NEWS
01/09/2018 18:10 BST | Updated 01/09/2018 20:44 BST

'America Was Always Great' – Meghan McCain Takes Aim At Trump In Eulogy For Father John McCain

Former presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush also paid tribute at memorial service.

Mark Wilson via Getty Images

The daughter of John McCain has delivered an emotional and passionate eulogy, contrasting her father’s legacy with Donald Trump’s ‘cheap rhetoric’.

Megan McCain was one of several to make speeches at the memorial service for the senator at Washington’s National Cathedral.

He died a week ago from brain cancer at the age of 81.

Former presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush also took to the pulpit to pay moving and at times funny tributes to the Vietnam War hero who became one of America’s most high-profile politicians.

Both drew on the senator’s legacy at home and abroad to talk of the nation’s values in remarks that at times seemed a clear rebuke of Trump and his brand of politics.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

The current US president did not attend the memorial service and McCain’s family made is clear that he was not invited. 

The pair clashed frequently and McCain was the most prominent critic of Trump within his own party. 

In July, he called Trump’s joint news conference Russian president Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

On the campaign trail Trump insisted that the senator was “not a war hero” because he was captured.

Speaking ahead of the former presidents, Meghan said her father’s death signified “the passing of American greatness”, as she directed a message squarely at Donald Trump while encouraging others to live up to her father’s example.

In her tearful, impassioned tribute she said they “gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness — the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

The audience, including many republicans, broke into applause when Meghan said: “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”

She added: “John McCain was not defined by prison, by the Navy, by the Senate, by the Republican Party or by any single one of the deeds in his absolutely extraordinary life. John McCain was defined by love.”

Meghan, a co-host on ABC’s The View, has previously slammed Trump for mocking her war-veteran father.

During a June episode of The View, she said: ”(Trump’s) comments are never going to be OK with me, especially at the moment in my life. I’m never going to forgive it. I’m never going to move on from it.”

Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner were are among the highest-ranking White House officials in attendance.

Ahead of the service, Trump spent time tweeting out a series of long-standing grievances about the news media, Canada and the Justice Department.

McCain had asked Obama and Bush to speak at the service to highlight the bridge-building that he espoused. Both men had defeated McCain’s own bids for the presidency.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

 

Obama spoke of the long talks he and McCain would have privately in the Oval Office and the senator’s understanding that America’s security and influence came not from “our ability to bend others to our will” but universal values of rule of law and human rights.

“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, tracking in bombast and insult and phoney controversies and manufactured outrage,” Obama said in another not-so-veiled nod to the current US president.

“It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that,” he said.

Obama said he had been saddened and surprised when McCain called him and asked him to deliver an eulogy at the service but that the senator “liked being unpredictable, even a little contrarian”.

“He had no interest in conforming to some prepackaged version of what a senator should be and he didn’t want a memorial that was going to be prepackaged either,” he said.

The former president added that it also showed “his irreverence, his sense of humour, a little bit of a mischievous streak”.

To laughs in the congregation, he said: “After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience.”

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Bush - who defeated McCain for the Republican nomination in 2000 - paid tribute to the senator’s courage, honesty and sense of honour.

Bush said one of the great gifts in his life was becoming friends with his former White House rival.

He said they would in later years recall their political battles like former football players remembering the big game.

But mostly Bush recalled a champion for the “forgotten people” at home and abroad whose legacy would serve as a reminder, even in times of doubt, of the power of America as more than a physical place but a “carrier of human aspirations”.

He said the senator often confronted those in power if he felt their conduct was falling short of America’s ideals with the words: “We are better than this. America is better than this.”

Other speakers included former Senator Joe Lieberman and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

During the procession to the cathedral, the hearse stopped at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where McCain’s wife Cindy placed a wreath.

She was accompanied by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, who is a retired Marine Corps general.

McCain was a decorated veteran who was held for more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam where he refused early release.

McCain will be buried on Sunday at his alma mater, the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.