Former vice president Joe Biden delivered an emotional and passionate eulogy at today's memorial service for Senator John McCain, who died of brain cancer at 81 on Saturday. The two had a longtime friendship, despite Biden being a Democrat and McCain, a Republican.
Biden lamented the political division in the United States today, which he traced back to the 1990s. But he said what really mattered was trust and character. “All politics is personal. It's all about trust. I trusted John with my life, I would, and I think he would trust me with his,” Biden said. “Character is destiny. John had character.”
He also reflected on glioblastoma, the cancer that killed McCain, their mutual friend Ted Kennedy, and Biden’s son, Beau. “The disease that took John's life took our mutual friend’s, Teddy [Kennedy]’s life, the exact same disease nine years ago, a couple days ago, and three years ago, took my beautiful son Beau's life,” Biden said. “It's brutal. It's relentless. It's unforgiving. And it takes so much from those we love and from the families who love them that in order to survive, we have to remember how they lived, not how they died.”
Read the full transcript of his speech below:
“My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I loved John McCain. I have had the dubious honor over the years of giving some eulogies for fine women and men that I’ve admired. But, Lindsey, this one’s hard.
The three men who spoke before me I think captured John, different aspects of John in a way that only someone close to him could understand. But the way I look at it, the way I thought about it, was that I always thought of John as a brother. We had a hell of a lot of family fights. We go back a long way. I was a young United States Senator. I got elected when I was 29. I had the dubious distinction of being put on the formulations committee, which the next youngest person was 14 years older than me. And I spent a lot of time traveling the world because I was assigned responsibility, my colleagues in the Senate knew I was chairman of the European Affairs subcommittee, so I spent a lot of time at NATO and then the Soviet Union.
Along came a guy a couple of years later, a guy I knew of, admired from afar, your husband, who had been a prisoner of war, who had endured enormous, enormous pain and suffering. And demonstrated the code, the McCain code. People don't think much about it today, but imagine having already known the pain you were likely to endure, and being offered the opportunity to go home, but saying no. As his son can tell you in the Navy, last one in, last one out.
So I knew of John. and John became the Navy liaison officer in the United States Senate. There's an office, then it used to be on the basement floor, of members of the military who are assigned to senators when they travel abroad to meet with heads of state or other foreign dignitaries. And John had been recently released from the HanoI Hilton, a genuine hero, and he became the Navy liaison. For some reason we hit it off in the beginning. We were both full of dreams and ambitions and an overwhelming desire to make the time we had there worthwhile. To try to do the right thing. To think about how we could make things better for the country we loved so much.
John and I ended up traveling every time I went anywhere. I took John with me or John took me with him. we were in China, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, England, Turkey, all over the world. Tens of thousands of miles. And we would sit on that plane and late into the night, when everyone else was asleep, and just talk. Getting to know one another. We'd talk about family, we'd talk about politics, we'd talk about international relations. we'd talk about promise, the promise of America. Because we were both cockeyed optimists and believe there's not a single thing, beyond the capacity of this country. I mean, for real, not a single thing.
And, when you get to know another woman or man, you begin to know their hopes and their fears, you get to know their family even before you meet them, you get to know how they feel about important things. We talked about everything except captivity and the loss of my family which had just occurred, my wife and daughter, the only two things we didn't talk about.
But, I found that it wasn't too long into John's duties that Jill and I got married. Jill is here with me today. Five years, I had been a single dad and no man deserves one great love, let alone two. And I met Jill. It changed my life. She fell in love with him and he with her. He'd always call her, as Lindsey would travel with her, Jilly. Matter of fact, when they got bored being with me on these trips, I remember in Greece, he said, ‘Why don't I take Jill for dinner?’ Later, I would learn they are at a cafe at the port and he has her dancing on top of a cement table drinking uzo. Not a joke. Jilly. Right, Jilly?
But we got to know each other well and he loved my son Beau and my son Hunt. As a young man, he came up to my house and he came up to Wilmington and out of this grew a great friendship that transcended whatever political differences we had or later developed because, above all, above all, we understood the same thing. All politics is personal. It's all about trust. I trusted John with my life and I would and I think he would trust me with his. And as our life progressed, we learned more, there are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding it's hard to see anything else.
