Senator John McCain lay in state on Friday in the Capitol whose halls he prowled for decades, hailed as a war hero, a principled lawmaker, and a restless fighter for his beliefs — and honored with a ceremony reserved for the country’s most revered figures.
On a day when President Trump was conspicuously absent — by Mr. McCain’s own design — the senator rested in an American flag-draped coffin under the Capitol dome, as the vice president, congressional leaders and prominent lawmakers past and present from both parties, military and cabinet officials and members of the public took turns participating in a bipartisan show of respect.
The remembrances of Mr. McCain, whose death has underscored the demise of his particular brand of pragmatic and civil politics, served as a counterpoint to the discourse surrounding the sitting president, and a reminder of the Arizona senator’s place in American history.
“Half a world away, wearing our nation’s uniform, John McCain stood up for every value that this Capitol building represents,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader. “Then he brought that same patriotism inside its walls, to advocate for our servicemembers, our veterans, and our moral leadership in the world. So it is only right that today, near the end of his long journey, John lies here.”
The day’s solemn events marked only the beginning of an elaborate celebration of Mr. McCain’s life by official Washington, which will culminate on Saturday with a memorial service at the National Cathedral, where he will be eulogized by the two presidents who denied his own quests for the White House — Barack Obama and George W. Bush — in an event that is expected to draw a remarkable, bipartisan cast of characters. Mr. McCain meticulously planned the events with an eye toward drawing an implicit contrast with Mr. Trump.
Mr. McCain was the 31st person and only the 13th senator to lie in state at the Capitol, his coffin atop the black crepe-draped catafalque that was constructed for Abraham Lincoln in 1865. In their remarks about the six-term senator, who won the Republican nomination for president in 2008, his former colleagues reflected on the significance of his life and what he meant to Americans.
“Though the highest office eluded him,” said Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, “he attained what is far more enduring: the abiding affection of his fellow citizens, and an example for future generations.”
The proceedings began on a somber note. As Mr. McCain’s coffin was removed from a black hearse by uniformed military pallbearers, a steady downpour began, soaking the Capitol steps as the senator was carried, slowly and silently, into the Rotunda with his family looking on. But the day was not all pomp and ceremony; thousands of people clogged the streets bordering the Capitol and formed lines snaking into the Visitor’s Center, as members of the public waited for their chance to enter and pay respects to Mr. McCain.
Mr. Trump, who remained at the White House during the ceremony, was nonetheless present as a constant metaphor.
“The president asked me to be here on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served his country throughout his life,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who had the awkward assignment of eulogizing a man whom the president openly mocked during life and has studiously avoided praising after his death.
With Mr. McCain’s grief-stricken daughter Meghan McCain looking on with an icy gaze, Mr. Pence mustered one positive quote from the commander in chief, referencing a remark Mr. Trump made on Thursday during an interview with Bloomberg. “As President Trump said yesterday,” he offered, “we respect his service to the country.”
For his own part, Mr. Pence praised Mr. McCain for his “iron will,” and called him a “patriot,” while alluding to the fact that they had many differences.
“In my years in Congress and as vice president, we didn’t always agree either, and he almost always noticed,” Mr. Pence said. “But his support for limited government, for tax reform, and support for our armed forces surely made our nation more prosperous and more secure, and he will be missed.”
As they reflected on Mr. McCain’s long years of service, his work ethic and his passion for public service, his former colleagues also uniformly recalled with rueful smiles his hot temper, counting dressings-down by the late senator as badges of honor.
“I myself, from time to time, found myself on the receiving end of John’s distinct brand of candor — happily so,” Mr. Ryan said. “I remember thinking more than once, ‘Yeah, he really does talk like a sailor.’ ”
“With John, it was never feigned disagreement,” he added. “The man didn’t feign anything — he just relished the fight.”
Mr. McConnell said he would often joke that Mr. McCain’s captors in Vietnam, where he was held as a prisoner of war for five years, probably needed “group therapy” once Mr. McCain was finished with them — and that senators sometimes felt that they did as well.
“At any moment, he might be preparing an eloquent reflection on human liberty, or a devastating joke, served up with his signature cackle and that John McCain glint in his eye,” Mr. McConnell recalled. “He had America’s fighting spirit — our noble idealism, our solemn patriotism, and our slightly irreverent streak — all rolled into one.”
Among the attendees at Friday’s ceremony at the Rotunda was Roberta McCain, Mr. McCain’s 106-year-old mother, who sat stoically gazing at the flag-draped coffin bearing the remains of the son she knew as “Johnny.”
Roberta McCain, dressed in black pants and a white blouse that matched the snow-white of her perfectly coifed hair, appeared poised and serene during the service. At one point she reached out to grasp the hand of her granddaughter Meghan, who sat weeping beside her.
Using a wheelchair to make her way to the center of the Rotunda, the senator’s mother crossed herself silently at his coffin.
Following the ceremony, Mr. McCain’s wife, Cindy, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of his closest friends, made their way to the Senate chamber to spend a few moments at Mr. McCain’s desk, which bears a vase of white roses marking the passing of its former occupant.
Out of the range of news photographers who captured the day’s every ceremonial flourish, Mr. Graham sat at his desk, Ms. McCain at her husband’s next to him, as they talked quietly for a few minutes in the same spot where Mr. McCain delivered his final Senate floor speech last year. Mr. Graham pulled out two of the roses and gave them to his friend’s widow.
Mr. McCain’s remembrance drew many mourners who identified themselves as proud Democrats, and said they had never voted for the senator and had frequently disagreed with his policies. With sharp criticism of the current administration and the polarization in Congress, they said he was among the last politicians willing to take bipartisan steps.
“We lost a good one in John,” said Kitt Rodkey, 64, who took a personal day from work to pay his respects to Mr. McCain. “No one is perfect, but he came pretty close.”
Standing next to him, Cooper Brockington, a therapist from Reston, Va., nodded emphatically as she fanned herself in the humidity.
“We are all family,” she said. “I believe in paying my respect to our great servants.”
Veterans also came in droves — some wearing hats from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, along with uniform hats and vests studded with badges and buttons marking their service — to honor a man who was a Navy pilot and spent his years in Congress advocating strongly on behalf of the military and veterans.
“I wanted to come down and shake his hand, and say thank you,” said Carmine Garritano, 71, a retired Army specialist who served in Vietnam, his voice shaking with emotion.
Mr. Garritano said he had tried for years to find an opportunity to meet Mr. McCain in Washington. Instead, he drove down from New York with his daughter on Friday to see the senator lying in state.
“This is the least I could do,” he said.
Mr. McCain is to be buried on Sunday at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Kyle Moses, an Army major stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland, brought his young son Sam along to pay tribute to a senator he said “was always looking out for the military.”
“It does make me think, ‘Is this the end of an era?’ ” he said, looking down at his son, who was clutching a stuffed animal. “I hope it’s a good inflection point and not a bad one. I hope we swing back to the way that the senator conducted himself.”
Emily Cochrane, Catie Edmonson and Carl Hulse contributed reporting.