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Sen. Jack Reed Reflects On Sen. John McCain's Lasting Impact In The Senate


We learned today that Republican Senator John McCain is discontinuing treatment for brain cancer. It has been a little more than a year since the Arizona lawmaker was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease. Shortly after the diagnosis, McCain took to the Senate floor and addressed - well, some people might say challenged - his colleagues.


JOHN MCCAIN: What greater cause could would we hope to serve than helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of the dignity of all human beings and their right to freedom and equal justice? That is the cause that binds us and is so much more powerful and worthy than the small differences that divide us.

CHANG: Senator McCain has not been in the Capitol for months, but he has stayed a prominent voice in the national conversation, and his family has shared the progression of his illness and treatment. Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee which McCain chairs. Senator Reed joins us now from Warwick, R.I. Welcome.

JACK REED: Thank you very much.

CHANG: Have you spoken to Senator McCain or his family recently?

REED: Not recently. The last time I had a chance to speak to him was frankly about two months ago when we were getting ready for the national defense bill. We had a great conversation, he and Cindy. He was upbeat and cheerful and the fighter he always is.

CHANG: You know, although McCain's been physically absent from the Hill, he has continued to weigh in on all matters from national security to foreign policy. He urged, for example, his colleagues to reject Gina Haspel's nomination for CIA director. More recently, he criticized President Trump for his remarks at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I mean, most people fighting a serious illness would focus on that illness. Do you have a sense of why Senator McCain has felt so compelled to remain vocal?

REED: John McCain has dedicated his life to this country. He has put this country above his own self-interest, his own safety, his own security. He has - those words that you played were for other people words. For him, it was his whole life. So it's not surprising to me at all that he would continue to stand up for what he believed in. He's done it his whole life, through combat, through the trials of politics. It's always been a - for this country and for its people and particularly for the men and women in uniform who defend this country who we respect so immensely.

CHANG: You're a Democrat. There's no question that McCain is a conservative. And, you know, he's someone who's often seen as one of the senators most willing to cross the aisle. I'm curious how you feel you have seen that play out personally over the years as his colleague.

REED: Oh, I've seen it every day. We work closely together. We would have a hearing practically every day. And his whole demeanor was one of encouraging bipartisan participation in the committee. And because of Senator McCain, we were able to continue the tradition of passing a national defense bill each year. We did it this year. He was not physically present, but he was there inspirationally.

His spirit of bipartisanship, cooperation and collaboration, principle differences and then take a vote, and let's move on - that was John McCain. And that's a remarkable contribution. And I think what motivates it all is that he understands that what we do is about ultimately the success and safety of the men and women in uniform in the United States. And he takes that obligation as a sacred one.

CHANG: What has his physical absence meant for the Senate in these past several months?

REED: Well, his physical absence has meant that his his voice - his literal voice is not there. He's been very, very good about issuing statements, giving guidance to his wonderfully talented staff. But if he was there, his voice would be reverberating, calling out principled claims, not personal tweaks or displeasures. It would be a voice that would be listened to and reckoned with by all. He's just a remarkable individual.

CHANG: Senator Jack Reed is a Democrat from Rhode Island. He's the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thank you very much for joining us.

REED: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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