U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and John McCain worked side by side on Capitol Hill for years, but it was on their international trips that she got the best sense of what mattered most to him.
Reverence for history. Parity for women. Respect for country. And belief in the importance of fighting for a cause larger than yourself.
“Even though he never made it to the presidency, he was a true international leader,” Klobuchar said Sunday in an interview.
Minnesota’s past and present political leaders hailed McCain, who died Saturday, as an influential colleague, while the 10,000 veterans attending the 100th American Legion convention in Minneapolis remembered him as a hero and a tireless supporter.
“He could be a curmudgeon, but there was an inner softness and a graciousness,” former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman said. “One of his missions [was] to do what could be done to free oppressed people and make life better for people around the world, and he was passionate about that.”
McCain was a “mighty warrior” and a “champion for veterans” who could set aside political differences to do the right thing, said Randy Tesdahl, adjutant for the American Legion in Minnesota.
Every event at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday started with a moment of silence for McCain, said Janet Wilson, an American Legion official from California.
‘A love of country’
On their first overseas trip in 2009, Klobuchar was a junior senator and McCain had just lost the presidential race to Barack Obama.
Klobuchar said he taught her about losing. “I think it was that lesson of resilience in defeat. A lot of bad things go wrong in politics, and you have to pick yourself up and move on,” she said. “He had just suffered this major defeat but he just loved doing this work.”
The itinerary included a visit to Vietnam, where McCain’s plane had been shot down in 1967. Standing in front of the tiny cell at the POW camp where he’d been held and tortured for five years, McCain recalled why he didn’t take his captors up on an offer to get released before other POWs.
“They were trying to release him early to demoralize the troops to show that he would go out of line because he had a famous dad, but he would not let that happen,” she said.
After Trump’s election, McCain, Klobuchar and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took their last trip together to Ukraine and other countries under pressure from Russia.
“He felt it was really important to stand up for these independent democracies,” she said.
During those visits, Klobuchar said McCain always spoke first as head of the delegation, then heads of state expected Graham to speak. “[He] would say, ‘No, Sen. Klobuchar is the Democratic lead on this trip. She will go next.’ ”
Coleman recalled McCain’s personal touch. Like the time he was in McCain’s office with a Saudi crown prince, poring over photos of McCain’s father, grandfather and children.
“So you had a sovereign with a senator who connected with people and cared,” Coleman said.
Former U.S. Sen. Al Franken posted a tribute to McCain on his Facebook page, calling him “a man of amazing courage. A man who knew the meaning of honor and lived it. A true patriot.”
At the American Legion conference, Randy Olson, an outgoing Minnesota district commander, said that McCain gave a face to prisoners of war.
Veteran Urban Giff said he believes Arizonans will remember him as a veteran and as a supporter of American Indians.
“All the tribes in the United States, they’re better off because of his service in Congress. And he supported various issues that the tribes are facing,” Giff said, such as education, health care and protection of natural resources.
“I think that most everyone that lives in the veteran community … looks at the loss of John McCain as a great loss,” said Jeff Olson, president of the Legion’s convention arm for Minnesota.