Politics

Joe Biden Speaks to John McCain’s ‘Ageless’ Code of Duty and Decency

Former vice president offers keynote eulogy at memorial service in Phoenix

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. speaks Thursday during Sen. John McCain’s memorial service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The death of Sen. John McCain has resonated with so many Americans for reasons far more visceral than his record as a longtime senator or even his stature as an American hero, his longtime friend Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Thursday.

“I think it’s something more intangible,” the former vice president and Delaware senator said at the Arizona senator’s memorial service in Phoenix. “I think it’s because they knew that John believed so deeply and so passionately in the soul of America.”

Biden has often said that you should never give a good eulogy, because you’ll keep getting invited to speak at more funerals.

The truth is there may be no politician better at the art of the eulogy than Biden, so it was no surprise when it first became public that McCain had asked Biden to offer one for him, when they last met up at McCain’s ranch in Arizona.

Watch: ‘We Shall Not See His Like Again’ — Biden Bids Farewell to John McCain

Biden, looking in the direction of the more than two dozen current and former senators gathered inside North Phoenix Baptist Church, said that many of them had probably been asked to explain who McCain was, even over the last decade as U.S. politics have shifted.

“The way things have changed so much in America, they look at him as if John came from another age, that he lived by a different code. An ancient, antiquated code where honor, courage, character, integrity, duty were what mattered, because that was obviously how John lived his life,” Biden said. “But the truth is, John’s code was ageless, is ageless.”

“It wasn’t about politics with John — you could disagree on substance. It was the underlying values that animated everything John did, everything he was,” he said. “Where he’d part company with you is if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.”

He referenced both the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, another great friend and sparring partner of McCain’s, who died nine years to the day before McCain, with the same form of brain cancer claiming his life.

And Biden, too, mentioned his own son Beau, the former Delaware attorney general, who seemed on a trajectory to surpass even his father in political life until he died from a glioblastoma as well, in 2015.

Watch: Memories of McCain — Reporters Share Tales From a Life in Service

As the elder Biden has said before in delivering his many eulogies, he told the members of the McCain family gathered in Phoenix that the pain and sorrow will last far beyond the duration of the public’s attention, but that eventually the fond memories will overtake the sad ones.

From the church, McCain’s body was transported to Phoenix Sky Harbor  — it would surprise no one if that airport someday bears his name — for the trip east to Joint Base Andrews, ahead of ceremonies Friday at the U.S. Capitol, Saturday at Washington National Cathedral and Sunday in Annapolis, Maryland, at his Naval Academy alma mater.

Biden, a former chairman chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was among the many senators from both parties to have traveled the world with McCain.

“He could not stand the abuse of power, wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever country,” Biden said. 

His closing remarks were, as one might expect, focused on McCain’s legacy.

“Now John’s going to take his rightful place, in the long line of extraordinary leaders in this nation’s history who, in their time and in their way, stood for freedom and stood for liberty, and have made the American story the most improbable and most hopeful, and the most enduring story on Earth,” Biden said. “To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.