Former presidents and Trump’s daughter at service for John McCain

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Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush headed an elite gathering of political heavyweights at the memorial service for Senator John McCain at Washington’s National Cathedral.

The Vietnam War hero, who became one of America’s most high-profile politicians, died a week ago from brain cancer at the age of 81.

His daughter Meghan spoke ahead of the former presidents, saying her father’s death was “the passing of American greatness”, as she directed a message squarely at President Donald Trump while encouraging others to live up to her father’s example.

Meghan McCain
Meghan McCain speaks at the memorial for her father (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

She said to applause: “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”

Mr Obama told the congregation: “We come to celebrate an extraordinary man, a warrior, a statesman, a patriot who embodied so much that is best in America.”

He noted Mr McCain was a conservative politician, but said “he did understand that some principles transcend politics, that some values transcend party”.

Mr Obama praised Mr McCain for opposing “bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy” and as a proponent of a “free and independent press”.

Mr Obama spoke after former president George W. Bush, another McCain opponent. Mr Obama said of Mr McCain: “He made us better presidents.”

George W. Bush hailed Mr McCain’s “combination of courage and decency” in a eulogy that touched on the state of the nation’s politics under Donald Trump.

Mr Bush, who defeated Mr McCain in the 2000 Republican primary, said Mr McCain “detested the abuse of power”.

He added that: “To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist that we are better than this, America is better than this.”

Mr Bush said his absence was tangible, “like the silence after a mighty roar”.

Noting Mr McCain’s time as a prisoner of war, Mr Bush said Mr McCain “loved freedom with the passion of a man who knew its absence”.

Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were among the highest-ranking White House officials attending after Mr McCain’s family made it clear that Mr Trump was not invited.

He had been routinely criticised over his military record by the US president, who spent some time ahead of the service tweeting out a series of long-standing grievances about the news media, Canada and the Justice Department.

 Barack Obama hugs Al Gore
Former President Barack Obama hugs former vice president Al Gore (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Mr Kushner and Mrs Trump could be seen greeting other guests inside the cathedral, including McCain’s close friend, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Graham had called Trump’s handling of the events around the Arizona senator’s death “disturbing.”

The administration had lowered the American flag at the White House to half-mast upon McCain’s death Saturday, but then raised it on Monday. After a public outcry it was lowered once more.

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

Mr 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.

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

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