving his country and juxtaposing his value of bipartisanship to today’s current political landscape.

“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” Obama said. “It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.”

Obama, a Democrat who defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, said that throughout his presidency, he and McCain would often meet at the White House, according to ABC News. Despite the facts that their “disagreements didn't go away,” Obama said the two men simply “enjoyed the time [they] shared away from the bright lights.”

via Mark Wilson/Getty Images

“And we never doubted the other man's sincerity or the other man's patriotism. Or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team,” Obama added.

Former President George W. Bush “and I are among the fortunate few who competed against John at the highest levels of politics,” Obama said. “He made us better presidents, just as he made the Senate better, just as he made this country better.”

Bush, who won the 2000 GOP presidential nomination over McCain, also spoke at the memorial service, calling McCain “honest, no matter whom it offended. Presidents were not spared.”

“Back in the day, he could frustrate me,” Bush said. “And I know he'd say the same thing about me. But he also made me better.”

via Chris Wattie/Reuters

“He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators,” Bush said. “Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots. There was something deep inside him that made him stand up for the little guy — to speak for forgotten people in forgotten places.”

Other notable figures who paid tribute to McCain, noting McCain’s ability to unite the country, even in death.

“His death seems to have reminded the American people that these values are what makes us a great nation, not the tribal partisanship and personal attack politics that have recently characterized our life,” former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a close friend of McCain’s, said. “This week’s celebration of the life and values and patriotism of this hero, I think, have taken our country above all that. In a way it’s the last great gift that John McCain gave America.”

McCain, who often reached across party lines and was known for his bipartisanship, had considered Lieberman, a registered Democrat, to serve as his vice presidential nominee in 2008, NBC News reports. Lieberman added that McCain “regularly reached across party lines because he knew that was the only way to solve problems and seize opportunities for the people of our country and his state.”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also acknowledged McCain’s ability to unite his fellow Americans, and spoke of how the two men’s paths crossed during the Vietnam War.

“None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much-needed moment of unity and a renewed faith in the possibilities of America,” Kissinger said. “Henceforth America’s honor is ours to sustain.”

McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, also paid a touching tribute to her father. Overcome with emotion, she said that her father was “defined by love.”

“John McCain was not defined by prison, by the Navy, by the Senate, by the Republican Party, or by any single one of the deeds in his absolutely extraordinary life,” she said, referring to her father’s service in the military and imprisonment during the Vietnam War. “John McCain was defined by love.”

via Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

While not mentioning the president by name, McCain’s daughter did appear to criticize President Donald Trump, who had often shared bitter words with McCain, including disparaging McCain’s service in the military.

“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served,” she said. “He was a great fire who burned bright.”

In another critique of the president, she said, “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.” Her comment was met with thunderous applause.

Later in her eulogy to her father, she defined the America of McCain as “generous, welcoming and bold.”

Trump was absent from the memorial service on Saturday, after he was asked to stay away from all events in McCain’s five-day, cross-country procession, NBC News reports. Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also an adviser to the president, were in attendance.

A handful of Trump administration officials were in attendance as well, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

McCain died on August 25, following a battle with brain cancer. He was 81.