Late US Senator John McCain will receive his final public sendoff Saturday in a nationally televised ceremony featuring eulogies from two former Presidents, with current commander in chief Donald Trump conspicuously absent from the proceedings.
Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama will deliver remarks honoring their friend and former White House challenger, at a memorial service in Washington’s National Cathedral that McCain planned himself in recent months as he battled brain cancer before his death.
That the men who vanquished McCain in their presidential battles were asked to speak is a testament to the former war prisoner’s commitment to looking beyond party and signalling that Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are rowing together in the same boat.
Amid today’s inflammatory political environment the message could serve as a soothing balm for a nation bruised by two years of divisive discourse.
And the absence of Trump, whose bitter feud with McCain has wrangled US politics during that time, will serve as a final rebuke of the president, highlighting the clash between a Republican elder statesman and the current president from his own party.
McCain’s widow Cindy, his seven children and his 106-year-old mother Roberta McCain joined scores of members of Congress, state governors, diplomats and other dignitaries at the somber Rotunda ceremony.
Saturday’s ceremony could serve as a rehabilitation of sorts for Bush, who will be delivering one of his most high-profile addresses since leaving the White House nearly 10 years ago.
He has endured deep criticism for controversially leading the US into war in Iraq — an invasion that McCain steadfastly supported at first, but eventually grew to believe was a mistake.
For Obama, the moment will allow him to share his thoughts about a presidential campaign rival whose magnanimity in defeat only boosted his stature as an American statesman.
“Tonight more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Senator Obama,” McCain said at the time.
“I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.”