A number of Sen. John McCain's colleagues paid tribute to him Friday in a ceremony honoring his lifetime of public service, shortly after his casket was brought to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol's Rotunda. Among those was Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke at McCain's memorial service on behalf of President Donald Trump, who McCain reportedly did not want in attendance.
"The president asked me to be here, on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office," Pence said. "And it's my great honor to be here."
The New York Times reported last week that plans for McCain's funeral events included an invitation for Vice President Mike Pence to attend Friday's services in Washington, but no invitation for the president. On Monday, Trump confirmed that he would not be attending any of the ceremonies planned to honor McCain, but would instead send Pence, Gen. John Kelly, Secretary James Mattis, and Ambassador John Bolton to represent the Trump administration at funeral services.
While speaking at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on Friday, Pence referred to McCain as an "American patriot." He then went on to praise the late senator's willingness to always fight for what he believed in, even if it put him in opposition with his party. "For 35 years, John served in these very halls under this very dome. And he fought for what he believed in," the vice president said, according to CNN. "In my years in congress and as vice president, we didn't always agree, either. And he almost always noticed."
Despite their disagreements, Pence went on to say that McCain's support for "limited government," "tax reform," and "our armed forces" had "surely left our nation more prosperous and more secure."
The vice president also shared his memories of traveling with McCain, specifically referencing a trip to Iraq during which he'd nodded off during dinner with Iraqi officials. According to Pence, McCain — who the vice president noted was 20 years older than him — approached him after the dinner and suggested he skip the evening's remaining meetings in favor of heading to bed early. "[He] put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Mike, we've got a few more meetings tonight but why don't you turn in? You look like you could use some rest,'" Pence reflected. "Thanks, John."
The vice president went on to praise McCain as a champion of the United States Armed Forces, noting that he'd "never traveled with a colleague who was better to our enlisted, or harder on our generals" than McCain was.
Yet Pence's repeated references to Trump, who was not in attendance Friday, served only to highlight the especially awkward position the president's strained and often combative relationship with McCain had placed him in.
"He will be missed," Pence said of McCain at one point. "As President Trump said yesterday, 'We respect his service to the country.'"