The family of Sen. John McCain said their goodbyes to the late Senator inside the Capitol Rotunda, following Congressional leaders and Vice President Mike Pence paying their respects with official wreaths laid in front of McCain’s casket. (Aug. 31)
WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain’s office smelled almost sweet. The aroma from dozens of white lilies and roses filled the room.
Photos of the Arizona Republican throughout the years filled the space, along with mementos from his home state, such as signed football helmets from state universities.
A mahogany cabinet with a black and gray visitor’s log sat near the door. Only a few pages remained.
The very first entry was dated in early 2016 from someone coming to see the senator about a pilot in the Vietnam War, the same battle McCain was taken as a prisoner of war.
The last few pages are filled with Americans pledging to carry on McCain’s legacy and saying their goodbyes.
In a way, the book that people signed as they visited his Washington office in the Russell Senate Office building captured a glimpse at McCain’s legacy, especially in the era of the Trump administration.
The comments capture both the backlash and praise from some of McCain’s most notable moments over the last several years, especially his comments and votes that differed from his Republican colleagues and the wishes of President Donald Trump.
They capture the reaction from constituents in Arizona and people across the nation when he announced he’d been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
And, they capture the mourning of a nation after his death on Saturday.
“Thank you for fighting the good fight and being truthful always,” a woman from Maryland wrote on Wednesday. “You have been an excellent role model for the world.”
‘It is your job!’
McCain has said he wanted to be remembered for his full legacy: the good and the bad.
One of the first controversies the book chronicles is the reaction to then-President Barack Obama nominating Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court in the last months of his presidency.
McCain, along with many Republicans, vowed to block it and instead wait for the next president in 2016 to nominate a pick.
“Take up a SCOTUS nomination,” one person wrote in March 2016. “It is your job!”
As the year wore on and it was clear Trump would become the Republican contender for president, the messages changed. His visitors were torn over how McCain should deal with Trump.
“Now is the time to support and vote party!” one person wrote.
After Trump was inaugurated, a man who visited his office from Arizona said, “we appreciate you and your work against ‘Trumpism.'”
From there, the political turmoil only worsened.
His visitor log documents the fierce opposition to many of Trump’s cabinet picks and positions on immigration, trade and international relations.
A group stopped by in January 2017 in hopes of persuading McCain to vote against Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. Another group worked to lobby McCain to stand up for immigrants.
“Please continue to work against Trump’s chaotic actions,” one person wrote in February 2017.
But others weren’t happy with the constant quarreling between the president and respected Republican senator. The bitterness between the pair was born at the start of Trump’s campaign with his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration.
Over time, their relationship soured further with a contentious campaign and the president’s agenda.
“You are behaving like a RINO (Republican in name only),” a woman from South Carolina wrote in March 2017. We need rep[resentation] to be ALL in. Give it up.”
‘Pray for his healing’
The bitter feud came to a climax in July 2017 when McCain, just days after announcing he had a brain tumor, made the deciding vote that prevented the Senate from repealing Obamacare.
As Republicans worked to garner the votes needed for the historic decision, the comments in McCain’s visitor’s log shifted heavily.
It wasn’t just lawmakers attempting to lobby McCain, his constituents and those across the nation attempted to get through to him.
“Stop attacking the president. REPEAL OCARE IN FULL,” one person wrote. The reaction, both negative and positive, to McCain’s dramatic thumbs-down on the Senate floor led to pages of comments from those who stopped by his office.
After that, it was almost as though Americans got over the politics. The majority of the rest of the book is filled with messages from everyday Americans, school children and veterans writing “get well” messages and thanking him for his work.
“A great American,” one man wrote near the end of 2017. “Pray for his healing.”
McCain died on Aug. 25 after about a year fighting cancer, but the messages still haven’t stopped. One of the last messages, just like the first, was left by a member of the military.
“You are already sorely missed,” a member of the U.S. Air Force wrote in the book. “I will tell my son about you and you unparalleled character. You are a true American hero.”
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