It was a friendship that was far from ordinary. But John McCain and Joe Biden forged a deep bond over the years that transcended partisan divides and led the late senator's relatives to treat the former vice president like a member of the family, according to NBC. On Thursday, Biden spoke at McCain's Arizona memorial service to pay tribute to the man with whom he'd formed such a close relationship.
"I love John McCain," Biden said at the start of his speech. "I always thought of John as a brother. We had a hell of a lot of family fights." Later, he said: "We understood the same thing: All politics is personal. It's all about trust. I trusted John with my life."
"John's code was ageless — is ageless," Biden said. "It wasn't about politics with John ... it was the underlying values that animated everything John did. Everything he was."
McCain first came onto Biden's radar in 1973 when the then-naval aviator was coming back to the United States after being a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years. Per NBC, Biden was reportedly watching a newscast of McCain's return when he told one of his Senate aides, "Someday I want to meet that guy." The two met a bit later in Biden's 36-year Senate career when McCain became a Navy liaison to the Senate. The two made many trips around the world together in that capacity.
"We hit it off from the beginning," Biden said of that time during his Thursday speech. "We were both full of dreams and ambitions and an overwhelming desire to make the time we had there worthwhile. To try to do the right thing. To think about how we could make things better for the country we loved so much. And John and I ended up traveling every time I went anywhere, I took John with me or John took me with him."
During the broadcast of the memorial service on Thursday, CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes described the relationship between McCain and Biden as a case of similar personalities clicking: "They had a similar sense of humor, they were both very gregarious, they both liked to have a good time, they both loved to talk."
Per NBC, Biden was one of those who told McCain to run for office. When he did so and won in 1987, beginning his 31-year Senate career, their friendship continued, though they also frequently argued over political matters. On Thursday, Biden remembered "the sheer joy that crossed [... McCain's] face the moment he knew he was about to get up and take the stage on the Senate floor and start a fight. God, he loved it."
Even when the two were on opposing presidential campaigns — McCain with his 2008 bid and Biden when he joined Obama's as a vice presidential candidate — they still made it clear how much they respected the other. In his first speech after being introduced as Obama's running mate that year, Biden said that McCain "served our country with extreme courage, and I know he wants to do right by America." He later condemned one of his campaign's ads that criticized McCain as lacking technological skills, saying it was "terrible" and "if I had anything to do with it, we would have never done it."
In 2015, Biden's son Beau passed away from brain cancer, the same disease that would lead to McCain's death three years later. Biden acknowledged this (as well as the death of Ted Kennedy) on Thursday, saying that "the disease that took John's life [...] three years ago it took my beautiful son Beau's life."
He said that he and McCain both learned that "there are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding, it's hard to see anything else." Brain cancer "takes so much from those we love and from the families who love them that in order to survive, we have to remember how they lived, not how they died."
NBC reports that Biden was one of the first people to call McCain after his tumor was diagnosed. Biden kept in close contact with the family, often speaking with McCain and also communicating with his daughter Meghan on at least a biweekly basis. Rick Davis, McCain's former campaign manager, told NBC that Biden "is being treated as a member of a family" and that he's "been a comfort" to them.
Biden spoke directly to the McCain family during his speech on Thursday. "I pray you take some comfort knowing that because you shared John with all of us your whole life, the world now shares with you the ache of John's death," he said. He spoke hopefully of the future, saying: "You know you're going to make it when the image of your dad, your husband, your friend, crosses your mind and a smile comes to your lip before a tear to your eye. That's when you know. And I promise you, I give you my word, I promise you, this I know: That day will come."
Biden said that he has tried to come up with words to describe why McCain's death has hit many Americans so hard. "I think it's because they knew John believed so deeply and so passionately in the soul of America that he made it easier for them to have confidence and faith in America," he said. "His belief — and it was deep — that Americans can do anything, withstand anything, achieve anything, was both unflagging and ultimately reassuring."
Biden ended his speech with one last touching tribute to his departed friend. "To paraphrase Shakespeare," he said, "we shall not see his like again."