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US Senator John McCain Dead at 81

US Senator John McCain, the war hero who became the Republican Party's standard-bearer in the 2008 election, has died. He was 81.

His office says McCain died on Saturday surrounded by family at his Arizona home. He had battled brain cancer.

The politician survived five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and became one of the most prominent Republican voices on foreign policy during decades in the US Senate.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 and the Senate in 1986. A conservative on most issues, he pushed for campaign finance reform and the effort to account for those missing in Vietnam.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, then won it in 2008. But he and running mate Sarah Palin lost to Barack Obama.

After his cancer diagnosis, McCain continued criticism of what the long-time foreign policy hawk saw as an "unpatriotic" abdication of US leadership on the world stage, denouncing Trump's policies as "half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems".

McCain irked Trump in July 2017 when he helped scuttle long-standing Republican efforts to overturn health care reforms implemented by Obama. This ended Trump's bid to repeal the health care reforms despite having allowed debate of the matter to move forward by returning to Congress just days after his cancer diagnosis.

Trump later won a partial victory in his effort to repeal and replace Obamacare when its requirement that Americans buy health care insurance or face a fine was cancelled in another bill.

In reflections on the Senate floor after his emotional return to Washington, McCain chastised his colleagues for the partisanship that soured efforts to work across party lines and encouraged lawmakers not to simply go along with Trump.

He called on senators to remember the freedom on which the United States was founded and its contributions to the international order amid what critics have seen as Trump's desire to retreat from the world stage.

"We have been the greatest example, the greatest supporter and the greatest defender of that order. We aren't afraid," he said.

"We don't covet other people's land and wealth. We don't hide behind walls. We breach them. We are a blessing to humanity."

The remarks reflected McCain's longtime reputation as maverick as well as his role as a senior voice on foreign policy as head of the Senate Armed Services Committee after returning to the Senate following his failed presidential bid.

One of McCain's biggest legislative achievements came in 2002 in a bill to reform the funding of US political campaigns. A part of the law that sought to limit campaign spending by corporations was later struck down by the Supreme Court.

One of his failures was a bipartisan effort in 2013 to reform US immigration, which would have included a means for those in the country illegally to eventually gain citizenship. It was the closest Congress came during McCain's tenure to reforming US immigration law.

McCain is survived by his wife, Cindy, seven children from two marriages and his mother, Roberta McCain, 106.

AAP

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