‘The Senate Won’t Be the Same Without John McCain’

‘America will miss her devoted son. Her stalwart champion. Her elder statesman. I will miss one of the very finest gentlemen with whom I’ve had the honor to serve. But we will not forget him. I consider it our privilege to return some small share of the love that John poured out for this country.’

WASHINGTON, D.C.  U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the passing of his dear friend and colleague, U.S. Senator John S. McCain (R-AZ):

“On Saturday evening, a great loss echoed through our country. Six decades of patriotic service came to an end. We’ve suspected for some time that we’d bid farewell to our colleague, the senior Senator from Arizona, John McCain. John took full advantage of the months since his diagnosis. His hard work continued. But happy reminiscing, fond farewells, final reflections, and time with family actually came to the fore.

“I was privileged to spend a small share of that time with John. We sat on his back porch in Sedona, under the desert sky, replaying old times. John did things his way these last months. For his colleagues here, the time confirmed a sad but obvious truth: The Senate won’t be the same without John McCain. I think it’s fair to say the passion that John brought to his work was unsurpassed in this body. In more than thirty years as a Senator, he never failed to marshal a razor-sharp wit, a big heart, and of course a fiery spirit. When John saw an issue the same way you did, you knew you’d just found your most stalwart ally. You’d thank your lucky stars.

“Because when you found yourself on the other side of that table, as I think all of us learned, you were in for a different kind of unforgettable experience. Either way, serving alongside John was never a dull affair. I found myself on both sides of that table over the years. John and I stood shoulder to shoulder on some of the most important issues to each of us. And we also disagreed entirely on huge subjects that helped define each of our careers.

“John treated every day, every issue, with the intensity and seriousness that the legislative process deserves. He would fight like mad to bring the country closer to his vision of the common good. But when the day’s disputes were over, that very same man was one of our most powerful reminders that so much more unites us than divides us. That we should be able to differ completely on policy and stay united in love of country.

“As John himself once put it: ‘We have nothing to fear from each other. We are arguing over the means to better secure our freedom, and support the general welfare. But it should remain an argument among friends who share an unshaken belief in our great cause, and in the goodness of each other.’ John and I sure had those fights. And we sure had that friendship. I’m just glad we never found ourselves in opposite dugouts. You see, John and I spent years as neighbors in the Russell Building. Often, when softball season rolled around, our offices would take the field together as one, united ‘McTeam.’

“Now, as a seriously wounded war hero and a childhood polio survivor, I have to say, John and I didn’t exactly have the makings of an elite double-play duo. I took the mound once or twice, but I admit, we mostly offered moral support. Moral support. Really, that’s what John McCain gave this body -- and this country -- for so long. His memory will continue to give it. Because while John proudly served with us as the Senator for Arizona. He was America’s hero all along.

“Just this month, Congress finalized a major bill for our all-volunteer armed forces that we named after John. This might seem like a small detail. But really, it was a fitting capstone for a career so thoroughly defined by service in, and then service for, the ranks of those who wear our nation’s uniform. Generations of McCains have served with distinction in our great Navy. As John described his Scottish heritage in one memoir: ‘The McCains [were] bred to fight.’ And fight they have.

“One by one, McCains have entered the Academy’s gates in Annapolis. One by one, they marched past a centuries-old battle flag bearing the phrase: ‘Don’t give up the ship.’ But while honorable service was in his DNA, John’s story was never simple. At Annapolis, as he’d come to explain with some relish, his major distinctives were mostly the weakness of his grades and the length of his disciplinary record. The first miracle in John’s military career was the fact that he somehow made it through school.

“But he prevailed. And bigger tests soon came. He stared death in the face aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal. And again, when he was shot down and dragged, battered and broken, into the hands of our nation’s enemies. Five and half hellish years in captivity. Merciless beatings, for the uniform he’d worn and the values he would not renounce. That stubborn, rebellious streak went from a stumbling block to a saving grace. Stubborn virtue sustained John. He declined early release, in solidarity with his brothers. He never gave up the ship.

“We all know this story. But while John didn’t shy from sharing his experiences, he insisted he was no superhero, no saint. He measured his life in simpler terms. When asked after his diagnosis last year how he’d like to be remembered, here’s what he said: ‘He served his country. And not always right, made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors. But served his country. And I hope, could add, honorably.’ He’ll certainly get that wish.