The disease that took John's life took our mutual friend’s, Teddy [Kennedy]’s life, the exact same disease nine years ago, a couple days ago, and three years ago, took my beautiful son Beau's life. It's brutal. It's relentless. It's unforgiving. And it takes so much from those we love and from the families who love them that in order to survive, we have to remember how they lived, not how they died. I carry with me an image of Beau, sitting out in a little lake we live on, starting a motor on an old boat and smiling away. Not the last days. I’m sure Vickie Kennedy has her own image, looking, seeing Teddy looking so alive in a sailboat, out in the Cape. For the family, for the family, you will all find your own images, whether it's remembering his smile, his laugh or that touch in the shoulder or running his hand down your cheek. Or, just feeling like someone is looking, turn and see him just smiling at you, from a distance, just looking at you. Or when you saw the pure joy the moment he was about to take the stage on the Senate floor and start a fight.
God, he loved it. so, to Cindy, the kids, Doug, Andy, Cindy, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, Bridget, and I know she's not here, but to Mrs. McCain, we know how difficult it is to bury a child, Mrs. McCain. My heart goes out to you. And I know right now, the pain you all are feeling is so sharp and so hollowing. And John's absence is all consuming, for all of you right now. It's like being sucked into a black hole inside your chest. And it's frightening. But, I know something else, unfortunately, from experience. There's nothing anyone can say or do to ease the pain right now. But I pray, I pray you take some comfort knowing that because you shared John with all of us, your whole life, the world now shares with you in the ache of John's death.
Look around this magnificent church. Look what you saw coming from the state capitol yesterday. it's hard to stand there but part of it, part of it was at least it was for me with Beau, standing in the state capitol, you knew. It was genuine. It was deep. He touched so many lives. I’ve gotten calls not just because people knew we were friends, not just from people around the country, but leaders around the world calling. Meghan, I'm getting all these sympathy letters. I mean, hundreds of them, and tweets.
Character is destiny. John had character. While others will miss his leadership, passion, even his stubbornness, you are going to miss that hand on your shoulder. Family, you are going to miss the man, faithful man as he was, who you knew would literally give his life for you. And for that there's no balm but time. Time and your memories of a life lived well and lived fully.
But I make you a promise. I promise you, the time will come that what's going to happen is six months will go by and everybody is going to think, well, it's passed. But you are going to ride by that field or smell that fragrance or see that flashing image. You are going to feel like you did the day you got the news. But you know you are going to make it. The image of your dad, your husband, your friend. It crosses your mind and a smile comes to your lips before a tear to your eye. That's who you know. I promise you, I give you my word, I promise you, this I know. The day will come. That day will come.
You know, I’m sure if my former colleagues who worked with John, I'm sure there's people who said to you not only now, but the last ten years, ‘Explain this guy to me.’ Right? Explain this guy to me. Because, as they looked at him, in one sense they admired him, in one sense, the way things changed so much in America, they look add him as if John came from another age, lived by a different code, an ancient, antiquated courage, integrity, duty, were alive. That was obvious how John lived his life. The truth is, John's code was ageless, is ageless. When you talked earlier, Grant, you talked about values. It wasn't about politics with John. He could disagree on substance, but the underlying values that animated everything John did, everything he was, come to a different conclusion. He'd part company with you, if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.
John's story is an American story. It's not hyperbole. it's the American story. grounded in respect and decency. basic fairness. the intolerance through the abuse of power. Many of you travel the world, look how the rest of the world looks at us. They look at us a little naive, so fair, so decent. We are the naive Americans. that's who we are. That's who John was. He could not stand the abuse of power. wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever ways. He loved basic values, fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind and understanding Americans were part of something much bigger than ourselves.
With John, it was a value set that was neither selfish nor self-serving. John understood that America was first and foremost, an idea. Audacious and risky, organized around not tribe but ideals. Think of how he approached every issue. The ideals that Americans rallied around for 200 years, the ideals of the world has prepared you. Sounds corny. We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain rights. To John, those words had meaning, as they have for every great patriot who's ever served this country. We both loved the Senate. The proudest years of my life were being a United States Senator. I was honored to be Vice President, but a United States Senator. We both lamented, watching it change. During the long debates in the '80s and '90s, I would go sit next to John, next to his seat or he would come on the Democratic side and sit next to me. I'm not joking. We'd sit there and talk to each other. I came out to see John, we were reminiscing around it. It was '96, about to go to the caucus. We both went into our caucus and coincidentally, we were approached by our caucus leaders with the same thing. Foe, it doesn't look good, you sitting next to John all the time. I swear to God. 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. What happened was, at those times, it was always appropriate to challenge another Senator's judgment, but never appropriate to challenge their motive. When you challenge their motive, it's impossible to get to go. If I say you are going this because you are being paid off or you are doing it because you are not a good Christian or this, that, or the other thing, it's impossible to reach consensus. Think about in your personal lives. All we do today is attack the oppositions of both parties, their motives, not the substance of their argument. This is the mid-'90s. it began to go downhill from there. The last day John was on the Senate floor, what was he fighting to do? He was fighting to restore what you call regular order, just start to treat one another again, like we used to.
