At His Ranch, John McCain Shares Memories and Regrets With Friends

A bout of diverticulitis temporarily landed him back in Phoenix’s Mayo Clinic last month. It caused him to miss seeing more than a hundred of his friends and colleagues, including the new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who came to Arizona to attend the annual meeting of his foreign policy think tank, the McCain Institute.

Mr. Lieberman filled in for Mr. McCain at the forum and visited the senator afterward at the hospital, mixing talk of North Korea and Iran with well-worn jokes, like the one about the difference between a lawyer and a catfish. (One is a bottom-feeding scum-sucker; the other is a fish.)

“He was O.K., but he wanted to get out of the hospital,” recalled Mr. Lieberman, one of Mr. McCain’s closest friends. “Look, this is a man whose whole life has been active.”

Having spent over two years in solitary confinement while he was imprisoned in Vietnam, Mr. McCain has no use for being alone, whether it is in the intensive care unit or at his ranch. And his deck is where he receives a constant flow of friends — with visits that often end with Mr. McCain saying, “I love you” — and takes calls on the iPhone he just swapped for his tattered flip phone. (Mr. McCain finally made the switch to download the Major League Baseball app to better follow his Arizona Diamondbacks.)

Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, were there last weekend; Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, and his wife, Cheryl, visited Friday; other colleagues are set to come this week and his seven children are there as often as they can. The phone calls have been even more frequent: former President George W. Bush checked in last week, telling Mr. McCain the country is missing him.

In a visit on the deck earlier this year, Mr. Flake said he and Mr. McCain recalled how in the 1980s the legendary former Arizona congressman Morris Udall, a Democrat, had taken the newly elected Mr. McCain under his wing despite their differences in party.