Americans bid McCain solemn farewell with US Capitol honour

WASHINGTON - Americans paid their final respects on Friday to John McCain as the national icon lay in state in the US Capitol as part of a momentous sendoff for the war hero and statesman.

McCain's widow Cindy, his seven children and his 106-year-old mother Roberta McCain joined scores of members of Congress, state governors, diplomats and other dignitaries to bid the senator farewell.

President Donald Trump, who had feuded bitterly with McCain, was notably absent from the sombre ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, an honour accorded to just 30 Americans throughout the nation's history.

The last visit to Washington by McCain -- who died last Saturday at age 81 after a yearlong battle with cancer -- is being spread out over two days with former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to eulogise him during a memorial service on Saturday at the city's National Cathedral.

Just before 11am on Friday, a military honour guard carried the flag-draped casket up the Capitol stairs, moving one deliberate step at a time, while inside the Rotunda dark-suited mourners stood at silent attention.

Vice President Mike Pence -- who represented Trump at the ceremony -- began his tribute with an address to McCain's family, and particularly his mother.

"It is deeply humbling to stand before you today at the United States Capitol to commemorate the life and service of an American patriot, senator John McCain," Pence said. 

"The president asked me to be here, on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honour and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office."

Guests included former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, riding in a wheelchair at age 95; the actor Warren Beatty, a McCain friend; and former senator Joe Lieberman, who in 2008 McCain came close to naming as his running mate. 

He will be buried Sunday at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.