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McCain returns to US Capitol one last time as colleagues say goodbye


AFP Washington
Americans honoured Friday the late national icon John McCain, while his remains lay in state in the US Capitol as part of a momentous sendoff for the warrior-turned-politician.
Hundreds of members of Congress, including his 99 Senate colleagues, attended the ceremony, a somber Capitol Rotunda honour that has been accorded to just 30 Americans throughout the nation's history.
President Donald Trump, who had feuded bitterly with the senator, was notably absent.
McCain's final visit to Washington, where he served in Congress for 35 years, is being spread out over two days.
Just before 11:00 am Friday, a military honour guard solemnly carried the senator's flag-draped casket up the Capitol stairs, moving deliberately one slow step at a time.
Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- a Republican and Democrat who each ended McCain's White House dreams -- will deliver remarks during a memorial service Saturday at Washington's National Cathedral.
Inside the stillness of the Rotunda, dark-suited mourners stood at a respectful distance from an empty catafalque -- first used to honour assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 -- as the honour guard slowly placed the casket upon the black-draped wooden structure.
Guests included former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, riding in a wheelchair at age 95; the actor Warren Beatty, a McCain friend; and former senator Joe Lieberman, who in 2008 McCain came close to naming as his runningmate.
Just before the casket's arrival, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy walked over to the catafalque and gently touched it.
A black POW/MIA flag, like those flown when McCain and others were held prisoner in Vietnam, stands permanently in the Rotunda, bearing the words "You are not forgotten." Members of the public were queueing outside the building waiting for a viewing later from 1:00 pm.
The former aviator who spent more than five years in a Vietnamese prison camp and returned home to launch a political career that saw him win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, will be buried Sunday at the US Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis, Maryland.
Trump was not invited to McCain's funeral or burial.
"John McCain was a giant of our time -- not just for the things he achieved, but for who he was and what he fought for all his life," House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday.
McCain "was a patriot and was in service to our country his entire life. We're going to miss him," tweeted Senator Bob Corker, who like McCain has been an occasional critic of Trump.
The funeral services for McCain, who for months planned his farewell before he died Saturday at age 81 after a yearlong battle with cancer, is seen by many as a thinly veiled rebuke of Trump, whose open disdain for McCain alarmed many.
Their bitter feud took root during Trump's 2016 campaign, when he said McCain was not a war hero because a badly injured McCain had allowed himself to be captured after his navy fighter jet was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
In Trump's absence, Vice President Mike Pence addressed Friday's gathering, joining Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Advisor John Bolton in representing the administration. McCain's widow Cindy and seven children, along with his 106-year-old mother Roberta McCain, were present, along with his staff, state governors, diplomats and other dignitaries.
McCain's remains were flown by military aircraft to Washington on Thursday from Arizona, which he has represented in Congress since his first election in 1982.
Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a stirring eulogy of his friend at a memorial ceremony in Phoenix, describing Arizona's adopted son as a "brother" and a "giant" whose belief in the soul of America helped give citizens their confidence and optimism.
Biden's words appeared at times aimed at striking a stark contrast between his former Senate colleague's integrity and conciliation and the state of political division that has been exacerbated under Trump.
Biden spoke of the values of "fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind and understanding that as Americans, we're part of something much bigger than ourselves.

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First Published: Aug 31 2018 | 9:30 PM IST

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