John McCain's former rivals pay tribute: 'We are all in his debt'

Barack Obama, John McCain, George W. Bush (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Carolyn Kaster/AP [2], Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

John McCain’s old political rivals have been paying tribute to the longtime senator after his death at 81 in Arizona on Saturday. The Vietnam War veteran was remembered as a man of character who stood up for his beliefs.

President Trump, who had not publicly commented on McCain’s declining health, broke his silence on Twitter Saturday night. The two men had frequently clashed on the direction of the Republican Party and the country. He offered sympathy to the McCain family.

“My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!” Trump wrote. This remark was also posted on Trump’s official Instagram account alongside a picture of the president.

Former President Barack Obama, who was McCain’s opponent in the 2008 presidential election, wrote a heartfelt tribute to his onetime competitor — noting they were from different generations and backgrounds but shared a loyalty to the American ideals that so many have sacrificed to protect.

“We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world,” Obama wrote. “We saw this country as a place where anything is possible — and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.”

Obama said that few have been tested or required to show courage the way McCain had been — alluding to his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But, he continued, everyone can aspire to the courage needed to put the greater good above one’s self-interest.

“At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family,” Obama said.

Former President George W. Bush, who defeated McCain in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, also penned a tribute to his old rival. Similar to Obama’s, Bush’s statement focused on the richness of McCain’s life and the conviction with which he served the nation:

“Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order. He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I’ll deeply miss. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathies to Cindy and the entire McCain family, and our thanks to God for the life of John McCain.”

McCain reportedly requested that Obama and Bush deliver eulogies at his funeral and that Trump not attend. On the campaign trail, Trump had controversially said that McCain was “not a war hero” because he was captured in Vietnam.

In the months before his death, McCain continued to criticize Trump and argued that “America First” isolationism was antithetical to his vision of the U.S. as a global leader.

McCain, a self-styled “maverick,” was renowned throughout his career for doing what he felt was right rather than politically expedient — even if it put him at odds with his own party. In part because of this, the tributes in response to his death have come from across the political landscape. Many acknowledged that they didn’t always see eye to eye with McCain but they never lost respect for him.

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