this is "nightline." >> tonight, flag wavering. president trump's major reversal. relowering those flags in tribute to the senator john mccain after a day of stony silence. >> mr. president, do you have any thoughts on john mccain? do you have any thoughts at all about john mccain? >> the president's new comments tonight. >> we very much appreciate everything that senator mccain has done for our country. >> and our front row seat for tomorrow's key arizona primary. the colorful clash over mccain colleague senator jeff flake's job. plus the real mccain. the humor and friendships beyond the guts and glory. the emotional letter he asked a beloved staff member to read after his death. a final rebuke to his party and
major reversal from president trump. breaking his silence on the death of senator john mccain after a rising backlash. as this controversy plays out in washington, back in mccain's home state of arizona republicans are on the eve of deciding who they want their next senator to be. as you're about to see, the candidates are very far from the mccain mold. >> do not despair of our present difficulties. we believe always in the promise and greatness of america because nothing is inevitable here. >> the dying wish of senator john mccain, read aloud today by his long-time aide rick davis. it stands in stark contrast to president trump's handling of the long-serving republican's death this weekend. the white house flag lowered to half staff in mccain's honor late on saturday but raised again just over 24 hours later after public outrage the president did order that flag lowered once again. and then today --
>> mr. president, any thoughts on john mccain? mr. president, any thoughts on john mccain? >> reporter: abc news's jon karl tried to get the president to say something, anything about mccain. >> do you believe john mccain was a hero, sir? why won't you say anything about john mccain? >> reporter: finally this tonight. >> we very much appreciate everything that senator mccain has done for our country. so thank you very much. >> reporter: the senator was a frequent target for trump, even suggesting mccain wasn't a war hero because he was captured by the north vietnamese. >> i like people that weren't captured. okay? i have to tell you. >> reporter: for now mccain's seat will be filled by an appointment from arizona's governor. but tomorrow voters in mccain's home state will pick the republican nominee for the seat being vacated by retiring republican senator jeff flake. the candidates include congresswoman martha mcsally, former sheriff joe arpaio, and dr. kelli ward. and they are all a far cry from mccain-style republicans. in fact, they've aechd been
trying to outtrump one another for months. >> it's remarkable that none of the candidates on the republican side are looking to be the mccain candidate. all of them are looking to be donald trump's candidate. >> sheriff joe arpaio. >> reporter: 86-year-old sheriff joe, as many call him, could not be further from the so-called establishment. as the top law man for 24 years in maricopa county, arizona's largest and home to the largest city, phoenix, arpaio opened an outdoor jail made of concrete slabs and canvas coverings. at arpaio's tent cities inmates were dressed in cartoonish black and white striped uniforms as well as another unconventional item that today is framed on the wall of his office. >> you were having the male inmates wear pink underwear. >> everybody wears pink. >> reporter: arpaio's methods for punishing criminals drew criticism for being inhumane and discriminatory. in a 2001 department of justice report arpaio's jails including his tent city were found to have "a pervasive culture of
discriminatory bias against latinos." >> do you think that will be an issue in the senate campaign for you? >> no. because i'm running statewide. >> there are a lot of hispanics throughout the state. >> not that many. >> reporter: about 31% of arizona's population is hispanic. >> it is a fast-growing part of the population and a critical vote. you can't alienate a whole ethnic group in arizona and expect to become their senator. >> reporter: in 2017 arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for disobeying a federal judge's order to stop racial profiling in detaining individuals suspected of being in the u.s. illegally. arpaio disputes that conviction calling it a witch hunt by the former attorney general, eric holder and then president obama. >> so you think it was a conspiracy to bring you down? >> yeah, it's a conspiracy. involving the courts, involving the department of justice. involving obama. >> what is the proof? >> i'm not guilty. that's the proof. >> reporter: last year, one month after his conviction, president trump pardoned arpaio. is the fact that trump's in office in the white house, is that part of why you want to go to washington at this moment?
