WASHINGTON – As senators delivered glowing tributes to the late Sen. John McCain on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham reminded them of another side of his friend: Every one of them had “had their head ripped off by him at some point in time.”
But the South Carolina Republican said McCain could work with those same people the next day. It was one of a number of remembrances this week by senators, some tearful, of the Arizona icon who died Saturday of brain cancer.
“What John McCain’s remembered for is finding a way to get over all the noise. Focus on what’s important,” Graham told reporters shortly after his speech on the Senate floor.
“It’s kind of an effort to get everybody to realize if we all like John so much, which we do, why don’t we be more like him?” Graham asked. “Including me?”
Graham wasn’t the only with words of praise Tuesday for McCain, a Republican who was able to work across the aisle. Democrats agreed with Graham’s assessment that McCain had “the most unusual ability to … just tear it into somebody and work with them the next day.”
“I’m one of the many people he took under his wing,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut. “I didn’t see eye-to-eye with him in a lot of American foreign policy, but I learned how to do diplomacy from John.”
Immigration reform was one of those areas where McCain was not afraid to speak his mind, they said. McCain was a member of the “Gang of Eight” senators – four Republicans and four Democrats – who introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 that passed the Senate before dying in the House.
“The issue of comprehensive immigration reform in Arizona wasn’t necessarily one that was going to win him a lot of political points,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, one of the Gang of Eight. “But he knew it was important and imperative for the nation to fix our broken immigration system.”
While many senators had kind words for McCain, Graham was probably the most emotional. He teared up during a 16-minute floor speech Tuesday, not the first time he has cried since McCain died.
That’s because Graham and McCain grew to be close friends in the Senate.
Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst and editor of the Cook Political Report, said the two men had a special bond, probably because of the several long official trips they took together. They also had interests in similar issues and were not as different as people may think, Duffy said.
“You would hope every member (of Congress) would be friends like they were, you would hope they would have someone in the chamber they could rely on and be friends with inside and outside the Congress,” Duffy said.
Graham said one of the last pieces of advice McCain gave him was to “keep going, boy.” For him, that means he will “get immigration reform done or die trying,” along with continuing McCain’s fight on issues such as containing Russia and protecting this year’s elections.
“This guy dedicated his life to finding a solution to a very, very difficult problem,” Graham said of McCain. “I’m going to make sure that Congress keeps asking the hard question.”
– Cronkite News reporters Charlene Santiago and Daniel Perle contributed to this report.
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