Sen. John McCain ends a documentary about his life by sending the message that Washington is not giving the American people the government they deserve.
The Arizona Republican also makes clear he is doing everything he can to fight the brain cancer that has stricken him. He says he loves life and wants to stick around forever but also believes “there is a great honor that you can die with.”
McCain’s comments come in the HBO documentary “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The title stems from McCain’s favorite book and his current condition. The 81-year-old was diagnosed in July with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. He left Washington in December and has yet to return, though he continues to weigh in on an array of issues.
Earlier this month, he urged his fellow senators to reject President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA. A White House aide subsequently dismissed his opposition, saying it “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway,” setting off a firestorm of criticism and calls for a public apology.
There was no mention of that episode as dozens of McCain’s Senate colleagues took nearly two hours out of their day to watch the documentary Thursday afternoon. Some of them spoke about McCain before the movie aired.
“The movie is excellent. It tells the story, warts and all,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of McCain’s closest friends.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she will always remember McCain interrupting a supporter in her home state to stick up for Barack Obama, his Democratic opponent in the 2008 presidential race. The supporter had said she couldn’t trust Obama and called him an “Arab.”
McCain replied: “No, ma’am, no, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”
That scene made it into the movie, which was followed by praise from Obama, who said he admired McCain’s civility in an uphill battle. “For John, in the middle of that to say, ‘Hold on a second. We don’t demonize each other. We’re all Americans. We’re all on the same team,’ I thought was an indication of who John fundamentally was,” Obama said.
Indeed, praise from Democrats was featured prominently in the film, including from former Vice President Joe Biden, previously a colleague of McCain’s in the Senate, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman. In the film, McCain expresses regret for not picking Lieberman as his running mate in place of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. He said advisers talked him out of it.
“That was another mistake that I made,” McCain said.
Fewer appearances were made by Republican lawmakers. Trump, with whom he has feuded, is not interviewed, though Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, was.
The film’s closing moments include McCain’s deciding vote against the GOP’s health care bill and his Senate speech before departing for Arizona. As bells begin to toll, McCain gives a quick take on Washington: “We need to make sure we give the American people what they deserve, and right now they’re not getting it.”
And on his current circumstances: “I’m confident, I’m happy and I’m very grateful for the life I’ve been able to lead and I greet the future with great joy.”
The final scene includes McCain’s October address after receiving the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal. In the speech, he blasted a “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in the United States “cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”