Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster on Thursday hailed the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhoopi Goldberg signs four-year deal with ABC to stay on 'The View' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden MORE (R-Ariz.) for his commitment to service and expressed hope that the Senate icon's death would unite Americans.
"What John McCain did across his whole life is brought people together, together in our common identity as Americans, our common values, and individual rights and rule of law and freedom of speech and freedom of religion and tolerance," McMaster said in his first televised interview since leaving the Trump administration in April.
"And so we should learn from John McCain's example now, because it's really a critical time for our country," he continued. "And I hope that we can transform his memory, what we remember about him and his tremendous qualities into a legacy, a legacy that helps bring Americans together."
McMaster departed the White House following months of reported tension with President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE. On Thursday, he largely avoided referencing his former boss when asked about the icy relationship between McCain and the president.
Asked about his reaction to McCain issuing a stinging rebuke of Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland last month, McMaster praised McCain for advocating "for what makes America unique."
"You know there are some people who think it’s OK to apologize for America, when I think what we ought to do is extol our virtues, recognizing that this republic is imperfect," McMaster said.
He noted McCain's outspoken opposition to torture, which was the basis for the senator opposing CIA Director Gina Haspel's nomination earlier this year.
"There are a lot of issues, that being one of them, that ought to bring Americans together," McMaster said. "What's extraordinary to think about our time today is, even when there ought to be a basis for agreement, it seems that people, just to be contrary, want to take the opposite position."
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell later asked for McMaster's response to the White House's handling of McCain's death, which was marred by controversy after the flags outside the building were raised from half-mast less than 48 hours after the senator died, before Trump issued a proclamation to lower them again.
"Well, we all have an opportunity to transcend all of that and to make our personal choice to celebrate a tremendous life, a life of a real servant to the nation," McMaster said.
He added that he's hopeful McCain's decades in Congress and service to the military will inspire young Americans to serve the country as well.
McMaster is among the dozens of current and former government officials who are in Arizona on Thursday for a memorial service for McCain. Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Pressure grows to cut diplomatic red tape for Afghans left behind President Biden is making the world a more dangerous place MORE is expected to be among the speakers.
Following Thursday's service, McCain's body will be transported to Washington, D.C. He will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, followed by a service at the National Cathedral on Saturday. McCain will be buried Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Trump is not expected to attend any of the weekend's events.