What does it mean that John McCain is ‘lying in state’ in the U.S. Capitol?

Senator John Sidney McCain III, who died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018 at the age of 81, is lying in state in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.


Senator John Sidney McCain III, who died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018 at the age of 81, is lying in state in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.

“Though the highest office eluded him, he attained what is far more enduring: the abiding affection of his fellow citizens, and an example down the generations,” said the House speaker, Paul Ryan, in a speech.

Vice President Mike Pence also spoke at the ceremony, which some described as awkward given his allegiance to President Donald Trump, with whom McCain had very public disagreements. Also not invited to the ceremonies was McCain’s former presidential running mate Sarah Palin.

“As the president said yesterday, we respect his service to the country,” Pence said. “We gather here today to honor an American patriot who served a cause greater than himself … We will ever remember that John McCain served his country, and John McCain served his country honorably.”

In what amounts to getting the last word in their high-profile feud, McCain openly requested that Trump not attend any of his funeral or memorial services, but did ask former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to deliver speeches at his funeral, which is scheduled on Saturday.

“I think it’s fair to say that they have a very different view of this country and what this country means, here and abroad,” Mark Salter, a long-time friend of McCain, told The Independent. “His overall message was: ‘It doesn’t have to be this shitty.’”


Cindy McCain, wife of John McCain, prays at the casket of her husband as he lies in state at the US Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC, on August 31, 2018. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Lying in state

Lying in state is a tradition in which the body of a deceased government official is placed inside the Capitol or a government building where family, colleagues and, after a ceremony, the public can pay respects. McCain is the 31st person to receive the rare honor.

The first was three-time presidential candidate Henry Clay, who was known as “The Great Compromiser” for his willingness to work with political opponents, a quality for which McCain is also being celebrated.

Others who have laid in state include presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, and also other officials like FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and The Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War.

In order to receive the honor, Congress must propose and approve a resolution, or simply have leadership agree to it. Permission from the survivors’ of the deceased official is also required.

Lying in state is different from being lain in honor, which is reserved distinguished American civilians, or being lain in repose, an honor given to Supreme Court justices that takes place in the Great Hall of the United States Supreme Court Building.

Here’s a full list of Americans who have lain in state:

  • Henry Clay
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Thaddeus Stevens
  • Charles Sumner
  • James Abram Garfield
  • John Alexander Logan
  • William McKinley
  • Pierre Charles L’Enfant
  • George Dewey
  • Unknown Soldier of World War I
  • Warren Gamaliel Harding
  • William Howard Taft
  • John Joseph Pershing
  • Robert Alphonso Taft
  • 3 Unknown Soldiers of World War II and the Korean War
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy
  • Douglas MacArthur
  • Herbert Clark Hoover
  • Dwight David Eisenhower
  • Everett McKinley Dirksen
  • J. Edgar Hoover
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson
  • Hubert Horatio Humphrey
  • Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam Era
  • Claude Denson Pepper
  • Ronald Wilson Reagan
  • Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
  • Daniel K. Inouye
  • John McCain

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