The Senate was never perfect, John, you know that. we were there a long time together. I watched Teddy Kennedy and James O. Eastland fight like hell on civil rights and then go have lunch together, down in the Senate dining room. John wanted to see, “regular order” writ large. Get to know one another. You know, John and I were both amused and I think Lindsey was at one of these events where John and I received two prestigious awards where the last year I was vice president and one immediately after, for our dignity and respect we showed to one another, we received an award for civility in public life. Allegheny College puts out this award every year for bipartisanship. John and I looked at each and said, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ No, not a joke. I said to Senator Flake, that's how it's supposed to be. We get an award? I’m serious. Think about this. Getting an award for your civility. Getting an award for bipartisanship. Classic John, Allegheny College, hundreds of people, got the award and the Senate was in session. He spoke first and, as he walked off the stage and I walked on, he said, Joe, don't take it personally, but I don't want to hear what the hell you have to say, and left.
One of John's major campaign people is now with the senate with the governor of Ohio, was on [TV] this morning and I happened to watch it. He said that Biden and McCain had a strange relationship, they always seemed to have each other's back. Whenever I was in trouble, John was the first guy there. I hope I was there for him. We never hesitate to give each other advice. He would call me in the middle of the campaign, he’d say, ‘What the hell did you say that for? you just screwed up, Joe.’ I'd occasionally call him.
Look, I've been thinking this week about why John's death hit the country so hard. yes, he was a long-serving senator with a remarkable record. Yes, he was a two-time presidential candidate who captured the support and imagination of the American people and, yes, John was a war hero, demonstrated extraordinary courage. I think of John and my son when I think of Ingersoll’s words when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate and honor scorns to compromise with death, that is heroism. Everybody knows that about John. But I don't think it fully explains why the country has been so taken by John's passing. I think it's something more intangible.
I think it's because they knew John believed so deeply and so passionately in the soul of America. He made it easier for them to have confidence and faith in America. His faith in the core values of this nation made them somehow feel it more genuinely themselves. his conviction that we, as a country, would never walk away from the sacrifice generations of Americans have made to defend liberty and freedom and dignity around the world. It made average Americans proud of themselves and their country. His belief, and it was deep, that Americans can do anything, withstand anything, achieve anything. It was unflagging and ultimately reassuring. This man believed that so strongly. His capacity that we truly are the world's last best hope, the beacon to the world. There are principles and ideals more than ourselves worth sacrificing for and if necessary, dying for. Americans saw how he lived his life that way. and they knew the truth of what he was saying. I just think he gave Americans confidence.
John was a hero, his character, courage, honor, integrity. I think it is understated when they say optimism. That's what made John special. Made John a giant among all of us. In my view, John didn't believe that America's future and faith rested on heroes. we used to talk about, he understood what I hope we all remember, heroes didn't build this country. Ordinary people being given half a chance are capable of doing extraordinary things, extraordinary things. John knew ordinary Americans understood each of us has a duty to defend, integrity, dignity and birthright of every child. He carried it. Good communities are built by thousands of acts of decency that Americans, as I speak today, show each other every single day deep in the DNA of this nation's soul lies a flame that was lit over 200 years ago. Each of us carries with us and each one of us has the capacity, the responsibility and we can screw up the courage to ensure it does not extinguish. There's a thousand little things that make us different.
Bottom line was, I think John believed in us. I think he believed in the American people. not just all the preambles, he believed until the American people, all 325 million of us. Even though John is no longer with us, he left us clear instructions. ‘Believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here.’ Close to the last thing John said took the whole nation, as he knew he was about to depart. That's what he wanted America to understand. not to build his legacy. he wanted America reminded, to understand. I think John's legacy is going to continue to inspire and challenge generations of leaders as they step forward and John McCain’s America is not over. it is hyperbole, it's not over. It's not close.
Cindy, John owed so much of what he was to you. you were his ballast. when I was with you both, I could see how he looked at you. Jill is the one, when we were in Hawaii, we first met you there and he kept staring at you. Jill said, go up and talk to her. Doug, Andy, Sydney, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, Bridget, you may not have had your father as long as you would like, but you got from him everything you need to pursue your own dreams. To follow the course of your own spirit. You are a living legacy, not hyperbole. You are a living legacy and proof of John McCain’s success.
Now John is going to take his rightful place in a 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 most enduring story on earth. I know John said he hoped he played a small part in that story. John, you did much more than that, my friend. To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again."