Cindy McCain Says Late Husband, Sen. John McCain, Wouldn't Recognize GOP Today: 'We've Lost Our Way'

Ambassador McCain says she’s “still a Republican” but believes members of her party are “not being good examples for our children”

Cindy McCain
Cindy McCain.

John McCain's widow, Ambassador Cindy McCain, says the late Arizona senator would be displeased with today's Republican Party — but determined to stand up for more familiar values.

"I don't believe my husband would recognize it," McCain, 68, said Thursday during an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "But I do know one thing, he'd be fighting like the dickens to able to pull it back together and bring it back to what it was during previous Republican administrations and previous administrations as well."

Appointed by Biden, Ambassador McCain serves as the Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.

On Thursday at the White House, she accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the president on behalf of her late husband, a war hero, Republican presidential nominee and an affable Senate colleague of Biden.

McCain said her family is "grateful and so honored and proud" for her husband to be posthumously given the nation's highest civilian honor.

US President Joe Biden presents Cindy McCain (L), the widdow of former Senator and presidential candidate John McCain, posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, during a ceremony honoring 17 recipients, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 7, 2022.

"It stands for so much and I think John stood for so much," she said of the Medal of Freedom, noting that her husband lost his freedom as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years.

"We used to argue like hell on the Senate floor. But then we'd go down and have lunch together afterwards," Biden said at the ceremony on Thursday.

"I never stopped admiring John," he continued. "Never said a negative thing about him in my life because I knew his honor, his courage, and his commitment."

McCain — who endorsed Biden in the 2020 presidential race over the GOP nominee Donald Trump — also told Mitchell, "I'm still a Republican."

"I believe in the party, and I believe in what we stand for. But right now, we've lost our way and so I'm hoping as the years go on we can right ourselves and do what Republicans do best and that is work for smaller government but work in a bipartisan fashion," she said.

Asked about the revelations coming out of the Jan. 6 committee's public hearings on Trump and his supporters' plan to overturn the 2020 election, McCain said the testimony has been "hard to watch" for "all of us that work so hard and believe in this country in the way that we do."

"It's a good lesson," she added. "We're not being good examples for our children with what this represents right now and that's most important."

John McCain embraces his wife Cindy
From left: John and Cindy McCain in 2008. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty

McCain praised Rep. Liz Cheney, an outspoke critic of Trump and one of two Republicans on the House committee investigating Jan. 6, for standing up for democracy despite the political consequences she's faced.

"She's an amazing person," she said of Cheney. "Her strength and her ability to look beyond the now and work on what's good for the country. It may harm her in the end, it may [hurt her] political aspirations, but she can sleep at night and know that she did the right thing."

She encouraged others on both sides of America's political divide to emulate the leadership demonstrated by Cheney as well as her husband, who was known as a "maverick" in the Senate for crossing party lines.

"We need to encourage our members and our politicians across the country to do just that, don't be afraid to buck the system and don't be afraid to speak out on any of these issues no matter what side you're on. Debate is good in this country — calm debate, dignified debate is good," the ambassador said.

After an election that many in the Republican Party still claim was fraudulent despite evidence to the contrary, McCain expressed her hope that the country will return to its foundational principles.

"That's what makes us special as Americans. That's what makes this country special," she said. "Peaceful transfer of power, the way that we govern ourselves, the way that we represent who we are — we have got to come back to that."

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