John McCain: Dead at 81 after a lifetime of public service

UPDATE — 9/4, 12:40 p.m. EDT: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl will replace the late John McCain in the U.S. Senate.

According to a spokesperson, Kyle will occupy one of the Grand Canyon State’s two seats in Congress’ upper chamber until at least the end of 2018.


John McCain, the brusque, outspoken Arizona Republican who served as both a congressman and senator from the Grand Canyon State for 46 years, has died at the age of 81.

Mr. McCain, who had been treated for an aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, passed away Saturday at his home in Sedona, Ariz., surrounded by family members.

The senator’s passing comes two days after a family statement announcing McCain would end treatment for cancer.

The son and grandson of career naval officers, John S. McCain III was born on August 29, 1936, in the Panama Canal Zone to John McCain Jr. and his wife Roberta.  Raised on military bases, McCain would eventually enroll at the U.S. Naval Academy in August 1954, graduating fifth from the bottom of Annapolis’ class of 1958.

After completing flight training, McCain was later assigned combat duty aboard the USS Forrestal and the USS Oriskany during the Vietnam War.  On Oct. 26, 1967, while on a bombing mission over Han-oi, McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk was shot down by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire.

Taken prisoner, McCain would endure five years’ captivity and routine torture by his communist captors. McCain’s torment would include isolation, beatings and untreated injuries.  The experience of North Vietnamese prison camps would influence McCain’s attitude toward U.S. foreign policy following the 9/11 attacks and President Bush’s “War on Terror”.

Upon his return home in 1973, McCain underwent extensive recuperation and in 1977 was assigned the U.S. Navy’s liaison to the U.S. Senate.  Retiring from the service in 1981, McCain moved to Arizona and embarked on his 44-year political career.

First elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, McCain represented Arizona’s First Congressional District for two terms before jumping to the Senate in 1986.

A harsh critic of pork-barrel spending and hawkish on military issues, McCain would serve 32 years and chair three committees:  Armed services, Indian affairs and commerce.

His tenure in the Senate was not without controversy, A contrarian, McCain often clashed with Republicans and became ensnared in scandal shortly after his elevation to Congress’ upper chamber.

In 1986, McCain’s association with financier Charles Keating nearly derailed his political career.  At the center of the controversy were allegations McCain, along with four other senators, had improperly intervened on behalf of Keating, who owned Lincoln Savings and Loan.

Following the collapse of Lincoln’s finances in 1989, McCain and the other four, were alleged to have accepted campaign donations totaling $1.3 million in exchange for thwarting a regulatory probe conducted by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

Although Keating’s crimes cost taxpayers over $2 billion and Keating was eventually convicted, a two-year inquiry conducted by the Senate Ethics Committee eventually cleared McCain, but rebuked him for “poor judgement.”

His only ethical difficulty behind him, McCain continued to serve for another 29 years and set his sights on the White House.

Declaring for the presidency in 2000, McCain gained momentum early on, won the New Hampshire GOP primary, but dropped out of the race after a loss in South Carolina to George W. Bush.

Returning to the Senate, McCain often broke with the Bush White House over the conduct of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care and torture policy.

McCain did, however, co-author the McCain–Feingold Act, which regulates the financing of political campaigns.

Nominated in 2008 to challenge then-Sen. Barack Obama for the White House, McCain lost badly to the upstart Illinois community organizer in the 2008 election.  McCain was foiled in an Electoral College runaway, 365–173.

Returning to the Senate, again, after his presidential ambitions were halted, McCain spent energy criticizing Obama, often blasting the Democrat for his inaction on immigration, foreign policy misjudgment and Obamacare.

Reelected to his sixth term in 2016.  McCain initially stated he would endorse the GOP presidential candidate who emerged from the rambunctious primary season, but later reneged, declining to endorse the eventual nominee, New York businessman Donald Trump.

Mr. McCain’s Senate seat is expected to be filled by appointment from Arizona Gov. Doug Doucey, who has not given any indication to who he may choose to succeed McCain.  However, speculation includes former diplomat Barbara Barrett, Doucey aide, Kirk Adams, as well as a number of Arizona congressmen.

Asked once during an appearance on CNN how he would prefer to be remembered, McCain responded:

“Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors, but served his country. And I hope we could add honorably.”

McCain is survived by his second wife, Cindy, seven children, and his mother, Roberta.


Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publication.


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