Sen. John McCain, who after years in the U.S. military went on to serve 35 years in Congress, has died at the age of 81 due to glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain tumor.
The son and grandson of four-star Navy admirals, he volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam war upon graduating from the Naval Academy.
He was famously shot down over Hanoi suffering two broken arms and a shattered leg, and was a prisoner of war for five and a half years. During that time he rejected early release ahead of his fellow prisoners.
After retirement from the Navy, he ran for and won two terms in the House of Representatives beginning in 1983 and then six terms in the U.S. Senate.
His was a career of extreme highs and lows. He ran for president twice – losing the Republican nomination to George W. Bush in 2000, and then losing the general election in 2008 to Barack Obama.
But his 2008 run for the White House was marred by a series of bad decisions, most prominently selecting the half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Many in politics today point to that moment as the beginning of a surge of unqualified, untempered candidates that ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump.
And in the waning days of the election, as the country became mired in financial crisis, he declared the ‘fundamentals of the economy’ were strong.
While there’s no doubt that McCain was a conservative through and through, one of the hallmark’s of his long career in service was his distinct ability to change with the times.
Although he spent years opposing LGBTQ rights, like his longtime opposition to openly gay and lesbian military personnel, he would go on to become a defender of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.
And six years after it’s repeal, he opposed an amendment to a defense spending bill that could have undercut an executive order by President Obama that banned LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. The amendment would eventually be stripped out of the bill.
In 2013, the self-described ‘maverick’ was one of only ten Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In his home state of Arizona, he was highly critical of a proposed “license to discriminate” bill.
In 2015, he gave his full-throated support to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Eric Fanning, who became the first openly gay Secretary of the Army.
And when Donald Trump proposed a complete ban on transgender military service members last year, McCain stepped up early vigorously opposing the policy, saying in a statement, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.”
His last ‘maverick moment’ of his career came when he dramatically gave a thumbs-down on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act last year.
In September of last year, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him how he wanted to be remembered.
“He served his country and not always right," McCain responded. "Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors, but served his country. And I hope we could add honorably.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin issued the following statement:
“Senator McCain was a patriot and a hero, whose life was defined by his service and sacrifice on behalf of our country.
“While we disagreed on many issues, later in his career, he became an increasingly vocal advocate for LGBTQ servicemembers.
"In the last few years, Senator McCain blocked anti-LGBTQ language in the National Defense Authorization Act, opposed a ‘license to discriminate’ bill in Arizona, denounced the Trump-Pence Administration's effort to ban transgender troops and spoke out against the nomination of the anti-LGBTQ Mark Green to lead the Army.
"We join with millions of Americans in mourning his loss, and extend our deepest condolences to Senator McCain’s wife, Cindy, and his entire family.”