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Congress gives McCain the highest honor

Congress gave the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSmearing presidential election will turn off young voters and undermine democracy Choking — not cheating — was Trump's undoing Gabby Giffords congratulates Mark Kelly with throwback photo of her own swearing-in MORE (R-Ariz.) its highest honor Friday, assembling under the Capitol Rotunda to pay final respects in front of his flag-draped casket as it lay in state, an occasion usually reserved for presidents.

McCain was often described as a maverick and bucked his party’s leadership many times, most notably last year when he sank their proposal to repeal ObamaCare. But in their final remembrances, GOP leaders praised his devotion to public service and his principles.

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The solemn pomp of the ceremony and the political luminaries who attended left no doubt that McCain, a harsh critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE, was one of the brightest stars of the Republican Party and a lawmaker who earned the deep respect of its leaders and rank-and-file members.

McCain’s casket was carried into the Capitol by an honor guard of soldiers, sailors and Marines, and a cordon of Capitol Police in ceremonial dress stood guard throughout the prayers and remarks.

“He treated every issue with the intensity the people’s business deserves,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Ky.) told the gathering, which included former President Nixon's Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Hollywood stars Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and former senators such as John Warner (R-Va.) and Connie Mack III (R-Fla.).

“He would fight tooth and nail for his vision of the common good,” McConnell added. “Depending on the issue, you knew John would either be your staunchest ally or your most stubborn opponent.”

McCain cast one of his most memorable votes in July of last year, only days after being diagnosed with the brain cancer that ultimately ended his life, when he gave a “thumbs down” on the Senate floor to the GOP plan to repeal ObamaCare. His was the decisive vote, and the measure failed 49-51.

McCain told reporters later that evening, “I thought it was the right thing to do.”

It was one of many times McCain clashed with members of his own party, a habit that often left his GOP colleagues feeling battered.

“I’ve long joked that his guards at the Hanoi Hilton probably needed group therapy after John was finished with them,” McConnell said Friday, referring to McCain’s 5 1/2 years of captivity during the Vietnam War. “Well, let’s just say there were times when some of his Senate colleagues were tempted to form a support group of our own.”

McCain and McConnell battled for years over campaign finance reform, McCain’s signature issue in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

McCain pushed the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act through the Senate in 2001 and 2002, despite McConnell’s opposition, and McConnell later became the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

But McConnell noted Friday that McCain’s charisma helped heal any old wounds, and that the senator’s colleagues always knew that he was motivated by principle, even if he would sometimes sling personal barbs to get his way.

“At any moment, he might be preparing an eloquent reflection on human liberty … or a devastating joke served up with his signature cackle and that John McCain glint in his eye,” McConnell recalled.

“He had America’s fighting spirit, our noble idealism, our solemn patriotism, and our slightly irreverent streak — all rolled into one,” he added. “I will miss a dear friend whose smile reminded us that service is a privilege.”

McCain’s family, including his 106-year-old mother Roberta McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain, sat in the front row behind McConnell and the other speakers.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country MORE (R-S.C.), McCain’s best friend in Congress, sat with McCain’s family directly behind the podium, instead of in the section reserved for current and former senators. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who was a member of the self-described “three amigos” along with McCain and Graham, also sat with friends and family.

A who's who of other past and present political luminaries also attended, including Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTime to bring federal employees home for every holiday Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 MORE, Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Biden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties MORE, White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, national security adviser John Bolton, former Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinProgressives offer mixed messages on key Biden economic aide Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Michigan to pay 0M to victims of Flint water crisis MORE (D-Mich.), former Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.) and Utah Senate candidate Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Romney blasts Trump lack of leadership during pandemic: 'It's a great human tragedy' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal MORE (R).

But a few of the most prominent congressional conservatives were missing, such as Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE (R-Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (R-Ky.), whom McCain famously called "wacko birds" in 2013.

The most recent senator to lie in state under the rotunda was Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a World War II veteran and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, in 2012.

Former Presidents Reagan and Ford lay in state in 2004 and 2007, respectively.

The late Rev. Billy Graham lay “in honor” under the rotunda earlier this year, as the designation “in state” is reserved for those who have served in government.

Speaker of the House Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy woos Freedom Caucus with eye on Speakership American Greatness editor on how Trump's abandonment of populism affected 2020 election Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' MORE, who spoke after McConnell, praised McCain as a patriot and a man of conviction “who made an enormous difference in the lives of countless people.”

The Wisconsin Republican, who spearheaded last year’s effort to repeal ObamaCare, said he also had his heated moments with McCain.

“I myself was — from time to time — on the receiving end of John’s distinct brand of candor,” he said.

But he said he now regards those scrapes as fond memories, adding that he was “happily” the recipient of any verbal abuse McCain dished out.

“I remember thinking more than once, ‘Yeah, he really does talk like a sailor,’ ” Ryan quipped.

Vice President Pence, who laid a wreath of flowers next to McCain’s casket representing the executive branch, highlighted areas where the maverick senator agreed with the administration.

In my years in Congress, and as vice president, we didn’t always agree either, and he almost always noticed,” Pence said. “But his support for limited government, for tax reform and support for our armed forces surely left our nation more prosperous and more secure, and he will be missed.”

McCain’s rocky relationship with Trump, however, only worsened in the past year, particularly after the senator voted down the president’s health-care proposal last summer.

Trump mocked McCain recently at a rally in Nevada, where he once again brought up McCain’s famous “no” vote.

McCain, in turn, stepped up his criticism of Trump this summer, blasting Trump's remarks during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki as “disgraceful” and calling the entire summit a “tragic mistake.”

Feelings between them were sour enough that McCain requested that Trump not attend his funeral. Trump last week momentarily balked at lowering the flag to half staff at federal facilities to honor McCain.

But the president later sought to make peace.

“As President Trump said yesterday, we respect his service to the country,” Pence noted. “And so let me say to all those gathered, and his beloved family, on behalf of a grateful nation, we will ever remember that John McCain served his country.  And John McCain served his country honorably.”

McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (N.Y.) then laid a wreath at McCain’s casket marking the respect of the Senate. Ryan and House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (Calif.) laid a wreath commemorating the feelings of the House.