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Washington Gathers For McCain Memorial


The life and legacy of Senator John McCain was celebrated today at the National Cathedral.


CONGREGATION: (Singing) How great Thou art. How great Thou art.

SIMON: There were friends and family of John McCain - Republicans, Democrats, soldiers, celebrities, current and former world leaders. I'm joined now by NPR's Kelsey Snell, who's outside the cathedral. Kelsey, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: President Trump was not at the service, but I think it's safe to say he was a theme, wasn't he?

SNELL: Oh, absolutely. The last three of Trump's predecessors in the Oval Office were here. George W. Bush and Barack Obama spoke, but Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are also here. So are the former Vice Presidents Cheney, Biden and Gore. While Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared were here, and so were Gens. Mattis and Kelly who work in the administration, but that really didn't stop speakers from making veiled references to Trump and his politics without saying his name. Take this moment from former President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA: So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty - trafficking and bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage.

SNELL: He went on to say that it's a politics born out of fear and not strength. And it was part of a larger portion of his remarks.

SIMON: And, of course, Meghan McCain, John McCain's daughter, who is a public figure in her own right, gave a very personal eulogy, but it was also very pointed.


MEGHAN MCCAIN: The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold. She is resourceful and confident and secure. She meets her responsibilities. She speaks quietly because she is strong. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.


SIMON: Not much mystery about where that was intended to hit home, is there?

SNELL: No. And you hear there that, at first, the applause was quiet. And it grew, and it grew. And the applause lasted for quite some time. And again, it's notable that this happened while the current president's daughter and son-in-law were here in attendance. And she started this - this whole afternoon. And it was really kind of the launching point for so many critiques of this president.

SIMON: What also stood out for you today, Kelsey?

SNELL: I think that this was a service about bipartisanship and about service, about family and principles over party. Those were the themes that people kept coming back to. They talked about their personal relationships with McCain, who they all - everybody, basically - mentioned that they had moments of clash with him. This was not some glossy portrait of a person who would be revered as perfect. This is a portrait of a person who knew his own flaws, recognized them and chose people to come and speak at his memorial services who would talk about those flaws and would convey that McCain wanted people to learn from mistakes and go forward in an effort to serve the country.

SIMON: NPR's Kelsey Snell outside the National Cathedral. Thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.