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John McCain, longtime senator and Trump antagonist, dies of brain cancer

His legacy includes casting the deciding vote last year that stopped Donald Trump from ending Obamacare.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) smiles while attending A Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 10, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.  CREDIT: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) smiles while attending A Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 10, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. CREDIT: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Relatives for US Senator John McCain, 81, the Republican stalwart from Arizona, announced on Friday that he would no longer be receiving treatment for terminal brain cancer. Late Saturday, he succumbed to his illness.

Family and friends had gathered to be near him in his final hours as tributes poured in from both Republicans and Democrats for McCain, who in 2008 was his party’s presidential nominee.

A conservative war hawk, McCain did much during a 30-year-long legislative career to vex Democrats and liberals. But at the time of his death, he had also alienated many in his own party by being one of the few Republican voices who dared to loudly and consistently challenge President Donald Trump.

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McCain also earned unstinting respect and gratitude from some on the left when he cast a vote in July 2017 that saved Obamacare. Upon entering the White House President Trump, determined to take a wrecking ball to the entire legacy of his predecessor, decided that he would start his efforts with the landmark health care bill, Barack Obama’s crowning domestic achievement during his two terms in the presidency.

Passage for the Obamacare repeal measure came down to McCain’s vote. During a scene of high drama in the middle of the night, the senator, already showing the early signs of illness, gave a thumbs down, killing the bill.

McCain continued to challenge the president in the year after he left the Senate to convalesce at home in Arizona. From his @SenJohnMcCain Twitter handle, McCain lambasted the president’s “naivete” in cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He also condemned an embarrassing, toadying performance by Trump at a post-summit press conference in Helsinki.

This past June, McCain, who worked during his time in the Senate to try to advance immigration reform, called Trump’s family separation policy “an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded.”

And throughout his career, he took an outspoken position against torture, which led him in May to oppose Gina Haspel as Trump’s CIA director. A naval aviator who served during the Vietnam War, McCain spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison where he was subjected to torture.

Amid the myriad tributes there were also detractors who did not refrain from pointing out his lifelong militarism and — most egregiously for many — his elevation of Sarah Palin to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

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Vox’s Laura McGann called it “one of the most important moments of McCain’s career. He proved willing to empower a demagogue when he thought doing so would improve his political fortunes, exactly the sin so many of his colleagues in the Republican Party have committed since Trump won their party’s nomination.”

McGann and many others see a through line from the ascent of Palin to the reality politics of Donald Trump and the many abominations of his administration.