>> let me put it this way. if he wasn't the president, i sure would not be running for senate. >> are you sad that the tent cities are gone? >> i know it was a great program. but you know, i'm not the sheriff anymore. i'm trying to get down to washington and try to straighten some problems out. especially in the judicial system. >> but is that about going to washington for payback? >> no. going to washington to make a difference. >> also firmly aboard the trump train one of john mccain's former political adversaries. dr. kelli ward, who ran against the late senator in the republican primary in 2016. do you think trump has had a big impact on the party here? >> i think that donald trump picking up the mantle as the leader of the republican party has been good in arizona. it's introduced a lot of people that before wouldn't consider being a republican. >> reporter: people like monique
stockett. >> at this time we're doing the free screening. >> i'm an independent, but i voted mostly democrat and i voted for obama twice. >> twice. >> yes. and i was listening to donald trump talking and i said did he just say that? i was like so impressed at his honesty. >> i was never into politics. i had no idea how corrupt it is until i got involved because of trump. i saw him on tv going down the escalator with his wife, and i'm like, yes, that's my next president. >> reporter: stockette and her friend run a meetup group to support their candidates out of larsen's home in tucson. >> what are we going to do for the raf snl we have to ralph something to raise money. >> i have a birdhouse. it's patriotic colors. >> the number one thing that i like about kelli ward, that she supports trump's agenda 100%. >> she is not afraid to say that she supports trump, which a lot of republicans don't want to do. >> it's not that i'm
anti-establishment. i think that it's -- people want new blood in washington, d.c. >> reporter: ward has a collection of high-profile and controversial supporters. they include steve king, the iowa congressman whose racially charged views have sparked outrage. dana rohrabacher, the california congressman who has long curried favor with russia. and sebastian gorka, the former trump aide who allegedly has ties to a nazi group. she also has backing from the mercer family, the private uber-wealthy conservative donors who also pumped money into donald trump's 2016 presidential campaign. >> i mean, i have a great relationship with the mercers. and i'm very grateful to them for helping me along the political process. >> she is trying to motivate the type of voter that frankly showed up for donald trump two years ago that may have not voted in previous elections. >> reporter: just this past weekend a staffer for ward publicly implied that there might be some sort of conspiracy in the timing of mccain's announcement that he was
discontinuing medical treatment. in a now deleted facebook post. i wonder if it's a coincidence that senator mccain released his statement on the kickoff day of kelli ward's bus tour or if it was a plan to take media attention off her campaign. ward herself replying in their comments, "i think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me." at a press conference today ward addressed the comments. >> to be clear my comments were in no way directed at senator mccain or at his family. >> reporter: congresswoman martha mcsally seems to be the favorite to win tomorrow. the former fighter pilot, the first female to fly in combat, in fact, includes an endorsement from trump in her campaign ad. >> my friend martha mcsally. she's the real deal. she's tough. >> mcsally turned down multiple requests from abc news for an interview. but just weekends into the trump presidency last year my colleague matt gutman was right there for one of her packed and very contentious town hall meetings. >> lots of folks saying that
they need to be heard, they are not being heard, that's why they're here, and the ihathey' constituents asked her to answer for the president. >> if people want to take out their frustrations with the president on me, even -- that is not my role. >> reporter: whoever wins tomorrow will likely face the democrat kristen cinema in november. cinema is an arizona congresswoman who would be the first openly bisexual u.s. senator. don't underestimate the stakes here. this race will be a referendum on the popularity of the president, and it may well impact who controls the levers of power in washington. >> republicans hold the senate by only two votes. if republicans lose arizona, suddenly there's a path to the democrats controlling the senate. if they hold on to arizona, then there's almost no way that democrats are able to take control of the senate. next, the real mccain. from senate statesman to scene stealer and wedding crasher. >> congratulations. >> thank you, senator.
