A bipartisan spirit reigns as John McCain lies in state in the Capitol rotunda

  • John McCain was honored Friday in a way that symbolized the Republican senator and former presidential candidate's vision for the country: politicians from both sides of the aisle sharing strong bonds even as they vie for power.
  • Lying in state under the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, McCain was surrounded by dozens of colleagues from Congress and members of President Donald Trump's administration.
United States Senators Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell stand near the casket of late Senator John McCain in the Capitol Rotunda as he lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, DC on Friday, August 31, 2018. 
Pool | Getty Images
United States Senators Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell stand near the casket of late Senator John McCain in the Capitol Rotunda as he lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, DC on Friday, August 31, 2018. 

WASHINGTON—John McCain was honored Friday in a way that symbolized the Republican senator and former presidential candidate's vision for the country: politicians from both sides of the aisle sharing strong bonds even as they vie for power.

Lying in state under the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, McCain was surrounded by dozens of colleagues from Congress and members of President Donald Trump's administration.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi walked together to place a wreath next to McCain's casket. Later, Pelosi escorted veteran conservative Republican Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas to the casket. Johnson, like McCain, was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, rivals in their chamber, stood beside each other as they honored McCain.

There will be a memorial service for McCain at the National Cathedral on Saturday in Washington. The late Arizona senator will then be buried Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

At a time of intense partisan rancor, it was a stark example of how McCain's spirit and aptitude for reaching across the aisle could still live on, even for brief moments like these.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said in an interview with CNBC after the ceremony that while he didn't always agree with McCain's policies, the Arizona "maverick" should be remembered as an inspiration to future leaders, no matter their political affiliation.

Brian Schwartz | CNBC

"He is an inspiration for generations to come as to how we should conduct ourselves in the House and the Senate, in Congress in general, and the body politic in our nation," Crowley said. "This is a powerful symbol of someone who not only got it right, he understood what he was doing in life and he understood at his death as well."

Ryan, in a speech at the event Friday, hailed McCain's passion for debate, adding that the late senator also believed the discourse between colleagues should lead to results.

"He showed us in the arena, the honest back and forth, that's where the cause gets bigger. That's where the triumph is all the sweeter. We get stronger at the broken places," Ryan said.

McCain survived 5½ years of torture and imprisonment during the Vietnam War. Then he went on to serve more than three decades in Congress, both as a member of the House and as a senator. He was known for his ferocious opposition to policies that didn't match his principles and for taking on presidents, no matter their party.

McCain was particularly critical of Trump.

The feud started during in 2015, during the last presidential campaign, when Trump questioned whether McCain was a war hero since he was a prisoner of war. "He's not a war hero," Trump said. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

McCain eventually had his revenge last year on the floor of the Senate, when he voted down a measure that would have devastated the Affordable Care Act – the signature achievement of President Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 election. It gave Democrats a major legislative victory and dealt a blow to a Republican initiative that Trump promised to deliver during the campaign. (Obama will deliver a eulogy for McCain on Saturday.)

Still, even though Trump and McCain had their disagreements, senior White House officials put that division aside at the service. Those who were present included attorney general and former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, chief of staff John Kelly and national security advisor John Bolton.

The president was not invited to the ceremony. He did offer condolences to McCain's family and said he respected the Arizona Republican's service, in spite of their differences.