Washington very rarely pauses for thought. Today it seemed to stand still.

I watched as senators, celebrities and military personnel poured into the church at Washington National Cathedral.

Under grey clouds, the political elite came together in a town that often feels torched with division.

:: John McCain: A single-minded war hero and unquestionable patriot

Video: Meghan McCain: 'America was always great'

As I arrived, Gabby Lee Giffords, the former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, was slowly making her way up the cobbled path, clasping her walking stick – still bearing the injuries she sustained after being shot in 2011.

She was one of many potent examples of McCain's bipartisan appeal. It felt like a soul searching moment for the thousands inside.

I wondered if those who had submerged themselves in the bitter rhetoric of the past year were thinking about how they could do better. They were, after all, listening to eulogies about a man who prided himself on compromise.

I spoke to one of the pallbearers, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian dissident. He was poisoned twice and his brushes with death brought him closer to McCain.

He recalled how generous the senator had been with his time – meeting all his family. "Nobody can replace him," he said, as he looked forlornly ahead.

:: McCain tributes echo with criticism of Donald Trump

Vladimir Kara-Murza and his wife Yevgenia touch the casket of the late US Senator John McCain in the Rotunda of the US Capitol August 31, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW HARNIK/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Vladimir Kara-Murza said: 'Nobody can replace him.'
Meghan McCain, daughter of US Senator John McCain, speaks during a memorial service for her father at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, on September 1, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Meghan McCain's defiance and composure were praised

As Meghan McCain started her poignant and at times stinging remarks, contrasting the conduct of her father with the current president, the bank of journalists gathered outside stood in silence.

But as she spoke, our phones buzzed with tweets from the president busy airing his grievances as the service took place.

Some of those inside have empowered and defended that kind of approach. It was a reminder that while Washington can be great at grand solemnity and eloquent oratory, it is also rich in rancour and, at times, hypocrisy.

More from John McCain

As the mourners emerged, I could hear many praising McCain's daughter – her sense of defiance and her composure.

Driving away, the streets no longer lined with people paying their respects, I wondered what about the past few days might stick. McCain's parting message seemed to be a rallying cry. We will have to wait and see who, if anyone, will answer it.

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