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and we are back now with a favorite expression of john mccain's. quote, "a fight avoided is a fight not enjoyed." abc terry moran who's covered the senator for many years here tonight with a unique perspective on this quintessential american maverick. >> we thank you for the gift of senator john sidney mccain. >> reporter: today in the senate where john mccain served for over 30 years the chaplain offered a solemn prayer. >> may his consequential,
patriotic, and heroic legacy challenge us all to leave the world better than we found it. >> reporter: his empty desk draped in black, a vase of white roses on top. back in his hometown in arizona we heard mccain's own parting words, a final testament. >> thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewardin life sgvice in uniform and public office has allowed me to lead. >> reporter: in a farewell letter addressed to fellow americans and read by long-time adviser rick davis mccain proclaimed the patriotism that was at the core of his remarkable life. >> i lived and died a proud american. we are citizens of the world's greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. >> reporter: those ringing ideals mccain lived by seem almost out of fashion now and issued a final warning about
that, about the dangers of this divisive political moment. >> we weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. >> that's the kind of classic mccain straight talk that made him known as one of the least partisan senators in washington. his friendship reflected that too. >> we have a lot of fun and we joke back and forth and enjoy each other's company. >> reporter: mccain and republican senator lindsey graham and former democratic senator joe lieberman were such close pals they were famously dubbed the three amigos. my colleague dan harris recently spoke with senator leeb nan about their unique friendship. >> to me it was a blessing to really get to know john as i have and to be able to work with him. and as i say, we worked across party lines on a lot of different areas. each party discourages them from doing too much publicly together. >> reporter: but mccain and
lieberman didn't play by those rules. >> i'm glad to be joined by my friend senator joe lieberman. >> the idea of people from opposite parties coming together to try to build coalitions and make the decisive votes otn ang art. >> spent four years in ninth grade. >> yeah, my favorite grade. >> reporter: the third of the three amigos republican senator lindsey graham who senator mccain campaigned for before the new hampshire primary in 2014. >> i would respectfully ask for your consideration despite his poor grammar. >> senator john mccain! >> reporter: senator mccain the comedian. he loved a good laugh, and he touch, ahas here when he guest-starred on "saturday night live" in 2002. >> they asked president bush to do it, but apparently he doesn't like to work on weekends. >> reporter: and in 2008 as presidential hopeful. >> good evening, my fellow americans. i'm john mccain. >> and you know, i'm just sarah
palin. >> reporter: that wit made him a frequent guest on late night. >> i didn't realize this. your mom is in town. >> she's been at the events and she's been having some jell-o shots down in the hotel bar. >> reporter: there were also appearances in movies like his cameo alongside christopher walken in "wedding crashers." >> congratulations. >> thank you so much. >> reporter: in the farewell letter released today mccain also wrote about his beloved family. >> one man has never had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than i am of mine. >> reporter: to his family john stcain w husband and asir a father. married to first wife carol in 1965, he adopted her two sons, douglas and andrew. the couple then had a daughter, sidney, who was a baby when mccain was held a p.o.w. in vietnam for more than five years, something he spoke about with c inhanieib gso 2008. >> did it cost you your i thin. i think -- but that's, again, my responsibility. i think we were separated for a
long, long time. and carol is a wonderful and loving person and a wonderful parent. it just -- we just grew apart. but the responsibility is mine. i didn't work hard enough. >> then you met cindy. >> yeah. >> who pursued whom? >> i think i pursued her. i don't think there's any doubt about that. >> reporter: wed in 1980, the couple had four children. meghan, jack and jimmy, both of whom like their dad served in the mirytali their youngest daughter bridget in 1991 from bangladesh. >> i'm happy to note that we are adoptive parents and it's enriched our lives, and we hope that that will also encourage others to do the same. >> i don't know if i've been a good father or not, but i do think we've tried very hard, mainly because of cindy, to spend a lot of time with our children, and so far they've turned out pretty well and i'm proud of them. >> reporter: in one of his final public appearances mccain joined his daughter meghan as a guest
on "the view" to celebrate her birthday. >> it's -- we hiked in sedona iaanwe were -- i'm sorry. on the top of the mountain -- i love you so much. [ applause ] >> reporter: after he died meghan tweeted in part about her dad, "all tha thanks to him. now that he is gone the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations and his love." a life that john mccain always acknowledged was not perfect but one that he always sought to learn from. >> i've tried to serve our country honorably. i've made mistakes. but i hope my love for favor aa against them. >> few people were as honest about their mistakes as john mccain. he talked about his regrets during the 2000 campaign, when he came out in support of the confederate flag's continued display at the south carolina state capitol. a lot ofolks will point to his
decision to pick sarah palin as his running mate. he's never apologized for it. >> reporter: more than anything, john mccain lived his life with gusto, looking ahead, ever optimistic about the country he so loved. joyful and resilient and grateful for it all to the end. >> i'm the luckiest guy on earth. i have served america's cause, the cause of our security and the security of our friends, the cause of freedom and equal justice. and i've enjoyed it. every single day of it. ff> next here, a bow of respe erentoce. jimmy's gotten used to his whole room smelling like sweaty odors. yup, he's gone noseblind. he thinks it smells fine, but his mom smells this... luckily for all your hard-to-wash fabrics... ...there's febreze fabric refresher.
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for decades. >> beirut. >> santiago. >> on a host of the most essential stories of our time. and we are all the richer for it. >> this is barrie dunsmore for "nightline" in washington. >> and died b at the age of 79. our condolences to his family tonight. we want to thank you for watching "nightline." and good night. ...you discover paint bleed you under yoe painting... not with fgtap tape... frogtape is the only painter's tape treated with patented paintblock technology. paintblock reacts with the water in latex paint to form a micro-barrier against paint bleed, giving you the sharpest lines possible. get professional results with frogtape... no paint bleed.