John McCain

John McCain Biography.com

Military Leader, U.S. Representative(1936–)
John McCain is a military hero and Republican U.S. Senator defeated by Barack Obama in the 2008 United States presidential election.

Synopsis

John McCain was born at the Coco Solo Naval Station in Panama on August 29, 1936. The son of an Admiral, McCain enrolled in the Naval Academy and was dispatched to Vietnam, where he was tortured as a prisoner of war between 1967 and 1973. After his release, McCain served as a Republican congressman and senator from the state of Arizona. McCain lost the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama. At 80 years old, he won his sixth term in the Senate in 2016. During his race he frequently clashed with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who won the general election that same year.

Early Life

John Sidney McCain III was born on August 29, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone (U.S. territory at the time), the second of three children born to naval officer John S. McCain Jr. and his wife, Roberta. At the time of John III's birth, the McCain family was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, under American control.

Both McCain's father and paternal grandfather, John Sidney McCain Sr., were four-star admirals. John S. McCain Jr. rose to command all U.S. naval forces in the Pacific.

McCain spent his childhood and adolescent years moving between naval bases in America and abroad. He attended Episcopal High School, a private preparatory boarding school in Alexandria, Virginia, graduating in 1954.

POW in Vietnam

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, McCain graduated (fifth from the bottom of his class) from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1958. He also graduated from flight school in 1960.

With the outbreak of the Vietnam War, McCain volunteered for combat duty and began flying carrier-based attack planes on low-altitude bombing runs against the North Vietnamese. He escaped serious injury on July 29, 1967, when his A-4 Skyhawk plane was accidentally shot by a missile on board the USS Forestal, causing explosions and fires that killed 134.

On October 26, 1967, during his 23rd air mission, McCain's plane was shot down during a bombing run over the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. He broke both arms and one leg during the ensuing crash. McCain was moved to Hoa Loa prison, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton," on December 9, 1969.

His captors soon learned he was the son of a high-ranking officer in the U.S. Navy and repeatedly offered him early release, but McCain refused, not wanting to violate the military code of conduct and knowing that the North Vietnamese would use his release as a powerful piece of propaganda.

McCain eventually spent five and a half years in various prison camps, three and a half of those in solitary confinement, and was repeatedly beaten and tortured before he was finally released, along with other American POWs, on March 14, 1973, less than two months after the Vietnam cease fire went into effect. McCain earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.

Though McCain had lost most of his physical strength and flexibility, he was determined to continue serving as a naval aviator. After a painful nine months of rehabilitation, he returned to flying duty, but it soon became clear that his injuries had permanently impaired his ability to advance in the Navy.

Introduction to Politics

McCain's introduction to politics came in 1976, when he was assigned as the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate. In 1981, after marrying his second wife, Cindy Hensley, McCain retired from the Navy, and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. While working in public relations for his father-in-law's beer distribution business, he began establishing connections in politics.

McCain was first elected to political office on November 2, 1982, easily winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after his well-known war record helped overcome doubts about his "carpetbagger" status. He was re-elected in 1984.

Having adapted well to the largely conservative politics of his home state, McCain was a loyal supporter of the Reagan administration and found his place among other "New Right," or conservative, politicians.

In 1986, after the retirement of longtime Arizona senator and prominent Republican Barry Goldwater, McCain won election to the U.S. Senate. Both in the House and the Senate, McCain earned a reputation as a conservative politician who was not afraid to question the ruling Republican orthodoxy. In 1983, for example, he called for the withdrawal of U.S. Marines from Lebanon, and publicly criticized the administration's handling of the Iran-Contra affair.

From 1987 to 1989, McCain underwent a federal investigation as a member of the "Keating Five," a group of senators who were accused of improperly intervening with federal regulators on behalf of Charles H. Keating Jr., a bank chairman whose Lincoln Savings & Loan Association eventually became one of the biggest savings-and-loan disasters of the late 1980s. He was eventually cleared of the charges, although investigators declared that he had exercised "poor judgment" by meeting with the regulators.

Campaigns for President

McCain weathered the scandal and won re-election to the Senate three times, each time with a solid majority. His reputation as a "maverick politician" with firm beliefs and a quick temper only increased, and many were impressed by his willingness to be extremely open with the public and the press. He has worked diligently in support of increased tobacco legislation and reforming the campaign finance system, professing more liberal views and generally proving to be more complex than a straight-ahead conservative.