“For many, the service and sacrifice that John rendered overseas would have been more than enough. More than a lifetime already. But somehow, John McCain was convinced that he still owed his country more. In 1983, he arrived in Congress. John knew exactly what it meant to swear to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ When he was sworn in here in the Senate four years later, he was no stranger to pledging to protect that Constitution from ‘enemies, foreign and domestic.’ The following years brought legislative accomplishments, to be sure. But while John’s constituents were lucky to have him as their Senator from Arizona, John also remembered that our titles say United States Senator.

“He worked across the aisle on the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, whose work helped heal the wounds of war and normalize relations with Vietnam. He led congressional delegations and overseas travel that were famously as grueling as they were educational. John was seemingly immune to jet lag. And he was never more excited than when he had an opportunity to share American values abroad. And of course, he was singularly devoted to the men and women of our armed forces. From countless visits with deployed units in Iraq and Afghanistan to his committee meetings right here in this body, John honored their sacrifices in a way that only he could. He never forgot that -- notwithstanding the grandeur of our military might and technological prowess -- our Armed Services are made up of people. Of our constituents. Of volunteers. Of the brave.

“John’s favorite novel was Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. I suspect we’ll hear it quoted quite a bit in the days ahead. The lead character is an American expat named Robert Jordan who risks everything in the Spanish Civil War. He’s a little bit brash. Maybe a little hot-headed. In fact, he’s a dynamite specialist whose specialty, literally, is blowing things up. And he goes down fighting, right down to the book’s final pages. I’m sure some of us can imagine why John might identify with this guy. I recently rediscovered something John wrote a few years ago about this book. He noted that his favorite literary hero wasn’t some contrived caricature of a hero from central casting. The book is full of complexities. The character has to face all the messiness of life and war. His idealism is challenged.

“But he realizes: The imperfections of this world don’t mean the concept of sacrifice is outdated. They don’t make love of cause or country into something quaint or naive. They only make patriotism, service, and hope that much more noble and necessary. It takes one kind of heroism to undergo unimaginable pain and suffering as a P.O.W., but persist in loyalty. It takes another kind of heroism to sustain that passion for decades more. To withstand the slings and arrows of politics, the compromises, the disappointments, the defeats. And yet still consider it a joy and an honor to serve. Few have either kind of heroism. John McCain had both.

“Fortunately, all that intensity came paired with a world-class sense of humor. As we all know, John hated to lose. The line he used after his presidential campaigns still makes me laugh. Someone would ask how he was coping with defeat, and John would say, ‘Actually, I’m sleeping like a baby. You know -- I sleep for two hours, wake up, and cry!’

“Seriously -- it’s hard to describe this larger-than-life figure without lapsing into what sound like cliches. We’ve all heard our whole lives about the importance of patriotism and self-sacrifice. But we cannot take that culture of commitment for granted. Because, just like our nation’s security and our American liberty, the very notion that some causes really are greater than ourselves only survives because servicemembers and statesmen like John McCain will fight and even die to defend it.

“The bond between John and his country was so deep. But of course, other bonds ran deeper still. While John’s colleagues grieve our own loss, we also send our love and support to those who know him even better: Those who called this man their husband, their son, their father and grandfather. We stand with John’s loving wife Cindy. We stand with Doug, Andy, Sidney, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, and Bridget. We stand with his mother, Roberta. And with all John’s devoted friends and loyal staff. Thank you for lending him to us longer than we had a right. Thank you for supporting him while he supported us.

“So John McCain has fought his last battles and cast his final votes. But the nation he loved is still not done with him yet. This week will be dedicated to remembering him. On Friday, he will lie in state here in the Capitol, like other American heroes before him. As the days turn to weeks, I know we’re all eager to come together and collaborate on ways we can continue to honor his memory. Generation after generation of Americans will hear about the cocky pilot who barely scraped through Annapolis, but then defended our nation in the skies. Witnessed to our highest values even through terrible torture. Captured the country’s imagination through national campaigns that spotlighted many of our highest values. And became so integral to the United States Senate, where our nation airs and advances its great debates.

“America will miss her devoted son. Her stalwart champion. Her elder statesman. I will miss one of the very finest gentlemen with whom I’ve had the honor to serve. But we will not forget him. I consider it our privilege to return some small share of the love that John poured out for this country. It is our honor as Americans to say to the late, great John Sidney McCain III what we pray he has already heard from his Creator: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Well done. You fought the good fight. You finished the race. You kept the faith. You never gave up the ship.”

Related Issues: Tributes