Former vice president Joe Biden dabbed at tears as he remembered his colleague John McCain at a memorial service at a church in Phoenix on Thursday.
McCain died of brain cancer Saturday at 81.
Biden delivered an emotional eulogy at North Phoenix Baptist Church, speaking of McCain’s heroism, dedication to his country, and love of his family.
Here are some of the most powerful quotes from Biden’s speech.
‘My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I love John McCain’
Biden spoke of the bipartisanship that defined McCain’s politics, beginning his speech to laughter as he declared: “My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I love John McCain.”
Biden, who represented Delaware as a US senator starting in the 1970s before he became vice president to Barack Obama, also spoke about how, during debates in the 1980s and 1990s, he and McCain would often sit next to each other, even though they belonged to opposing parties.
“No, I’m not joking,” he said.
Biden then told an anecdote about how both and he and McCain were reprimanded by party leaders in 1996 for their seating arrangements.
“We both would end our caucus, and coincidentally, we were approached by our caucus leaders with the same thing: ‘Joe, it doesn’t look good, you sitting next to John all the time,’ ” Biden said, as those in attendance laughed. “I swear to God. The same thing was said to John in your caucus. That’s when things began to change for the worse in America, in the Senate. That’s when it changed.”
Joe Biden recalls when he and John McCain used to sit together in the Senate.— ABC News (@ABC) August 30, 2018
After that "things began to change for the worse in America in the Senate...It was always appropriate to challenge another senator's judgement, but never appropriate to challenge their motive." pic.twitter.com/2J5lkspZXF
‘I always thought of John as a brother’
After introducing himself, Biden wiped tears from his eyes several times as he tried to describe the relationship he had with McCain.
“The way I look at it, the way I thought about it,” Biden said, pausing to dab away tears, “was I always thought of John as a brother.
“We had a hell of a lot of family fights,” he added, as the audience laughed. “We go back a long way.”
‘It’s like being sucked into a black hole’
While talking about glioblastoma — the brain disease that took McCain, as well as Senator Ted Kennedy and Biden’s own son, Beau — Biden delivered one of the most emotional parts of his speech, addressing the family and close friends who were feeling the loss of McCain most severely.
“There are times when life can be so cruel — pain so blinding — it’s hard to see anything else,” Biden said. “It’s brutal. It’s relentless. It’s unforgiving. And it takes so much for those we love and for the families that love them, that in order to survive, we have to remember how they lived, not how they died.”
Biden has suffered his own share of grief. Before Beau’s 2015 death, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident in 1972.
Biden told McCain’s 106-year-old mother, Roberta, who was in attendance, that he understands what it’s like to be a parent burying a child, telling her the pain is all-consuming: “It’s like being sucked into a black hole inside your chest, and it’s frightening.”
He continued, speaking from his own experience with grief, assuring those close to McCain that they will be able to eventually carry on.
“What’s going to happen is, six months will go by, and everybody’s going to think, well, it’s passed. But you’re going to ride by that field or smell that fragrance, receive that flashing image, and you’re going to feel like that day you got the news. But you know you’re going to make it when the image of your dad, your husband, your friend, crosses your mind, and a smile comes to your lip before a tear to your eye. That’s when you know, and I promise you, I give you my word, I promise you, this I know, that day will come. That day will come.”
‘It wasn’t about politics. It was the underlying values’
Biden, who began the eulogy in a soft, almost whisper-like tone, raised his voice as he spoke about what “animated” McCain, saying that it wasn’t about politics, but the underlying values, that drove the late Arizona Republican: It was “everything he was.”
“You could come to a different conclusion, but where he’d part company with you, [was] if you lacked the basic values, the decency, respect. Knowing that this project is bigger than yourself.”
McCain’s story was the American story, Biden said: “Grounded in respect, decency, basic fairness. The intolerance for the abuse of power.”
“He could not stand the abuse of power,” Biden continued, perhaps referring to McCain’s outspoken objections to the use of torture. “Wherever he saw it. In whatever form. In whatever country.”
McCain, who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was brutally beaten during his time in captivity. He led the fight after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to block the use of certain “enhanced interrogation” techniques approved by the Bush administration such as water boarding, in which a person is exposed to simulated drowning.
Biden’s full-throated passage about McCain’s political beliefs could also be seen as a rebuke to the current tone of politics and partisanship in Congress.
‘We shall not see his like again’
Ending his speech in the same softer tone that he began in, Biden said that McCain’s death has hit people so hard because they knew he believed so deeply and so forcefully in the soul of America.
“John was a hero,” Biden said, citing McCain’s character, honor, courage, and integrity. “I think the thing understated most is his optimism. That’s what made John special, a giant among all of us.”
Biden also said that McCain “understood what I hope we all remember: Heroes didn’t build this country. Ordinary people given half a chance are capable of doing extraordinary things . . . Bottom line was, I think he believed in us. In the American people. All 325 million of us.”
He also said that McCain’s legacy would continue to influence leaders of the future.
“John McCain’s impact on America is not over. It’s not hyperbole. It’s not over,” Biden said.
Biden appeared to hold back tears as he concluded his speech by borrowing a quote from “Hamlet”: “To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again.”