7 Moments That Demonstrated The Kind Of Statesman Sen. John McCain Is

With news of Sen. McCain's brain cancer, it's worth remembering how he has served the country.

On Wednesday, Arizona Sen. John McCain's office announced the 80-year-old had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

The news sent shockwaves across the country. Immediately, words of support, encouragement and well wishes poured in across social media and from politicians on both sides of the aise, including former President Barack Obama. 


As news of Sen. McCain's illness spread, so too have people begun reminiscing about his time as a public servant. Though Sen. McCain is most well-known for being re-elected as an Arizona senator five times, he also served two terms in the House of Representatives, was a naval captain, a prisoner of war and a Vietnam War veteran.

As inspired by CNN contributor Brian Fallon's tweet and in honor of McCain's service to the United States, we'd like to highlight seven moments that illustrate the kind of statesman Sen. McCain has made an effort to be.

1. When he defended Barack Obama on the campaign trail.

Perhaps his most famous moment came when then-Republican candidate for president John McCain was hosting a town hall in Lakeville, Minnesota in 2008. During the town hall, several members of the audience were screaming "terrorist" and "liar" every time McCain mentioned Obama.

"I have to tell you, Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain told one member of the crowd who said the prospect of an Obama presidency scared him.

Then, when a woman told McCain that she couldn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab," the Senator took his microphone back and spoke out against the conspiracy theory that had spread during the campaign.

"No, ma'am," McCain said. "He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab]."

The entire exchange was captured on film:

2. When he responded to President Trump's prisoner of war comments.

In July of 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump ignited a firestorm of controversy when he rebuked Sen. McCain's service in the Vietnam War by saying that he wasn't a hero because he was captured.

"He's not a war hero," Trump said. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

Trump, who deferred his service during the Vietnam War, refused to apologize for the comments. But Sen. McCain never asked him to. Instead, McCain stayed quiet about the controversy for months before being pressed about it in a CNN interview 10 months later.

But instead of asking for an apology or making it about himself, McCain took another route, imploring Trump to apologize to other veterans.

"I think it's important for Donald Trump to express his appreciation for veterans," McCain said. "What he said about me, John McCain, that's fine. I don't require any repair of that. But when he said, 'I don't like people who were captured,' then there's a body of American heroes, and I'd like to see him retract that statement. Not about me, but about the others."

3. When he got teary-eyed talking about Sen. Lindsey Graham.

This March, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham — long known for their friendship on Capitol Hill — got tear- eyed during a CNN town hall when discussing each other's friendship.

McCain used the opportunity to describe Sen. Graham's upbringing, saying they shared similar values and that Sen. Graham raising his sister after their parents died was "quite a great American success story." 

4. When he defined military success.

When Sen. McCain characterized a raid in Yemen that killed 30 civilians and U.S. Navy SEAL Ryan Owens as a "failure," the White House fired back.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer said calling the raid a failure did a "disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens." He also added that Owens knew what was at stake in the mission and anyone suggesting otherwise "doesn't fully appreciate how successful that mission was."

Many reporters and politicians took Spicer's quote as a direct shot at Sen. McCain. Later, MSNBC tracked McCain down and asked him for a response to what Spicer had said. Then, in an off-the-cuff moment, Sen. McCain gave everyone a lesson in how to define success.

"Many years ago when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, there was an attempt to rescue the POWs," McCain said. "Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who were took on that mission and risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes. Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story."

5. When he spoke out against torture.

As a former prisoner of war, John McCain knows first hand what it's like to be behind enemy lines. Since his time serving, McCain has become one of the faces of a movement to end the use of cruel interrogation techniques by the United States Armed forces.

During George W. Bush's time as a president, McCain criticized him often for the conduct of the U.S. during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the techniques it uses while interrogating terrorism suspects. 

Sen. McCain applauded President Obama when he instituted the National Defense Authorization Act, which "reaffirmed the prohibition on torture by limiting interrogation techniques to those in the Army Field Manual."

And then, when President Trump won the election and discussed signing an executive order that would reopen CIA "black sites" abroad, Sen. McCain spoke out about the potential move.

"The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes," McCain said in a statement. "But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America."

6. When he defended the Khan family.

When President Trump criticized the Gold Star Khan family, it was Sen. McCain who issued the toughest reply of any Republican. 

"I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump's statement," McCain said. "I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates." 

But Sen. McCain didn't stop there. He went further, describing the final moments of Army Captain Humayun Khan's life.

"Captain Khan's death in Iraq, on June 8, 2004, was a shining example of the valor and bravery inculcated into our military," Sen. McCain said. "When a suicide bomber accelerated his vehicle toward a facility with hundreds of American soldiers, Captain Khan ordered his subordinates away from the danger. Then he ran toward it."

7. When he offered help to Leslie Knope.

Of course, what kind of statesman would McCain be if he didn't make the occasional television cameo to help out one of pop culture's favorite politicians? 

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Christopher Halloran


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