WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans lined up for blocks outside the U.S. Capitol Thursday to say goodbye to John McCain as officials, relatives and friends paid their tributes inside to the Vietnam hero and longtime senator lying in state under the majestic dome.
Earlier, Vice President Mike Pence, lawmakers and guests paid tribute at an emotional ceremony surrounding McCain’s casket in the vast rotunda.
A light rain fell as McCain’s casket was carried into the Capitol by members of America’s military services. His family watched from the steps.
“It is only right that today, near the end of his long journey, John lies here, in this great hall, under this mighty dome, like other American heroes before him,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We thank God for giving this country John McCain.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan called McCain “one of the bravest souls our nation has produced.”
McCain, a former Navy aviator, really did “talk like a sailor,” Ryan said, drawing smiles from the crowd. “But you see, with John, it wasn’t feigned disagreement. The man didn’t feign anything. He just relished the fight.”
Pence said he didn’t always agree with McCain, but said McCain’s support for limited government, tax reform and the military “surely left our nation more prosperous and more secure.”
McCain “served his country honorably,” Pence said, adding that President Donald Trump “respected his service to the country.”
Trump, who has mocked McCain for being captured during the Vietnam War, was asked to stay away from the Capitol service, people close to the White House and the McCain family said.
After the service, McCain’s wife of 38 years, Cindy, bowed over the casket, clasped her hands and appeared to pray there. Later, she sat at her husband’s desk with Sen. Lindsey Graham at her side in the semi-darkened Senate. Graham plucked two roses from the vase on the late senator’s desk and gave them to her, according to two people close to McCain with knowledge of the private moment.
The ceremony was the first of two days of services in Washington honoring the Arizona senator, who served in Congress for 35 years.
On Saturday, McCain’s procession will pause by the Vietnam Memorial and head for Washington National Cathedral for a formal funeral service. At McCain’s request, two former presidents - Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush - will speak.
Officials represented the administration in Trump’s hard-to-miss absence. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were among those in attendance, along with members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.