WASHINGTON — It’s Washington’s turn to say goodbye to the late Sen. John McCain. And McCain is saying farewell — his way.
The six-term Republican senator, who lived and worked in the nation’s capital over four decades, will lie in state under the U.S. Capitol rotunda Friday for a ceremony and public visitation. On Saturday, McCain’s procession pauses by the Vietnam Memorial and heads for Washington National Cathedral for a formal funeral service. At McCain’s request, two former presidents — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush — are expected to speak there.
People close to the White House and McCain’s family said President Donald Trump, who has mocked McCain for getting captured during the Vietnam War, has been asked to stay away from all events.
McCain’s funeral puts him back in the spotlight a few miles from Trump’s doorstep, in the city where the senator, who died last Saturday at 81, worked and collected friends and enemies — and some people were both at different times. The procession is expected to continue highlighting what McCain found important, some of which contrasts with Trump’s style and priorities.
Vice President Mike Pence will speak at the Capitol ceremony Friday, and other officials will represent the administration in Trump’s hard-to-miss absence. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greeted the McCain family Thursday night when the late senator’s casket was flown into Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
McCain chose a Russian dissident as a pallbearer after Trump professed repeatedly his affinity and admiration for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin — praise that came amid special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The procession’s pause at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where McCain’s widow, Cindy, is expected to lay a wreath, will highlight McCain’s military service and his more than five years as a prisoner of war.
Trump obtained deferments during the Vietnam War for his college education and for bone spurs in his heels. Trump on Friday was expected to leave Washington in early afternoon, to head to North Carolina for an event on retirement security about the same time the public will start filing past McCain’s casket.
The McCain farewell began Wednesday and Thursday in Arizona, where he and Cindy McCain raised their family. Former Vice President Joe Biden and others provided a preview of the tributes to come.
None of the speakers at the North Phoenix Baptist Church on Thursday uttered Trump’s name. But Biden, who is considering challenging Trump in 2020, made what some saw as a veiled reference to the president. He talked about McCain’s character and how he parted company with those who “lacked the basic values of decency and respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.”
Biden said McCain “could not stand the abuse of power wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever country.”
Longtime McCain friend Tommy Espinoza told the 3,500 mourners that “We all make America great,” a strikingly similar phrase to Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
The church’s senior pastor, Noe Garcia, pronounced McCain “a true American hero.”
Much of the proceedings were lighthearted, noting McCain’s penchant for battle.
Biden advised McCain’s friends and family to remember snapshots of him, such as a glance or a touch. “Or when you saw the pure joy the moment he was about to take the stage on the Senate floor and start a fight. God, he loved it.”
McCain’s longtime chief of staff, Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general, drew laughs with a eulogy in which he talked about McCain’s “terribly bad driving” and his sense of humor, which included calling the Leisure World retirement community “Seizure World.” When McCain and Woods arrived at the community to apologize, Woods said, they saw a resident near the entrance making an obscene gesture at them.
The service brought to a close two days of mourning for the U.S. senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee in his home state.
At the end of the nearly 90-minute ceremony, McCain’s casket was wheeled out of the church to “My Way,” in tribute to a politician known for following his own path.
Trump and his wife, Melania, danced to the same song at the new president’s inauguration in 2017.