Democrats, Republicans recall 'maverick' John McCain's fighting spirit, and take veiled swipes at Trump

  • With hundreds of attendees, friends, family and lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate joined with Trump administration officials and three former presidents.
  • McCain was honored at the Washington National Cathedral, before his final resting place at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
The casket is pictured leaving the memorial service of U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at National Cathedral in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2018. 
Chris Wattie | Reuters
The casket is pictured leaving the memorial service of U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at National Cathedral in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2018. 

Speakers at the memorial service honoring Arizona Sen. John McCain on Saturday exhorted the Republican's fighting spirit against his adversaries, with featured guests taking veiled swipes at the current commander in chief, President Donald Trump.

With hundreds of attendees, friends, family and lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate joined with Trump administration officials and three former presidents. McCain was honored at the Washington National Cathedral, before his final resting place at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Some of the tributes, however, had hints of a parting shot at the president and current leader of the GOP. At times, Trump and his supporters have failed to show the Vietnam combat veteran the respect he was given by many of his colleagues — and even former adversaries.

It started with his daughter Meghan McCain who in an emotional and tearful speech, appeared to describe her father as a counterbalance to Trump. She argued that efforts by the president and others didn't equal the amount of sacrifice her father gave to his country.

"American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly," the younger McCain said in describing her father. She contrasted that with "the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege, while he suffered and served." She never mentioned the president's name during her tribute.

Trump and McCain had a stormy relationship dating back to the 2016 election cycle. As a candidate, Trump infamously questioned the veteran Republican Senator's military credentials during the 2016 election cycle, stoking outrage by suggesting McCain was not a hero because he was captured by the Vietnamese.

McCain survived more than 5 years of torture and imprisonment during the Vietnam War before going 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.

George W. Bush, the 43rd U.S. president who defeated McCain during a rough 2000 GOP primary, remembered the senator's "courage and decency." At one point, Bush recalled a story about how the Arizona lawmaker came to support him when he was preparing for a debate against then Democratic candidate for president, former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

At that moment, Bush seemed to hint at the current state of politics in Washington under Trump and the Republican Party.

"At various points throughout his long career, John confronted policies and practices that he believed were unworthy of his country," Bush said. "To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist: We are better than this. America is better than this," he added.

Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, was also asked to speak at the ceremony. The 44th president acknowledged that it was McCain who always hoped that politics wouldn't include the ongoing mudslinging out of Washington.

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

In describing McCain's virtues, the speeches by both former presidents featured hints at the figurative elephant in the room: the current president himself, who was not invited and instead traveled to one of his golfing properties in Northern Virginia.

According to the White House pool report, the president arrived at his Trump National Golf Club in Loudoun County, shortly after 11 a.m.

Trump and McCain's contentious relationship worsened after the self-described "maverick" voted down a bill that would have repealed large swaths of Obama's Affordable Care Act. The president had promised throughout his campaign that he would nullify the law, which gave millions health care coverage who previously could not affordable it.

Still, even the divide between both leaders did not stop White House officials from paying their respect. Those from the administration who attended included Trump's daughter Ivanka, and his son in law, Jared Kushner.

Others who were seen at the cathedral included chief of staff John Kelly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.