Fitzgerald: McCain 'stepped into the shoes of the lion'

Watching his friend and mentor John McCain return to the Senate after being diagnosed with brain cancer, Peter Fitzgerald had a sense of déjà vu.

"Ted Kennedy, at one time, he was the lion of the Senate, returning to the chamber to make a key vote on health care after a similar diagnosis," the former Republican senator from Inverness said. "Now Senator McCain has really stepped into the shoes of the lion."

Shortly after the 80-year-old McCain was diagnosed with a primary glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor, the Arizona Republican returned to the Senate, delivering an impassioned 15-minute speech on how the Senate should work more comprehensively on health care reform with Democrats.

Early Friday morning, McCain was one of three Republicans whose "no" vote prevented the GOP's Obamacare repeal from passing. The measure failed 51 to 49.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," McCain told reporters as he left the chamber around 2 a.m.

Fitzgerald, who served in the Senate from 1999 to 2005, didn't always get along with McCain. McCain chaired the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which Fitzgerald also served on during his tenure as Illinois' junior senator.

McCain was in favor of expanding O'Hare International Airport, an idea Fitzgerald staunchly opposed.

Fitzgerald, who now lives in McLean, Virginia, also openly criticized McCain's juggling of his work as a senator while conducting a presidential campaign. Fitzgerald later came on board, helping McCain campaign in Illinois in 2008.

"He got very angry, but we ended up being the best of friends," Fitzgerald said, noting the two bonded over their respective independent streaks.

Fitzgerald once filibustered a major bill because of $150 million in earmarked spending for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, a component he said reeked of political patronage. McCain had a similar moment denouncing a proposed Alaska bridge - famously deemed a "Bridge to Nowhere."

"Of all the members of the Senate today, McCain is held in the highest regard by most of his colleagues," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said he hasn't seen McCain in a few years, but continues to donate to his campaigns. McCain, he said, often sends kind words when he meets mutual friends at fundraisers.

McCain's energy - a family trait - will aid in his battle against cancer, Fitzgerald predicted.

"He's in remarkable shape, and his mother, she's over 100 now, a few years ago, she bought and drove a car all over Europe after she was told she shouldn't because of her age," he said.

"He's one of the finest men I've ever known, and I'm confident he'll face this fight with amazing courage, just as he has faced everything else."

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John McCain
John McCain, left, Libertyville lawyer Ron Bell, and Peter Fitzgerald, right, at a party celebrating Fitzgerald's birthday several years ago. Photo Courtesy Ron Bell Law office
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