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John McCain HBO documentary highlights Arizona senator's life, 'warts and all'

Posted: Updated: May 17, 2018 6:43 PM
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WASHINGTON - John McCain's colleagues, family and friends gathered Thursday at the Capitol to reflect on his legacy and his place in United States history during a screening of the HBO film on his life, John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The 81-year-old Arizona Republican is fighting an aggressive form of brain cancer and has not been in Washington since late last year. But on Thursday - during a special screening ahead of the film's Memorial Day release - his colleagues from both sides of the aisle watched the documentary that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close friend of McCain's, said included "warts and all.'

A series of extraordinary interviews with McCain, members of his family, Senate colleagues and former presidents paint a detailed, and at times raw, picture of the senator's life.

"I thought it was very honest,' said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "As is typically the case, in his interview pieces of that, he was very honest about that about the mistakes he had made along the way. So I thought it was a very, you know, accurate portrayal of, frankly, a hero's story.'

The film goes into detail on how McCain left his first family for his now-wife Cindy McCain and includes emotional interviews from his ex-wife and kids. It also discusses his role in the "Keating Five' more than 25 years ago. McCain was one of five senators accused of trying to pressure federal thrift regulators to back off a political benefactor, financier and developer Charles H. Keating Jr. It was ruled that McCain demonstrated "poor judgment" in meeting with the regulators.

But the movie also told the story of a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years, who declined to be released early because of his father's connections. And it recalled a fiery six-term senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee who broke with his party on issues he believed were important.

"This movie and all the books are about a love affair with America that began at 17 that will never end as long as there is breath in John McCain,' Graham told the audience ahead of the showing. "The reason our colleagues are here is because they respect John McCain. If you have not been on the other side of John, that means you didn't do much in the Senate. So all of you are here understanding the good, the bad and the brilliance of John McCain.'

The film heavily features interview with Democrats - including former president Barack Obama (McCain's rival in the 2008 presidential campaign), former vice president Joe Biden, and former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry - who praise McCain for putting the good of the country over party politics.

McCain's cross-party relationships were highlighted in the packed rows of senators spanning the ideological spectrum for both parties. Ahead of the film viewing, Graham, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., all spoke.

"You rarely meet great people. You meet great senators, great this, great that. But great human beings? Few. He's one of them,' Schumer said.

Many members of McCain's family also attended the event, including his mother, Roberta McCain, who is 106. Others who attended the event included McCain's office and Senate Armed Services Committee staff, and many friends and former staff.

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