Senator Lindsey Graham was shedding tears during a touching tribute to his best friend John McCain, prompting a bipartisan group of lawmakers to offer him hugs and condolences.
‘To those who are striving as a young person, remember John McCain. He failed a lot but he never quit. And the reason we’re talking about him today, and the reason I’m crying, is because he was successful in spite of his failures,’ Graham said on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.
He added: ‘I do not cry for a perfect man. I cry for a man who had honor and always was willing to admit to his imperfection.’
In his nearly 20 minutes of remarks, Graham recalled McCain’s fondness for bad jokes, his service to his country and how he believes ‘there is a little John McCain in all of us.’
Senator Lindsey Graham teared up when he gave tribute to John McCain
John McCain and Lindsey Graham became friends in the early 2000s during the impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton
He admitted when he began his remarks: ‘I have been dreading this, and I am now gonna do this.’
After his emotional speech, in which he choked up and wiped away tears, Graham stood on the side of the Senate floor as his colleagues lined up to offer him hugs and condolences.
A bipartisan group of senators – including Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chris Coons and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio – hugged him.
Others offered him pats on the back and handshakes.
The Republican senator from South Carolina wore a Naval Academy tie for his tribute, which he said would both honor and annoy McCain at the same time since Graham is not an academy graduate but McCain was.
Graham read his speech from a legal pad, where he had written on his thoughts on it in large letters by hand. He delivered it from his Senate desk, which is next to McCain’s black-clothed draped one. Colleagues from both sides of the aisle were on hand to watch.
Later, Graham said seeing McCain’s desk, with a vase of white roses on it, was hard.
‘What killed me was the black,’ he said referring to the cloth.
And he said of his friend: ‘This is the only time I’ve known him that he’s been pain free.’
McCain was tortured during the five years he was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. He could not raise his arms above his shoulders or comb his hair.
After his remarks, Graham talked to reporters about his friendship with McCain and relayed the advice the late senator gave him on dealing with President Donald Trump: ‘Help him when you can, just don’t get sucked into all this bull****.’
Graham added: ‘I said ‘roger.’ So I’m going to help him where I can and not get sucked into all the other drama.’
McCain and Trump feuded during the 2016 presidential campaign and never mended fences.
The longtime feud between the two men reached its peak on Monday, after the White House raised its flag to full staff, prompting outrage at what people took to be a slight of the late senator.
The president relented Monday afternoon – after the commander of the influential veterans group the American Legion released a statement asking for the flag to be lowered.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham hold a news conference at the Capitol in July 2017
Graham could not offer a single name of who would take on McCain’s watchdog role in the Senate. The late senator was one of the few Republican lawmakers who would call out Trump harshly and publicly when he disagreed with the president.
It would take several lawmakers to play such a role, Graham said, but he sounded almost McCain-esque when he talked about his relationship with the president going forward.
‘When it comes to foreign policy I will stay close to this president if he lets me,’ he said, adding that he would give him advice on that subject matter.
‘I will do it politely but if I see a drift back to the old ways, I will say something about it and damn the consequences,’ Graham added.
Graham also said he spoke to Cindy McCain after his floor speech and that she approved of his words.
He had no concrete suggestions for a way to honor McCain. One suggestion was to rename the Russell Senate Office Building in his honor.
‘I’d rename the Capitol after him if I could,’ Graham said, adding he would talk to Cindy McCain to hear her wishes.
He later joked there was another building that should bear the late senator’s moniker.
‘John McCain was a soldier’s best friend and the Pentagon’s worst nightmare. I’d like to name the Pentagon after him just to get back at everybody,’ he said.
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain had over sight over the military’s budget, a weapon he wielded forcefully.
And Graham named several pieces of legislation he wanted to get passed for McCain, including theRussians sanctions bill, protecting the 2018 midterm elections, and ‘I’m going to make sure immigration reform gets done or die trying.’
Immigration reform was a longtime goal of McCain’s. He and Sen. Ted Kennedy started working on the issue in the early years of 2000. McCain was part of the Gang of Eight that pushed for immigration reform in 2013.
‘If we ever pull this off on immigration reform it’ll be because of the work of John McCain and Ted Kennedy,’ Graham said.
McCain and Graham have been friends since going back nearly 30 years.
McCain died Saturday, at the age of 81, following a long battle with brain cancer and Graham said he considers himself one of the family.
‘My name is Graham, not McCain. But I feel like a McCain,’ he said, recalling all the waiters, cops, and strangers on the street who’ve come up to him to offer condolences.
McCain and Graham’s friendship began during the impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton.
Then presidential candidate John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and campaign manager Rick Davis tour the podium and stage before McCain’s keynote address at the Republican National Convention
Lindsey Graham talked to reporters about his memories of McCain after he gave his speech
Graham, then a House member, was presenting the case for impeachment to senators, including McCain.
‘Congressman Graham, on the most solemn occasion, said, ‘You know, where I come from, any man calling a woman at 2 a.m. is up to no good,” McCain said in March 2017 when he talked about their friendship on CNN. ‘I knew right then that Lindsey Graham was a guy I wanted to spend time with.’
Graham joined the Senate in 2003.
The two men, along with then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, traveled the world together on official trips, calling themselves ‘The Three Amigos.’
Both Graham and Lieberman will speak at McCain’s memorial service at the National Cathedral on Saturday.