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‘The real thing’: McCain’s daughter takes swipe at Trump at memorial

John McCain's daughter has opened his memorial service, her voice rising from tearful to impassioned tribute, by posing her father's legacy as a direct challenge to President Donald Trump.

Key points:

  • Mr Trump was absent from the service, Senator McCain's family made clear he was not invited
  • Mr Obama and Mr Bush led service at Senator McCain's request, juxtaposed his legacy with present administration
  • The memorial service is part of a five-day cross-country funeral procession that Senator McCain planned before dying

Meghan McCain said her father was a "great man" and she encouraged others to live up to his example, setting a tone that echoed the senator's own fighting spirit as services began Saturday (local time) at the Washington National Cathedral.

"We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness — the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served," she said, her voice first choking back tears then raising to anger.

"The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great," she said to applause.

Mr Trump was not on hand for the ceremony, after Senator McCain's family made clear he was not invited.

Three former presidents, scores of members of Congress, current and former world leaders and family and friends gathered to eulogise Senator McCain as an American hero.

Guests watch as the casket arrives.

His flag-draped casket was escorted by military body bearers up the cathedral steps under grey skies.

Among those in the front row at the cathedral were Barack and Michelle Obama, George and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as Dick Cheney and Al Gore.

Senator McCain's motorcade arrived from the Capitol, where he laid in state overnight, and the procession made a stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where Senator McCain's wife, Cindy, placed a wreath.

At Senator's McCain's request, Mr Obama, a Democrat, and Mr Bush, a Republican, both former rivals in the senator's bids for the White House, were among those speaking about the six-term senator during Saturday's service.

Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service.

'America is better than this'

Mr Obama spoke of Senator McCain as understanding that America's security and influence came not from "our ability to bend others to our will" but universal values of rule of law and human rights.

"So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, tracking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage," Mr Obama said in another not-so-veiled nod to Mr Trump.

"It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born in fear … John called on us to be bigger than that … He called on us to be better than that."

Mr Bush told of becoming friends with his former White House rival as the two would recall their political battles like former football players remembering the big game.

But mostly Mr Bush recalled a champion for the "forgotten people" at home and abroad whose legacy will serve as a reminder, even in times of doubt, in the power of America as more than a physical place but a "carrier of human aspirations".

"John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder — we are better than this, America is better than this," Mr Bush said.

George W. Bush walks away after speaking at a memorial service for Senator John McCain.

It is the last public event in Washington, where Senator McCain lived and worked over four decades, and part of Senator McCain's five-day, cross-country funeral procession.

He died August 25 from brain cancer at the age of 81.

"His death seems to have reminded the American people that these values are what makes us a great nation, not the tribal partisanship and personal attack politics that have recently characterised our life, " said former senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a longtime friend and fellow global traveller who Senator McCain once considered as his vice-presidential running mate.

"This week's celebration of the life and values and patriotism of this hero, I think have taken our country above all that.

"In a way, it's the last great gift that John McCain gave America."

Mr Trump, meanwhile, left the White House in the presidential motorcade shortly after 10:30am (local time), as the service was underway.

The White House did not immediately answer questions about his destination.

Two of his top aides, White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defence Secretary James Mattis, flanked Cindy McCain as she approached the memorial and joined the service.

Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner were also in attendance.

AP

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