Senator John McCain passed away Saturday, Aug. 25, at the age of 81 after battling brain cancer for over a year. But even after his illness was diagnosed last July, Sen. McCain continued to uphold American values and speak out against injustice.
During his life, Sen. McCain was no stranger to adversity. He survived more than five years in captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his plane was shot down. After miraculously surviving the brutal conditions of captivity, he went on to regain his naval flight status, and then to serve more than thirty years in the Senate. McCain ultimately ran as the Republican nominee in the 2008 presidential election.
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More recently, McCain held steadfastly to his beliefs, voting against his party’s proposed “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act – a plan that could have stripped 16 million more Americans of health care within the next 10 years.
In honor of McCain’s life and legacy, here are eight times that Sen. McCain proved that he wasn't just an American hero, but a global citizen, too.
1. When he urged the US to maintain its dedication to global human rights
In an impassioned New York Times op-ed, McCain advocated to keep morality as a central tenet of American foreign policy.
“We are a country with a conscience,” he wrote, “We have long believed moral concerns must be an essential part of our foreign policy, not a departure from it.”
“Depriving the oppressed of a beacon of hope could lose us the world we have built and thrived in,” he went on.
He reminded Americans that human rights transcend borders.
“America didn’t invent human rights. Those rights are common to all people: nations, cultures, and religions cannot choose to simply opt out of them.”
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2. When he recognized the severity of the Syrian crisis, and criticized the US for its complacency
McCain wrote a searing opinion piece in the Washington Post in December 2016 calling out the US for being complicit in the “tragedy” of the Syrian conflict.
He criticized the US for not acting swiftly or quickly enough to prevent the violence which he believes will rest in history next to the “moral failure and everlasting shame” of mass genocides like Rwanda.
3. When he spoke out on the severity of climate change
In May 2017, McCain spoke in Sydney, Australia, about the ominous perils of climate change, specifically naming the death of the Great Barrier Reef as one of the “great tragedies of our lives.”
“I think that climate change is real,” he stated frankly, and went on to express his support of America upholding its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, which President Trump proceeded to withdraw the nation from soon after.
4. When he wrote a memo to Congress opposing Trump’s proposed foreign aid budget cuts
McCain reached across the aisle to wrote a joint memo to Congress with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential running mate Tim Kaine expressing the importance of foreign aid to the maintenance of global peace and national security alike.
“Such cuts will make it harder to make America safer. They will deprive the world of the full array of American political and moral leadership when it has never been more needed.”
Despite his military history and the Trump administration’s proposed cut in foreign aid, McCain defended the methods of diplomacy and humanitarian assistance in foreign relations. Speaking from experience, he wrote “helping other nations overcome their challenges was a much less expensive way to prevent and subdue threats to our interests than risking our soldiers’ lives to defend them.”
McCain has shown his dedication to fighting adversity around the world. Now, we all stand behind him as he fights this personal battle with cancer.
5. When he cast the decisive vote to stop an estimated 16 million Americans from losing health care
In July 2017, McCain made a game-changing decision on the Senate floor. The senator, with a large scar above his left eye, joined fellow Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in voting “no” on their party’s proposed plan to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report estimating that the plan would have left 16 million Americans uninsured in the next 10 years.
Despite his health, McCain made his original triumphant return to the Senate just days before voting down the health care bill. The Senator controversially voted to move forward with bill negotiations before delivering an impassioned speech, asking his colleagues across the aisle to learn to “trust each other again.”
Even after his pivotal “no” vote, he stuck to that same no-nonsense message of unification.
“We should not make the mistakes of the past ... We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to the committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle,” he wrote in a statement released after the vote.
“We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
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6. When he denounced white supremacy and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While President Trump failed to explicitly condemn the white supremacists who led violent riots in Charlottesville last August, Senator McCain spoke out on social media.
White supremacists aren't patriots, they're traitors- Americans must unite against hatred & bigotry #Charlottesvillehttps://t.co/Zr1Jg9jBXu— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) August 12, 2017
7. When he insisted that the US prioritize international leadership.
After accepting the National Constitution Center's Liberty Medal last October, Sen. McCain gave a speech urging the country to maintain its role as a global leader.
“To fear the world we have organised and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” he said.
At a time when nationalism seems to have overtakent international diplomacy in the US, McCain’s wisdom was most valuable.
8. When he spoke out against the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policies.
Just months before his passing, Senator McCain took to Twitter to reject the Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant families at the US-Mexico border.
"The administration’s current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded," McCain tweeted. "The administration has the power to rescind this policy. It should do so now."
This post was originally published on July 28, 2017, and has been updated.