In 1999, McCain published Faith of My Fathers, the story of his family's military history and his own experiences as a POW. He also emerged as a solid challenger to the frontrunner, Governor George W. Bush of Texas, for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Many people from both political parties found his straight talk refreshing. In the New Hampshire primary, McCain won by a surprisingly wide margin, largely bolstered by independent voters and cross-over Democrats.

After a roller-coaster ride during the primaries—Bush won South Carolina, while McCain captured Michigan and Arizona—Bush emerged triumphant on "Super Tuesday" in early March 2000, winning New York and California, among several other states. Though McCain won most of the New England states, his large electoral deficit forced him to "suspend" his campaign indefinitely. On May 9, 2000, after holding out for two months, McCain formally endorsed Bush.

In August 2000, McCain was diagnosed with skin cancer (he had lesions on his face and arm, which doctors determined were unrelated to a similar lesion he had removed in 1993). He subsequently underwent surgery, during which all the cancerous tissue was successfully removed. McCain also underwent routine prostate surgery for an enlarged prostate in August 2001.

McCain was back in the headlines in the spring of 2001, when the Senate debated and eventually passed, by a vote of 59-41, a broad overhaul of the campaign finance system. The bill was the fruit of McCain's six-year effort to reform the system, along with Democratic Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin. Central to the McCain-Feingold bill was a controversial ban on the unrestricted contributions to political parties known as "soft money." The new law was narrowly upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003.

'Maverick' Reputation

McCain supported the Iraq War, but criticized the Pentagon several times, especially about low troop strength. At one point, McCain declared that he had "no confidence" in the leadership of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. McCain supported the 2007 surge of more than 20,000 troops, which supporters said increased security in Iraq.

McCain also publicly supported President Bush's bid for re-election, although he differed with Bush on several issues, including torture, pork barrel spending, illegal immigration, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and global warming. He also defended the Vietnam War record of Bush's opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, which came under attack during the campaign.

With Bush limited to two terms, McCain officially entered the 2008 presidential race on April 25, 2007, during an announcement in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Not long after, he secured the Republican nomination in the election. After officially becoming the Republican Party's nominee, McCain delivered a speech: "Now, we begin the most important part of our campaign: to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign and my election as president, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love," he said.

However, McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, were defeated by Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

In Recent Years

At the Republican National Convention in 2012, McCain showed his support for Republican 2012 election candidates Mitt Romney (presidential nominee) and Paul Ryan (vice-presidential nominee). McCain made a speech at the event, in it emphasizing a need for change in American foreign policy and new military action in the Middle East, specifically in Syria and Iran.

He began his narrative by noting the outcome of the 2008 election. "I had hopes once of addressing you under different circumstances. But our fellow Americans had another plan four years ago, and I accept their decision," McCain said at the convention. "When we nominate Mitt Romney, we do so with a greater purpose than winning an advantage for our party. We charge him with the care of a higher cause. His election represents our best hopes for our country and the world."

During the historic 2016 presidential race, McCain found himself at odds with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. In response to McCain's criticism that Trump "fired up the crazies" in the Republican party, Trump mocked McCain's military service on the campaign trail.  “He was a war hero because he was captured," Trump said about McCain being held as a prisoner of ware. "I like people who weren’t captured.”

Despite the verbal jab from Trump and ongoing acrimony, McCain endorsed him for president, only to withdraw his endorsement after The Washington Post released a 2005 recording in which Trump lewdly described kissing and groping women.  "I have wanted to support the candidate our party nominated," McCain said in a statement. "He was not my choice, but as a past nominee, I thought it important I respect the fact that Donald Trump won a majority of the delegates by the rules our party set. I thought I owed his supporters that deference. But Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.”

Trump went on to win the presidential election on November 8, 2016 while McCain was re-elected for his sixth term representing Arizona in the Senate.

Personal Life

McCain married Carol Shepp, a model originally from Philadelphia, on July 3, 1965. He adopted her two young children from a previous marriage, Doug and Andy Shepp, and in 1966 they had a daughter together, Sydney. The couple divorced in April 1980.

McCain met Cindy Lou Hensley, a teacher from Phoenix and daughter of a prosperous Arizona beer distributor, while she was on vacation in 1979 with her parents in Hawaii. McCain was still married at the time, but separated from his first wife. John and Cindy were married in Phoenix, Arizona on May 17, 1980. They have four children: Meghan (born in 1984), John IV (known as Jack, born in 1986), James (known as Jimmy, born in 1988) and Bridget (born in 1991 in Bangladesh, and adopted by the McCains in 1993).

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