He was a war hero who survived more than five years of torture as a prisoner in Vietnam and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, but it’s John McCain’s role as a legislator that may have most defined his public life.
A two-term congressman and a senator for more than three decades, McCain shaped US policy on everything from immigration to foreign policy, spoke out against the country’s use of enhanced interrogation practices during the George W. Bush administration and irrevocably changed the very body in which he served.
On Friday, McCain will become only the 31st person to lie in state in the US Capitol, a rare honor reserved for government officials and military officers. Several presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, have also lain in state and McCain’s casket will lie atop Lincoln’s catafalque, a wooden structure that has been used in several ceremonies in past years.
Shortly before 11 a.m. McCain’s body will enter the Capitol Rotunda. Then a brief ceremony celebrating McCain’s life will begin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to speak. Following that, bipartisan leaders — McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi — will present wreaths.
In recent days, McCain has been eulogized and remembered by Republicans and Democrats alike, celebrated for his ability to reach across the aisle and at times buck his own party, as he did in the summer of 2017 when a simple thumbs down stopped Republicans from moving forward with a plan that would have advanced a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
McConnell, a man who at times fought on the opposite side of McCain on issues such as campaign finance, remembered him on the Senate floor earlier this week as a tough political opponent.
“I found myself on both sides of that table over the years. John and I stood shoulder to shoulder on some of the most important issues to each of us, and we also disagreed entirely on huge subjects that helped define our careers,” McConnell said in remembrance of McCain.
“John treated every day, every issue, with the intensity and seriousness that the legislative process deserves. He would fight like mad to bring the country closer to his vision of the common good. But when the day’s disputes were over, that very same man was one of our most powerful reminders that so much more unites us than divides us,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat who shared a presidential ticket with a man who beat McCain, remembered his former Senate colleague Thursday as one of the fiercest defenders of the Senate.
“We both loved the Senate. Proudest years of my life were being a United States senator. I was honored to be a United States senator,” Biden said. “We both lamented, watching it change.”
After the ceremony at the Capitol on Friday, the public is invited to pay their respects to McCain. On Saturday, a memorial service will be held at the National Cathedral, where former Presidents Bush, a Republican, and Barack Obama, a Democrat, will speak.
McCain relished his time in Congress, a place he had not returned to since December 2017 as he fought brain cancer. In his final message to the American public, McCain celebrated the honor that serving had been.
“Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them,” he wrote.