Nation's capital prepares a hero's welcome for late Sen. John McCain

Richard Wolf
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) 
William Thomas Cain | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – When Sen. John McCain left the nation's capital in December to celebrate Christmas and battle brain cancer in Arizona, friends and colleagues vowed he would return.

For three tribute-filled days, their hopes will be realized – posthumously. 

McCain's casket landed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland Thursday night. 

It will be a hero's welcome for the former Navy pilot who spent 5½ years imprisoned in Vietnam and a public servant who spent 36 years in a political career that took him from the House to the Senate and nearly to the White House – twice. 

The swashbuckling style that led to McCain's label as a maverick will give way to more decorous forms of affection, first inside the U.S. Capitol, then at Washington National Cathedral, and finally overlooking the Severn River at his beloved U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. 

The 81-year-old's belief in the need for bipartisanship will be on display at the ceremonies and services, including a full-dress memorial during which the two presidents who vanquished him – Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama – will speak.

But even as he settles those old scores, one will remain: President Donald Trump, who had called McCain a "dummy" rather than a hero, was not invited. Vice President Mike Pence will speak at one event, and three members of Trump's administration will attend another.

The events will be an occasion to recall the many highlights, and perhaps even the low moments, of a career that both enriched and enraged McCain's colleagues.

On the high side, there was his successful, bipartisan effort to regulate the financing of political campaigns. His winning the Republican nomination for president in 2008 after being written off. His chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

On the low side, there was his early entanglement in the "Keating Five," a group of senators scandalized after intervening on behalf of a failing savings and loan. His frustrated efforts to solve the nation's immigration crisis. His choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his 2008 running mate and ultimate defeat in November