WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, died on Saturday, his office said. He was 81.
A senator for Arizona for more than three decades, McCain had been suffering from glioblastoma, a brain cancer, since July 2017 and had not been at the U.S. Capitol this year.
His family said on Friday that McCain was discontinuing cancer treatment.
He died on Saturday afternoon with his wife Cindy and other family members at his bedside. “At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years,” said a statement from his office.
Flags were flying at half-staff at the White House on Sunday morning, hours after President Trump tweeted his “deepest sympathies and respect” to McCain’s family.
McCain will lie in state in both Phoenix, Arizona, and in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.
He will receive a full dress funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral, where Vice President Mike Pence is expected to represent the current administration, before being buried in Annapolis, Maryland, his family said.
Paying tribute to his 2008 election opponent, former President Barack Obama described McCain as an idealist and said there was “something noble” about their political battles.
Cindy McCain said her husband had “passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the place he loved best.”
“My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years,” she wrote on Twitter.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend and colleague, John McCain,” said Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). “John was a true patriot, who placed his duty to his family and his country above all else. He faced this battle, which would be his last, with the courage that defined his career and the grace that comes from a life well-lived. He will be remembered as he hoped to be remembered: as a man who served his country with honor. Brooke and I are grateful for his service, and send our prayers to Cindy and the entire McCain family.”
Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) called McCain “a true titan of the Senate who was one of our nation’s greatest war heroes and public servants.” Tillis served on the Senate Armed Services Committee with McCain. “It was an honor to call John McCain a friend and serve alongside him in the Senate, especially on the Armed Services Committee where he acted as a mentor to myself and the other members. Susan and I are deeply saddened by John’s passing, and we send our condolences to Cindy and the McCain family, who have demonstrated incredible grace and strength during this difficult time,” said Tillis.
The vacancy created by McCain’s death narrows the number of Republican-held seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate to 50, with Democrats controlling 49. Republican Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was expected to appoint a member of his own party to succeed McCain.
That could also give Republicans a slight edge in the battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court in the weeks ahead because McCain had been too ill to cast any votes this year.
Alternatively affable and cantankerous, McCain had been in the public eye since the 1960s when, as a naval aviator, he was shot down during the Vietnam War and tortured by his North Vietnamese communist captors during 5-1/2 years as a prisoner.
He was edged out by George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 but became his party’s White House candidate eight years later. After gambling on political neophyte Sarah Palin as his running mate, McCain lost to Obama, who became the first black U.S. president.
Obama said he and McCain, despite their “completely different backgrounds” and political differences, shared “a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.”
“We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world,” Obama wrote.
Defense Secretary James Mattis saluted McCain as a figure who “always put service to the nation before self,” and “represented what he believed, that ‘a shared purpose does not claim our identity — on the contrary — it enlarges your sense of self’.”
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, remained prominent during and after the last White House race as both a frequent critic and target of his fellow Republican Trump, who was elected president in November 2016.
French President Emmanuel Macron called McCain “a true American hero (whose).. voice will be missed” and British Prime Minister Theresa May said he “embodied the idea of service over self.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he would be “remembered both in Europe and North America for his courage and character, and as a strong supporter of NATO.”
McCain, a foreign policy hawk with a traditional Republican view of world affairs, was admired in both parties for championing civility and compromise during an era of acrid partisanship in U.S. politics. But he also had a famous temper and rarely shied away from a fight. He had several with Trump.
He was the central figure in one of the most dramatic moments in Congress of Trump’s presidency when he returned to Washington shortly after his brain cancer diagnosis for a middle-of-the-night Senate vote in July 2017.
Still bearing a black eye and scar from surgery, McCain gave a thumbs-down signal in a vote to scuttle a Trump-backed bill that would have repealed the Obamacare healthcare law and increased the number of Americans without health insurance by millions.
McCain flew attack planes off aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War. In October 1967, his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down on a bombing mission over North Vietnam’s capital and he suffered two broken arms and a broken leg in the crash. A mob then dragged him from a lake, broke his shoulder and stabbed him.
Held at the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison and other sites, McCain was beaten and tortured, suffering broken bones and dysentery. He was released on March 14, 1973, but was left with permanent infirmities.
Several U.S. citizens living in Vietnam adorned a monument erected at the site of the plane crash with flowers on Sunday in tribute to McCain.
In Congress, McCain built a generally conservative record, opposing abortion and advocating higher defense spending. He supported Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and criticized Obama for not doing more to intervene in Syria’s civil war.
Still, he prided himself on his reputation as a maverick and had a history of working across party lines on immigration, climate change and campaign finance reform.
He also spoke out against the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding, a torture technique that simulates drowning, and other harsh interrogation tactics on detainees in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
McCain wrote in a 2002 memoir: “I’m an independent-minded, well-informed public servant to some. And to others, I’m a self-styled, self-righteous maverick pain in the ass.”
McCain was born on Aug. 29, 1936, at an American naval installation in the Panama Canal Zone – U.S. territory at the time – where his father was stationed.
McCain divorced his wife Carol after 15 years of marriage in 1980 and weeks later married the former Cindy Henley, daughter of a wealthy beer distributor in Arizona.
A dark period for McCain came as one of the “Keating Five” group of senators accused of improperly intervening with federal regulators to help political contributor and bank executive Charles Keating, whose Lincoln Savings and Loan failed in 1989 at a cost to taxpayers of $3.4 billion.
McCain was cleared of wrongdoing in 1991 but the Senate Ethics Committee rebuked him for poor judgment.
On July 25, 2017, McCain delivered a Senate floor speech not long after his cancer diagnosis that was widely seen as his farewell address. It included a call to fellow Republicans to stand up to Trump and for all lawmakers to work together to keep America as a “beacon of liberty” in the world.