John McCain, March 14, 2017 in Washington
Senator John McCain, who has brain cancer, has been home in Arizona for several months. If the Senate still hopes for a return from this respected figure of American policy, many of his colleagues seem resigned to never see him again in Washington.
More than a dozen senators – many of whom have been friends of the elected for a quarter of a century or more – recognize, in quiet and sensitive conversations with AFP on Capitol Hill, that it is difficult to get used to a Senate without the one who looks like a giant in the middle.
All aspire to return to active politics of the monument of the Republican party but some admit, in private, that it could never happen.
The former presidential candidate of 2008 has not appeared in Congress since the beginning of the year.
“I miss him all the time,” told AFP Democratic Senator Michael Bennet.
The eight-year-old 81-year-old senator was diagnosed last year with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that took the life of another Senate giant in 2009, Ted Kennedy.
And the health of this veteran of the Vietnam War could have a noticeable impact on the Republicans’ efforts to maintain their very slim majority in the Senate. A May retreat or death of John McCain would likely lead to a by-election in November, in a favorable electoral environment, nationally, to Democrats.
– Countries above the party –
Congress members avoid discussing these taboo topics directly.
“He did not leave,” notes Republican Senator Roger Wicker, adding that McCain remains “largely still present”, conducting teleconferences with his team and still ensuring remote leadership of the powerful Armed Forces Commission of the Senate.
But his absence was palpable Wednesday when the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed Gina Haspel, a candidate chosen by Donald Trump to head the CIA but the controversial role in the program of interrogations “pushed” introduced after 9/11.
“It is difficult to have a meaningful debate about an important issue such as torture without John McCain,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, recalling the brutal treatment of the man who was tortured in North Vietnamese jails.
Mr. McCain wrote in a statement that he objected to the appointment of Ms. Haspel.
Republican, John McCain was also among the few senators able to unite both sides.
“There is no doubt that the country is more important to John than the party,” says Senator Murphy.
– “Say how much I love him” –
A reporter reads a copy of John McCain’s memoirs in Washington on May 10, 2018
John McCain lost the 2008 presidential election against Barack Obama. But over the years, he has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and gained a particular stature in the eyes of Americans.
Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden is a former senator and close friend. He recently visited John McCain on his ranch in the southwestern part of the country, where he is treating himself and leading this difficult fight against the disease.
“I wanted to tell him how much I love him and how much he means to me and how much I admire his integrity and his courage,” he told the New York Times.
Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator and close friend of John McCain also made the trip. The second Arizona senator, Republican Jeff Flake has seen him twice recently.
“We had a good conversation,” he says of their second meeting, while refusing to talk about his friend’s health.
Evoking early retirement or a death of John McCain was rare in early 2018, but today senators recognize, in private, that little has been done for an official farewell.
“People are showing incredible restraint,” says a senator.
In new memoirs to be released on May 22, John McCain calls for the unity of the Americans, to which he asks “to find the sensation that we are similar rather than different”. “Maybe I’ll be gone before you read that,” he wrote as well.
Legislators have started cautiously to address this eventuality. And John McCain and his entourage also seem to be preparing for it.
So, according to the New York Times, the old senator said he did not want the presence at his funeral of President Donald Trump who had once mocked his captivity in Vietnam and with whom he has a heated relationship.
A long-time senator does not want to say goodbye to his visit to John McCain earlier this year. But there is emotion in his voice when he describes the scene to AFP: “We hugged each other and said goodbye”.