Sen. John McCain managed one final jab at President Donald Trump on Monday, issuing a farewell statement, via a longtime aide, that offered a full-throated defense of his vision of American values alongside an implicit criticism of Trump’s.
The six-term senator from Arizona, who died Saturday, said in the statement that the U.S. is weakened by hiding “behind walls rather than [tearing] them down.” The statement was read at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix by Rick Davis, McCain’s longtime friend and adviser, who teared up as he spoke and paused multiple times to collect himself.
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“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe,” McCain said in his statement. “We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
McCain, a Navy veteran and two-time Republican presidential candidate, died at the age of 81 after battling brain cancer. The Arizona lawmaker wrote in his statement that he “had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president” in 2008 and concluded his message “with heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.”
Trump offered his condolences to the Arizona senator’s family in a tweet Saturday evening but made no mention of McCain’s legacy of military service or leadership in the Senate.
The president has in the past suggested that McCain, who was a prisoner of war and torture victim during the Vietnam War, was not a war hero because he had been captured. He also criticized McCain for voting against the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates,” the statement from McCain said. “But, we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we’ll get through these challenging times.”
Even before his public feud with Trump, McCain built a reputation as a senator willing to buck his own party on issues ranging from climate change to campaign finance. He was referred to often as a “maverick” senator and had outsize influence in the Senate, especially on issues related to defense and foreign policy.
McCain was also known for a willingness to work across the aisle, a style that has grown increasingly rare in a deeply polarized political climate. The former Arizona senator predicted that the U.S. will emerge from its current divisions “stronger than before.”
“Do not despair of our present difficulties, we believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here,” McCain’s statement said. “Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history, we make history. Farewell fellow Americans. God bless you and God bless America.”