Heard on the Hill

John McCain Hits the Big Screen

HBO documentary screened at the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks before a HBO documentary about Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (Alex Gangitano/CQ RollCall)

Sen. John McCain made it to the big screen in D.C. on Thursday.

HBO hosted a screening of “John McCain: for Whom the Bell Tolls” in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium for senators, journalists, staffers and members of the defense community, among others.

Many of the Arizona Republican’s colleagues — Republicans and Democrats— took time out in the middle of the day to watch the documentary. They were dispersed throughout the room. Some of McCain’s family sat in the front row: Roberta Wright, McCain’s 106-year-old mother; Joe McCain, his brother; and Doug McCain, one of his sons.

McCain, who is battling brain cancer, was in Arizona with his wife. Thursday is the couple’s wedding anniversary.

“I miss our friend. I’m glad he’s being honored with this film,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said to kick off the film.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer shared the a similar sentiment.

“With all due respect to the documentary, I look forward to seeing John again soon in the flesh” he said.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also spoke at the event.

The documentary begins with the McCain family in Arizona in 2017.

“You will never talk to anyone that is as fortune as John McCain,” McCain himself says in the film.

McCain reflects on his response to his cancer diagnosis. The film follows him back to Washington to talk about his lasting political impact through his health battle.

Various political figures spoke on his political life and integrity, including Graham,Hillary Clinton, Clint Woods, his chief of staff, Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Sen Ted Kennedy's wife, Vicki, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The documentary is titled after his favorite book, Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” McCain recalled reading the book after finding it in his father's library when he was four.

“Robert Jordan [the protagonist] was my hero then when I was that age and Robert Jordan is my hero today,” he said.

McCain’s children from his first marriage, and his ex-wife, Carol Shepp McCain, spoke on his capture in Vietnam and life at the Hanoi Hilton.

The documentary reflected on his return home, his divorce, the death of his father, running for the House of Representatives, positioning himself to take Barry Goldwater’s Senate seat and his work in the Senate now.

McCain’s opinion on the media fluctuated throughout the years. New York Times reporter David Brooks recalled the transparency on the press bus when McCain was running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1999 and how that didn’t withstand in his race in 2007.

Another overarching theme in the documentary was his focus on bipartisanship.

Three onetime colleagues in the Senate discuss their dealings with McCain. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. gets choked up speaking about their relationship. Former Secretary of State John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut senator for more than two decades and the Democratic vice presidential nominee in the 2000 election, reflect on working with him.

McCain’s friendships in the Senate were the lasting takeaway of the documentary, which showed clips of him decrying partisanship in the Senate on the floor earlier this year.

Watch: Watch John McCain Cast His Decisive Vote Against the GOP Health Care Bill

 

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