The final public ceremony honouring late US senator John McCain began on Saturday in Washington, where eulogies by two former presidents will highlight the warrior politician’s call for healing, but current commander-in-chief Donald Trump is notably absent.
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.
McCain, who died last Saturday at age 81, has been lionized over the past week of extraordinary and emotional memorials and tributes, including his congressional colleagues bestowing him the rare honour of lying in state in the US Capitol on Friday.
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They were set to continue at the nationally televised cathedral ceremony, a who’s who of political Washington attended by the likes of dozens of congressional colleagues, Bill and Hillary Clinton, former vice presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney and former secretaries of state Madeline Albright, John Kerry and Henry Kissinger, who is to address the gathering.
The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were also present, along with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Hollywood icon Warren Beatty.
Earlier Saturday McCain’s flag-draped casket was taken by honor guard from the US Capitol and placed in a black hearse, which stopped at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to allow his widow Cindy McCain to lay a wreath honoring all of those who died in the conflict.
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At the National Cathedral, attention will no doubt focus on the addresses by Bush and Obama.
That the men who vanquished McCain in their presidential battles were asked to speak is testament to his commitment to looking beyond party and signaling that Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are rowing together in the same boat.
But the absence of Trump, whose bitter feud with McCain has wrangled America’s already stormy politics, will serve as a final rebuke to the president, highlighting the clash between a Republican elder statesman and the current president from his own party.