The Washington Times - March 14, 2013, 03:19PM

The president and Senate Republicans resoundingly agreed on one thing during their meeting Thursday afternoon: Sen. John McCain deserves applause and respect on his 40th anniversary of returning home from Vietnam.

During an otherwise respectful but tense meeting over policy differences, Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, congratulated Mr. McCain on the milestone in his life, and GOP colleagues responded with a standing ovation.

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Mr. Obama also had warm words of respect for his opponent in the 2008 presidential election, several GOP senator said after the gathering.

“He said some very nice things about John McCain,” Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican, said.

Mr. McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese after his plane was shot down in October 1967. He was held as a prisoner of war at the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison and tortured over the course of five and a half years before being freed in March 1973. He was offered the chance for early release in 1968, but refused it because it would have meant leaving before other prisoners who had been held longer.

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, on Wednesday cheered improved relations but urged the former foe to embrace democratic reforms.

“When it comes to the values that Americans hold dear – freedom, human rights and the rule of law – our highest hopes for Vietnam still remain largely just hopes,” he wrote in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal. “The government in Hanoi still imprisons and mistreats peaceful dissidents, journalists, bloggers, and ethnic and religious minorities for political reasons.”