Sen. John McCain, hero POW and maverick Republican, dies at age 81

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Two runs for the White House

McCain’s Senate tenure began in 1987, when he succeeded the retiring Goldwater, the GOP’s 1964 presidential candidate.

In McCain’s 2008 run for the White House, he made a “Hail Mary” pick for a running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in hopes that a woman on the ticket would energize his flagging campaign. Obama won by 53 to 46 percent.

McCain had considered independent Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Aides advised against it because Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate in their failed 2000 race against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, still caucused with the Democrats and supported abortion rights.

“It was sound advice that I could reason for myself,” McCain said in his memoir “The Restless Wave,” published in May 2018. “But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had.”

McCain also ran in 2000, winning only Arizona and six other states in his bid for the GOP nomination that was won by Bush.

A hawk on foreign policy, McCain became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee after Republicans took control of the chamber in 2015.

He made his first foray into politics in 1982 by winning the seat left vacant by the retirement of House Minority Leader John Rhodes. McCain served two terms before being elected to the Senate.

In the late 1980s, he was one of the “Keating Five” senators accused of improperly intervening on behalf of Phoenix savings and loan executive Charles Keating in an investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. McCain, whose campaigns had received $112,000 in donations from the S&L executive, sat in on two meetings with the regulators in the Keating matter. After an extensive investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, McCain was exonerated in 1991 but reprimanded for using “poor judgment.”

”It was a searing experience for John,” attorney John Dowd, who represented him during the ethics inquiry (and later served nine months as Trump’s lawyer in the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign), told The New York Times in 1999. ”He told me it was worse than being in Hanoi.”

The son and grandson of four-star admirals, John Sidney McCain III was born Aug. 29, 1936, at a Navy air station in the Panama Canal Zone. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958, was commissioned as an ensign and became a Navy aviator.

Surviving the ‘Hanoi Hilton’

McCain was an A-4 Skyhawk pilot stationed on the USS Forrestal when the aircraft carrier caught fire off Vietnam on July 29, 1967 – its fifth day of combat duty – killing 134 servicemen. During a bombing run over Hanoi five months later, he was shot down, parachuting into a lake. While ejecting from the plane flying at 575 mph, he was knocked unconscious, breaking a knee and both arms, according to his account published in U.S. News & World Report.

After being dragged out of the lake by the North Vietnamese, he recalled, he survived a mob attack and was taken to the Hoa Lo Prison – derisively dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. After being interrogated, beaten and bayoneted in a foot, he was denied medical care until his captors found out he was the son of an admiral. They took him to a hospital.

‘I have faced tougher adversaries’

Before the July 28 vote against the Obamacare repeal, McCain’s absence from Washington due to the brain surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix helped set back the Republicans’ previous attempt to repeal and replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act, given the GOP’s tiny edge in the Senate.

He also announced his opposition to a last-ditch third GOP attempt to repeal the act in September, saying “I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

That announcement prompted Trump to blame him for the GOP failure to repeal Obamacare.

“You can call it what you want, but that’s the only reason we don’t have it, because of John McCain,” Trump said in September 2017 on the “Rick and Bubba” radio show, which airs in the South.

Receiving the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia the next month, McCain took issue with the nationalist and isolationist policies that Trump campaigned on to win the White House. Without mentioning Trump by name, McCain said:

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

Trump responded in an interview with Washington’s WMAL radio, saying: “I’m being very, very nice, but at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”

To which McCain replied: “I have faced tougher adversaries.”

People close to the senator informed the White House that McCain wanted Vice President Mike Pence, but not Trump, to attend his funeral.

‘This guy, he served his country’

McCain married former swimsuit model Carol Shepp in 1965. He adopted her two children, and the couple had a daughter, Sidney in September 1966.

During his captivity, his wife crashed her car while visiting her family. She was severely injured in the Christmas Eve 1969 crash but was able to keep her injuries out of the media so that her POW husband wouldn’t find out.

After his release, their marriage faltered and the couple divorced in 1980 but maintained an amicable relationship. She later worked in the Reagan White House.

A month after the divorce, McCain married Cindy Lou Hensley, a special education teacher and Arizona beverage heiress. She gave birth to their daughter, Meghan, in 1984, and to sons John Sidney IV in 1986 and James in 1988. Five years later, they adopted a fourth child, Bridget, whom they first met while she was living at Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

While co-host of ABC’s “The View,” Meghan McCain had a tearful on-air encounter in December 2017 with Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of glioblastoma in 2015.

“I think about Beau almost every day and I was told – sorry – that this doesn’t get easier, but that you cultivate the tools to work with this and to live with this,” she told Biden through tears as her father was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Biden-Meghan McCain tweet

In the September 2017 interview on “60 Minutes,” the senator said the devastating brain cancer diagnosis made him appreciate his life.

“I have feelings sometimes of fear of what happens. But as soon as I get that, I say, ‘Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You’ve been around a long time, old man. You’ve had a great life,'” he told CBS.

“You just have to understand that it’s not that you’re leaving. It’s that you … stayed. I celebrate what a guy who stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy has been able to do. I am so grateful. I, every night when I go to sleep, I am just filled with gratitude.”

In the interview, he expressed a wish for a memorial service at Annapolis. “I want, when I leave, that the ceremony is at the Naval Academy, and we just have a couple of people that stand up and say, ‘This guy, he served his country.'”

60 Minutes interview tweet