John McCain died Saturday afternoon at his ranch in Sedona, Arizona. He was 81. The longtime senator from Arizona had been battling glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, for over a year, and his death came a day after his family told the media they had decided to discontinue medical treatment. Shortly after McCain’s office announced his death, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed their sympathies for the six-term senator.
Chief among the heartfelt responses was the one from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who had represented Arizona alongside McCain since 2013. “I couldn’t bring myself to write this piece until today,” Flake began in an op-ed for the Washington Post. He described how important McCain’s example was to Flake’s career in politics, from when he was first struggling with policy decisions in the House of Representatives to just a few months ago, when he visited McCain at his ranch in Sedona. “He showed us who we are and who we can be when we are at our best,” Flake wrote. “And he devoted his life to service and to the exalted idea of America that was bigger and better than him. Bigger than us all. His fidelity to that idea, and his idealism in balancing fierce political battles with a determination to always see the good and find the humanity in his opponents is an example that transcended politics and made him the man that he was.”
Words cannot express the sorrow I feel at John McCain’s passing. The world has lost a hero and a statesman. Cindy and the McCain family have lost a loving husband and father. I have lost a wonderful friend.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 26, 2018
Flake is retiring from the Senate this year and the primary to determine which Republican will vie to replace him takes place on Tuesday. One of the candidates, Kelli Ward, wondered on Facebook whether the McCain family’s announcement was a ploy to distract attention from her campaign. “I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me,” she wrote. Another candidate, Joe Arpaio, the criminal sheriff whom President Trump pardoned last year, attacked Cindy McCain on Twitter Friday night. “I tweeted out my thoughts & prayers for @SenJohnMcCain and @cindymccain BLOCKS me on twitter?” he tweeted, tagging President Trump. Both Ward and Arpaio are running for the seat on the strength of their devotion to Trump. Their other opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, was more tactful. “John McCain was one of Arizona’s greatest Senators, one of our country’s finest statesmen, and an American hero who risked his life to defend this great nation,” she tweeted. “He loved this state, and he loved this country.”
In addition to Flake, several other high-profile Senate Republicans offered tributes.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) August 26, 2018
Senator John McCain was a patriot, and an extraordinary American war hero. Heidi and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to Cindy, and to the entire McCain family, as they grieve the loss of a loving husband, father, and grandfather. May he Rest In Peace. pic.twitter.com/PkOCPFVdf7
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 26, 2018
I will need some time to absorb this, but I want Cindy —and the entire McCain family — to know they are in my prayers.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 26, 2018
The praise from Senate Democrats was no less effusive. “John McCain and I disagreed on many things, and sometimes quite forcefully,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote as part of several tweets honoring McCain. “But even when we disagreed, I always respected that his heart was focused on doing what he thought was best for the American people.”
I count it as a blessing to have had the honor to serve with John McCain in the Senate and on the Armed Services Committee. If there ever was a true American patriot, John was that patriot. I’ll miss his strength and his maverick spirit, but most of all I’ll miss his kindness. pic.twitter.com/UzYvlRN1No
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 26, 2018
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) released a statement honoring McCain’s “principled, independent leadership and the trust and respect he’s earned over decades,” both as a member of the armed services and in Congress. “I have rarely met someone who cared so deeply, sacrificed so much, and represented the best of the United States of America like John McCain,” he wrote. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) released a statement, as well. “We lost a hero at a time when we need them,” he wrote. “We lost a statesman when there are so few around. His was a life of service and a life well lived. May his memory be a blessing.” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote, “With love and respect, I mark the passing of a great man, and I will miss him dearly. My heart goes out to Cindy and the entire McCain family.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), proposed renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain.
The Senate, the United States, and the world are lesser places without John McCain.
Nothing will overcome the loss of Senator McCain, but so that generations remember him I will be introducing a resolution to rename the Russell building after him.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) August 26, 2018
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi concurred with her counterpart in the Senate.
Nancy Pelosi says naming the Russell Senate Office Building after John McCain would be a "great tribute."
"Decades to come, everyone who came to Washington would know the very special place that John McCain held … and will continue to hold." (via ABC) pic.twitter.com/Uhoh7JVGXs
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 26, 2018
House Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement calling McCain “one of the most courageous men of the century.”
“This is a sad day for the United States,” Ryan wrote. “Our country has lost a decorated war hero and statesman. John McCain was a giant of our time — not just for the things he achieved, but for who he was and what he fought for all his life. John put principle before politics. He put country before self. He was one of the most courageous men of the century. He will always be listed among freedom’s most gallant and faithful servants. Our hearts are with his wife, Cindy, his children, and his grandchildren. This Congress, this country mourn with them.”
Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee who is currently running for a Senate seat in Utah, similarly praised McCain’s “integrity, duty, courage and character.”
Heavy hearts with the loss of a great friend. pic.twitter.com/dU6kDtScU4
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) August 26, 2018
John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who also served alongside McCain in the Senate for over 25 years, released a statement praising McCain’s drive to “find common ground even when it was improbable.”
My statement on the passing of Senator John McCain: pic.twitter.com/iCT2n2VpRZ
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 26, 2018
Kerry lost his campaign for the presidency to George W. Bush in 2004, four years before McCain would lose to Barack Obama. The two men who led the country from 2000-2016 offered their condolences Saturday night.
"Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.” […] Full statement by President George W. Bush https://t.co/FQVYWIUyGL pic.twitter.com/W8LCxJXRLi
— George W. Bush Presidential Center (@TheBushCenter) August 26, 2018
Our statement on the passing of Senator John McCain: pic.twitter.com/3GBjNYxoj5
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 26, 2018
Bill and Hillary Clinton released a joint statement as well, echoing McCain’s heroism:
Statement from Bill and Hillary Clinton: "Senator John McCain believed that every citizen has a responsibility to make something of the freedoms given by our Constitution, and from his heroic service in the Navy to his 35 years in Congress, he lived by his creed every day." pic.twitter.com/KvDX48PnRN
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 26, 2018
The current president, who consistently attacked McCain even as he was battling cancer, wasn’t quite so sincere. After it was announced Friday that McCain was discontinuing his medical treatment, the White House noted that Trump did not plan to comment on McCain’s condition while he was still alive. Stumping in Ohio on Saturday, Trump did not mention the senator’s condition despite speaking for nearly an hour. After McCain’s death was announced, Trump tweeted his “deepest sympathies” for McCain’s family, but did not commend the late senator.
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018
On Sunday morning, Trump resumed tweeting about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Andy Kroll contributed to this report.