‘We laughed with each other, and we learned from each other’: Former presidents eulogize Sen. John McCain

Two former presidents honored the late Sen. John McCain during eulogies at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday.

Former President Barack Obama lauded John McCain’s efforts to push the nation to rise above “mean and petty” politics in his tribute Saturday to the Arizona Republican, who served for more than three decades in the Senate.

“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insults, and phony controversies, and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear,” Obama said in a eulogy for McCain. “John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.”

Obama, who was McCain’s rival in the 2008 presidential race, added, “That’s perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party, or ambition, or money, or fame, or power, that there are some things that are worth risking everything for.”

Meanwhile, former President George W. Bush said whatever rivalry he had with Sen. John McCain “melted away” as they forged a friendship.

“Back in the day, he could frustrate me. And I know he’d say the same thing about me. But he also made me better,” Bush said, delivering a eulogy for his former 2000 Republican primary rival.

Bush recalled how he and McCain spoke of that “intense period like football players remembering a big game.”

“In the process rivalry melted away,” Bush told the crowd of mourners gathered at the cathedral. “In the end, I got to enjoy one of life’s great gifts, the friendship of John McCain. And I’ll miss it.”

Bush said that McCain was “honest no matter whom it offended,” adding that “presidents were not spared.”

Obama said it was “no secret” that McCain had a temper that was a “force of nature, a wonder to behold.”

“Not that I ever experienced it firsthand, mind you,” he quipped.

The former president also said that while McCain’s temper would flare, the senator “was just as quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness.”

Obama recalled how during the course of his presidency, McCain would visit the White House and talk with Obama in the Oval Office about policy, family and the state of politics.

“Our disagreements didn’t go away during these private conversations. Those were real, and they were often deep,” Obama said. “But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights, and we laughed with each other, and we learned from each other. And we never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism.”

Both Obama and Bush were personally asked by McCain to deliver a eulogy at his funeral.

“What a better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience?” Obama joked.

McCain died at the age of 81 last Saturday after stopping treatment for glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor. He was honored at a memorial service Thursday at the Arizona state Capitol. On Friday, the senator lay in state in the U.S. Capitol, the 31st person to be given the rare honor.

A private service will take place at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on Sunday, and McCain will be laid to rest in the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery.

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