Chris Coons Remembers John McCain NPR's Melissa Block talks with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, who remembers his colleague John McCain.

Chris Coons Remembers John McCain

Chris Coons Remembers John McCain

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NPR's Melissa Block talks with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, who remembers his colleague John McCain.


As we've been reporting, Senator John McCain has died of an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was a giant in the Congress, serving more than 30 years in both the House and Senate. In an era of stiff partisanship, he was an example of reaching across the aisle. And joining us now to talk about that is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, thanks for being with us.

CHRIS COONS: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: How would you describe what it was like to work in tandem with John McCain?

COONS: Well, John was remarkable. He was a fighter. He had a great sense of humor. He was deeply passionate about our country. And he was always willing to put country above party and above self. I had the honor of traveling with him to Vietnam last June, and it was remarkable to see what he'd done to help us reconcile with Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. And I had the chance to cosponsor with him an immigration reform bill earlier this year. The ways in which he fought for human rights, against torture, for campaign finance reform, for immigration - even when those were positions that went against the majority of his party - are things I think he should be remembered and honored for.

BLOCK: Let's talk a bit about John McCain in Vietnam because it's so interesting to me that he did lead, as you say, the push for reconciliation with the country in which he was shot down, brutally tortured and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years. What did he say about that?

COONS: Well, it deeply affected me to get to visit the prison where he was held captive and tortured and where many of his colleagues were killed. He still feels very deeply about that experience. But we also had meetings with Vietnamese leaders. And it was obvious just how much they respect him and appreciate him and what he's meant to modern Vietnam in terms of their ability to reconcile with us and become an increasingly close partner. We also went to Cam Ranh Bay and visited the USS John McCain, the ship named for his father and grandfather. And everywhere I got to travel with him that we met service members, just - it's amazing - you know, they would flock to him. And having him present was a great uplift and source of inspiration to men and women in our armed forces everywhere I had the chance to travel with him.

BLOCK: What motivated him? You worked together on immigration issues, as you say. What motivated him on that?

COONS: He felt that we just - that we were stuck, that we weren't making the compromises we needed to to fix our broken immigration system. And, you know, as a senator from a border state who'd seen, over decades, the ways in which our sort of partisan fighting over immigration had failed to deliver a real and working solution, he wanted us to find a compromise. He and I introduced, in the Senate, a bill that, in the House, has more than 60 bipartisan co-sponsors. I tried my hardest to get that passed in the floor earlier this year. And it was a deep disappointment to me that we weren't able to get that through the current Senate. If I could say one other thing just before we have to go, it's how grateful I am to Cindy and to all of John's seven children for letting him serve for decades, letting him, you know, tirelessly travel and fearlessly serve and be the great voice he's been for our country.

BLOCK: One last thing - just - I'm curious about - asking you about. John McCain was probably the most vocal Republican voice in the Senate expressing displeasure with President Trump - and especially after Trump's meeting and news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He called it one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. Did you talk with him about that and how he sees Donald Trump's presidency?

COONS: It was clear that, you know, from the moment Trump arose as the Republican nominee, the ways in which President Trump has dishonored not just Senator McCain's own military service and captivity but the ways in which he has disrespected our long tradition of leadership on human rights and the ways in which President Trump has failed to be clear-eyed about Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat to our democracy really deeply upset Senator McCain. And he dedicated a lot of the last year and a half of his life to reassuring our allies and to speaking forcefully about the values that underpin our place in the world. Senator McCain knows and believes that we are an exceptional country and that we are exceptional because we have values. So he spent his whole life fighting for our democracy and for human rights. And I think it is that failure...

BLOCK: Yeah.

COONS: ...On the part of the president that most upset and concerned him.

BLOCK: That's Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, thanks so much.

COONS: Thank you.

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