Why McCain picked these 15 pallbearers

Anthony Zurcher
North America reporter
@awzurcheron Twitter

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One of the bittersweet benefits of knowing one's life is coming to an end is the ability to make plans for how one will be memorialised. Senator John McCain reportedly took to the task with his trademark gusto, holding weekly meetings to arrange the details of his funeral and accompanying events.

"By the time he died on Saturday, Mr McCain had carefully stage-managed a four-day celebration of his life - but what was also an unmistakable rebuke to President Trump and his agenda," write Mike Shear and Katie Rogers in the New York Times.

This included reaching out to those McCain wanted as pallbearers - a process he started in April.

A total of 14 men and one woman will accompany the late senator's coffin into the National Cathedral in Washington DC on Saturday.

The officially released list - which identifies them all as "friends" before offering further details - is fraught with meaning.

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image captionJohn McCain and Warren Beatty bonded over campaign finance reform

The actor

Why on earth did McCain pick Warren Beatty, long a fixture among the liberal Hollywood elite, for this place of honour? It turns out the two had a friendship dating back to the 1990s. While they differed on many political subjects, the Oscar-winning Hollywood actor and the Arizona senator viewed campaign finance reform that would limit the corrupting influence of money on politics as a top policy priority.

"I've known John McCain for a long time," Beatty said in a 2008 interview with the Atlantic. "He is a conservative.

"I think I've made it clear that I'm a liberal Democrat," Beatty continued. "I don't think that political ideology is necessarily germane to friendships."

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image captionLike McCain, Vladimir Kara-Murza has been an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin's regime

The dissident

It's been billed as McCain's "final dig" at Russian President Vladimir Putin - and Donald Trump. By selecting Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, McCain re-emphasised his repeated criticisms of the Putin regime and what he viewed as Mr Trump's too-cosy attitude toward it.

McCain and Kara-Murza's friendship dates back to 2010 and the Arizona senator's support of Russian pro-democracy demonstrations. The two would later co-operate in marshalling support in Congress for Russian sanctions measures.

Kara-Murza has twice been the target of apparent poison-based assassination attempts, the most recent, in February 2017, left him in a coma.

"Much has and will be written about McCain's military courage, his patriotism, his famed bipartisanship and his unimpeachable personal decency," Kara-Murza writes in a Washington Post tribute to the senator. "His long-standing position on Russia deserves a special tribute."

The politicians

Two ex-presidents, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W Bush, will deliver eulogies for McCain, and the cast of officeholders among his pallbearers reinforces the bipartisan theme.

Vice-President Joe Biden, a former Senate colleague, will also give a eulogy for McCain at services in Phoenix.

Another Democrat, former Senator Russ Feingold, co-sponsored McCain's signature legislative achievement, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 - which the two passed over the determined opposition of the chamber's Republican leadership.

There are also several politicians who blurred traditional party lines - Republican-turned-independent former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and William Cohen, a Republican senator who served in as secretary of defence in the Clinton administration.

Like McCain, former Senator Gary Hart of Colorado once ran his own nearly successful insurgent presidential primary campaign, against Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island (the only current office-holder), former Texas Senator Phil Gramm and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge round out the group.

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image captionRick Davis, who ran McCain's two presidential campaigns, reads the senator's last message to the American people

The aides

As with many politicians - at least, the good ones - McCain had a retinue of loyal aides and staffers who stuck with him for years. Mark Salter, McCain's former senate chief of staff, was also his top speechwriter and muse, co-writing seven books, including the 1999 best-seller about his family's military legacy and his time as a prisoner of war, Faith of My Fathers.

Rick Davis, who took centre stage earlier this week when he read McCain's final words to the nation, served as the senator's campaign manager for both his 2000 and 2008 presidential bids.

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image captionFederal Express founder Fred Smith was the co-chair of McCain's 2008 presidential campaign

The fundraisers

As McCain knew as well as any public official, money is the fuel that powers a career in politics. He made campaign finance reform one of his life-long efforts, and perhaps his most prominent legislative achievements. Lofty principles, however, don't pay the campaign bills. Among the lesser-known pallbearers on Saturday are the people McCain relied on to bankroll his political ambitions.

Fred Smith, founder of global delivery company Federal Express, served as national co-chair of McCain's 2008 presidential bid. Carla Eudy, a family friend and the only woman among the pallbearers, was McCain's 2008 national finance director and headed a McCain-affiliated political action committee.

Rounding out the list is California communications executive Stephen Dart, a long-time Republican donor who also served as a fund-raiser for McCain's 2008 campaign.

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