John McCain steps down from role as chairman of the International Republican Institute after 25 years

August 8, 2018

John McCain steps down from role as chairman of the International Republican Institute after 25 years Christopher Halloran /

While he hasn’t formally resigned from his role as senator, John McCain (R-AZ) has retreated from his political life in Washington — and now, the ailing congressman is stepping down from a leadership position that he has held for a quarter of a century.

McCain resigned last week from his role as chairman for the board of the International Republican Institute (IRI), a role he has held since 1993. According to the Washington Post, McCain is “passing the torch” to fellow Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK).

“In my years as chairman, I have been privileged to watch generations of young IRI foot soldiers serve a cause greater than their self-interest,” McCain wrote in a letter to the board of the organization, which counters the National Democratic Institute and advocates spreading democracy and human rights around the world. “Serving as chairman has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.”

McCain, who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer over a year ago, will stay on the organization’s board.

McCain an “irreplaceable” chairman

McCain’s intentions to step down were shared by the institute in a press release on Friday, which noted that the 81-year-old McCain, who first joined the organization in 1992, had personally “recommended that Senator Sullivan succeed him.” Sen. Sullivan lavished praise on his predecessor in a statement to the Post last week.

“John McCain is irreplaceable, so it is humbling to be selected to lead the board and continue IRI’s great work,” Sullivan said. “At a time when America faces unprecedented global challenges, IRI is advancing American interests by promoting freedom and building a more stable and prosperous world.”

In addition to Sullivan, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), as well as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have also been added to the IRI board, among others.

The non-profit institute has promoted the spread of democracy in a number of movements around the world, but it has been accused by left-wing sources like Mother Jones of meddling in developing nations.

“[IRI] is supposed to focus on nonpartisan, grassroots democratization efforts overseas,” Joshua Kurlantzick from Mother Jones reported in 2004. “But in Haiti and other countries, such as Venezuela and Cambodia, the institute — which, though not formally affiliated with the GOP, is run by prominent Republicans and staffed by party insiders — has increasingly sided with groups seeking the overthrow of elected but flawed leaders who are disliked in Washington.”

Solidifying his legacy

Sources close to McCain told the Post that the change-up is not a sign that McCain’s health is diminishing, but McCain seems eager to solidify his foreign policy legacy by recommending to the board lawmakers like Sullivan, who will likely carry on the Arizona senator’s globalist vision.

That vision apparently favors foreign involvement and even sometimes war in hopes of promoting democracy and the spread of human rights around the world, an idea that is at odds with the more domestic focus of President Donald Trump.

Trump has often called for scaling back America’s military presence around the world, and some Trump administration officials even want to defund one of the funding sources for the IRI, the Reagan-era National Endowment for Democracy.

McCain has been absent from Washington since December, instead choosing to recover and relax at home in Sedona, AZ following treatment for cancer. McCain continues to exert influence from home through the Armed Services Committee, which he chairs, as well as his Twitter account, which he often uses to criticize the president.


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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.