Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service

Former Vice President Biden (D) paid tribute to his longtime friend and international travel companion, the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAnother recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE (R-Ariz.), at an emotional memorial service in Arizona on Thursday.

Biden spoke with passion and urgency as he recounted a brotherly friendship with McCain that spanned decades and withstood the pressures of the country's increasingly fractured political system. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The former Delaware senator, wiping away tears intermittently, said the country is wounded by McCain's death because he "made it easier for them to have confidence and faith in America."

"His faith in the core values of this nation made them somehow feel it more genuinely themselves," Biden said. "His conviction, that we as a country would never walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to defend liberty and freedom and human dignity around the world ... it made average Americans proud of themselves and their country."

"His belief, and it was deep, that Americans can do anything, withstand anything, achieve anything, was both unflagging and ultimately reassuring," added Biden, who addressed many of his remarks directly to McCain's family members, expressing pained solidarity over the tragedy of cancer and death.

Biden's son, Beau, died three years ago from the same cancer that afflicted McCain in the last year of his life.

Biden said he understands that McCain's absence feels "all-consuming" now, like a "black hole."

"I know something else, unfortunately, from experience," he added. "There’s nothing anyone can say or do to ease the pain right now, but I pray, I pray you take some comfort knowing that because you shared John with all of us, your whole life, the world now shares with you the ache of John’s death."

"Look around this magnificent church," he said, referencing the hundreds of people attending the service at North Phoenix Baptist Church.

Twenty-four sitting U.S. senators and four former senators were in attendance, including GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Grassley: Kavanaugh accuser 'deserves to be heard' in 'appropriate' manner MORE (Texas), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Murkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (Ariz.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandEx-GOP donor urges support for Dems in midterms: 'Democracy is at stake' Overnight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Former Virginia Gov. McAuliffe to visit Iowa, fueling 2020 speculation MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Dems call on Senate to postpone Kavanaugh vote Republicans block Democratic bid to subpoena Kavanaugh documents MORE (Hawaii), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (W.Va.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Warren wants companies to disclose more about climate change impacts DHS transferred about 0M from separate agencies to ICE this year: report MORE (Ore.).

"Look what you saw coming to the state Capitol yesterday," he added.

McCain laid in state at the Arizona state Capitol on Wednesday. The Arizona Department of Public Safety estimated that as many as 15,000 people filed through the state Capitol that day, CBS News reported.

Biden went on to say that there will come a time when "the image of your dad, your husband, your friend, crosses your mind, and a smile comes to your lip before a tear to your eye."

Biden lost his first wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972.

He emphasized his relationship with McCain was a vestige from a bygone era of bipartisanship, and he recalled when the two of them sat next to each other on the Senate floor, which they were reprimanded for in the 1990s.

Biden said that lawmakers today question each others' "motives" rather than confronting one another over the substance of their positions, making it "impossible to reach consensus."

His comments echoed McCain's 2017 dramatic speech on the Senate floor urging a return to "regular order" and respect.

The two-hour memorial service emphasized McCain's appreciation for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, party affiliation, gender or otherwise.

Arizona Cardinals player Larry Fitzgerald Jr. said McCain evaluated other people "on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts."

"Many people might wonder what a young African-American kid from Minnesota and a highly decorated Vietnam War hero-turned-United States senator might have in common," the NFL player said. "Well, I thought of a few: I’m black, he was white. I’m young, he wasn’t so young. He lived with physical limitations brought on by war, I’m a professional athlete. He ran for president, I run out of bounds."

Fitzgerald said "that's just who [McCain] is," a sentiment echoed by McCain's longtime friend Tommy Espinoza, a businessman and Democrat.

Espinoza said he "wasn't surprised" that McCain worked on immigration reform because families coming from other nations to work in the U.S. "really struck at the heart of what he thought our great country was about."

"I believe it cost him a presidential campaign," Espinoza said. "He understood all of us -- whether white, black, brown, Asian. To him, it didn’t make any difference. What he knew is we all make America great."

There were musical interludes between each speech, as well as a choral performance with an ode to Arizona, a bagpipes solo and a hymn from Navajo flutist Jonah Littlesunday.

The ceremony ended with remarks written by Meghan McCain and read by the Rev. Joe GarciaJose (Joe) Antonio GarciaOvernight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service Mueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent MORE.

"My father is gone," Meghan McCain wrote. "And I miss him as only an adoring daughter can. But in this loss, and in this sorrow, I take comfort in this: John McCain, hero of the republic and to his little girl, wakes today to something more glorious than anything on this earth. Today, the warrior enters his true and eternal life, greeted by those who have gone before him, rising to meet the author of all things.”

Frank Sinatra's "My Way" played as McCain's casket, draped in an American flag, was carried out of the church.

A service will be held for McCain at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, with a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral the following day. His funeral will be held on Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.