John McCain: Man of honor, man of service

On Sept. 9, 2017, in an interview on CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was asked how he wanted to be remembered.

“He served his country,” McCain replied. “And not always right, made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors. But served his country. And I hope, I could add, honorably.”

{mosads}A naval aviator, prisoner of war, U.S. congressman, U.S. senator and presidential candidate, John McCain served his country in ways far beyond that of most of his contemporaries, including me.

At a time of cynicism about politics and government, he brought conviction and decency.

At a time when some in public office trash the norms of the democratic process, he called for a return to respect for the institutions of our democratic republic.

At a time when his colleagues or the president demanded complete loyalty and allegiance, there were many occasions when he relished being the independent maverick.

The breadth of his lifelong experiences in serving his country, with both heroism and mistakes, made him the respected public servant he ultimately became.

John and I came to the Senate together in 1987. He was the only Republican elected in the previous year. We became good friends. But I wasn’t alone — John had many good friends on both sides of the political aisle.

Our political and legislative paths crossed many times over the 18 years that we served together.

He and I served on the Senate Indian Affairs committee at the same time. Under his leadership as the chairman of the committee, as well as that of Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii), we enacted the historic Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a law that dramatically changed the gaming industry and the economic landscape of virtually every major Native American reservation in the country.

We both served on the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs as well. It was created to investigate a plethora of reports that scores of servicemen were being held captive in remote locations throughout Vietnam. As a result of the leadership and exhaustive work of the two co-chairmen, John McCain and John Kerry (D-Mass.), we were able to unanimously conclude that there was no evidence that Americans were being held in captivity. That effort led to an even greater accomplishment in 1995 — the normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Neither the report nor the successful effort to normalize relations could have occurred without Sen. McCain’s courageous involvement and deft leadership.

We worked closely together again as we found a way, after more than a decade of effort, to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, officially known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which eliminated large, unreported campaign contributions.

And there was a time, shortly after the historic election of 2000 when the Senate was evenly divided 50-50 for the first time in history, that we seriously discussed his interest in joining our caucus.

John could be volatile. He often acknowledged his temper. But he also had a wonderful sense of humor. His warm smile, witty quips and genuine desire to work with those on both sides of the aisle made him one of the most popular members of the Senate throughout his career.

In 1993 my wife, Linda, was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. It was late in the legislative year by the time the vetting and paperwork had been completed. The time before the end of the congressional session was running short. As the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation, John called a hearing on Linda’s nomination on a Saturday to ensure adequate time for a vote on confirmation before the end of the year.

I hadn’t seen John for more than a year when he and I last saw each other in mid-2017, in a Washington hotel lobby. As we were going in opposite directions, we both said “Hi,” and continued walking. Moments later, I heard John shout, “Tom!” as he walked back towards me. He gave me a big hug and asked that I come by the office sometime soon.

John McCain lived and breathed public service for his entire life. As a prisoner of war, he endured endless torture and isolation. As an American politician, he faced a major scandal and lost two elections for president of the United States. I have never met a man more resilient or with more invincible determination. As a result, as the American statesman that he became over his more than three decades in Congress, he set a high bar for integrity, independence and substantive achievement. He served his country well and, just as he had hoped, he did so honorably.

Our country needed him more than heaven does.

Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is a former United States Senate majority leader and founder and CEO of The Daschle Group, a public policy advisory of Baker Donelson. He is also the co-chairman of the Bipartisan Policy Center Future of Health Care Initiative. Follow him on Twitter @TomDaschle

Tags 2000 presidential election 2008 presidential election Bill Clinton Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 John Kerry John McCain Prisoner of war Senate Senate Indian Affairs Committee Vietnam

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