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Why McCain Asked Obama, Bush to Eulogize Him; Schumer Says Name Russell Senate Building after McCain; Puerto Rico Revising Hurricane Maria Death Toll; U.S. & Canada Working on Trade Deal; Justice Ginsberg Pivotal in VMI Women's Rights Case. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 29, 2018 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: So many stories about the grace of John McCain, no doubt about that.

Our Jeff Zeleny was reporting Senator McCain asked Barack Obama and George W. Bush to eulogize him. They were surprised, the former presidents, when they got the call from Senator McCain. They were political rivals at one point. He didn't necessarily have close relationships with either of them. From your perspective, what does this tell you from John McCain these were the people he chose to mark speeches to mark the end of his life?

REP. JACK REED, (D), RHODE ISLAND: I think it shows, first of all, his profound sense of bipartisanship. This country is not composed of Republicans and Democrats. It's composed of Americans who have to come together and find a sense forward. Also, an innate sense of decency. I recall in the campaign in 2008, there was a remarkable moment at a town meeting where a woman stood up and assailed then- President Obama in very pejorative terms. Senator McCain could have shrugged it off. He went out of his way to say, no, ma'am, this gentleman is an American. I disagree with him on our issues, but I were him, et cetera.

NOBLES: That type of decency is rare any place, and John McCain demonstrated it every day.

Now, of course, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor this weekend he will be putting together a bipartisan group to call what he is described as a gang for ways to memorialize Senator McCain. Chuck Schumer suggested we should rename the Russell Building to the John McCain office Senate building. Do you think that's a good idea?

REED: I would support it as a tribute to John McCain. In no way as a slight to Senator Russell. As a tribute to Senator McCain. We're talking about a historic figure of great proportions, a war hero, a committed man who served in the House and Senate, whose just sheer courage and example should inspire generations. So I think as a positive aspect, not a negative one. This would be an appropriate and fitting and right.

NOBLES: One of the things McConnell suggested is renaming the hearing room in honor of Senator McCain. It's not as if that name would be used as frequently as an entire office building. Do you think it is a gesture than renaming a hearing room?

REED: Again, they could be multiple venues designated. Not just here in the capitol, but in Washington. Again, I can't think of someone in my generation who has been so remarkably dedicated to the country and served so heroically. This is something we should carefully consider as a very appropriate memorial to this gentleman.

NOBLES: All right. Senator Jack Reed, served with Senator McCain on the Senate Armed Services Committee, both military men.

Thank you so much for sharing your memories of your friend.

REED: Thank you.

NOBLES: Coming up, it is now one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history. Officials in Puerto Rico are revising Hurricane Maria's death toll to nearly 3,000 people. Not just 64. That story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:38:08] NOBLES: Nearly a year after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has a bigger revision on how many people died in that devastating storm. The official count has been changed from just 64 to now nearly 3,000 after an independent study. That's making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in the United States history.

For months, CNN and other media outlets raised questions about the official death toll after several independent researchers estimated a substantially higher number.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz blamed the Trump administration for the neglect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, (D), MAYOR OF SAN JUAN: Shame on President Trump for not even once, not even yesterday, just saying, look, I grieve with the people of Puerto Rico. Shame on him. What is there to be proud of? 2175 dead. Is that what he's proud of?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: Joining me now, Democratic congresswoman from New York, Nydia Velazquez.

It seems that Mayor Cruz is blaming the Trump administration at least in part for the loss of life, which now rivals the number of people lost on 9/11. Do you agree with her assessment?

REP. NYDIA VELASQUEZ, (D), NEW YORK: I do. The fact of the matter is there were 64 direct deaths related to Hurricane Maria. When President Trump went to Puerto Rico, he praised himself and his administration because only 16 people died and that shaped and hampered the type of response that we got, failed system and deployment to Puerto Rico. So it is indisputable that thousands of people died because of the disastrously inadequate failure response. Two days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, I held a press conference in Washington, D.C., and I begged the president to rush to send federal assets, to deploy these federal assets. They didn't. I told and I warned him, this gentleman, this will to become your Katrina. Indeed, it is his Katrina.

[11:40:20] NOBLES: And let's remind people what the president had to say about his government's response to Maria back in OK. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, between one and 10, how would you grade the White House response to the disaster so far?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd say it was a 10.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: That was last year. Obviously, the death toll, we didn't know the full number was. Now, given the news this official count has been closer to 3,000. His White House press secretary told CNN, quote, "The president remains proud of the federal family undertook to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico."

Congresswoman, you have family that still live there. How would the people of Puerto Rico respond to that response from the White House?

VELAZQUEZ: They are angry. They are disappointed. They are really angry. They feel that this president and this administration cannot handle the truth. The truth is they failed the people of Puerto Rico. They failed American citizens in Puerto Rico. Now we need to hold accountable the fair response. We need to get Republican leadership in Congress to say that they are going to conduct an investigation to hold hearings, so that we come to the bottom of what happened and how and why did we provide is up a poor response.

NOBLES: I would guess that's the next stage of this.

What are the tangible reforms that can take place so this doesn't happen again. That's one of the things you called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate this. You talked in general about investigating how these death tolls are calculated, which is clearly a problem here. You are clearly passionate about this. Are you getting any response from in any Republicans in Congress about drafting this type of legislation and pushing it through?

VELAZQUEZ: No. I have Kamala Harris, Senator Kamala Harris, who introduced campaign bills in the Senate. Yes, we haven't heard from the Republican leadership him shame on them. They owe to the victims and to the families of those who lost loved ones because of this event in Puerto Rico.

NOBLES: I wonder, do you think it's because Puerto Ricans are American, right? This is a part of the occupation. Do you feel that Puerto Ricans are under-represented in Congress and there isn't the same level of need to take care of those citizens as there are in other parts of the country?

VELAZQUEZ: No, what happened is, who is the president of the United States? He lacks the empathy. He was too busy dealing with athletes, sending tweets that week instead of convening his entire cabinet and assessing how difficult and how bad the situation was in Puerto Rico. When Hurricane Hugo hit Puerto Rico, I was working for the government of Puerto Rico. We got a great response. The fact of the matter is the president of the occupation was a no show.

NOBLES: Congresswoman Velazquez, thank you. We appreciate it.

VELAZQUEZ: Thank you for having me.

NOBLES: Coming up, the U.S. and Canada are working to sort out a new trade deal after President Trump makes progress with Mexico on replacing parts of NAFTA. We'll have details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:48:13] NOBLES: Canada is hoping it won't be left out in the cold as President Trump tinkers with NAFTA. On Monday, the president announced a deal with Mexico that it would change parts of the North America Free Trade Agreement. Trump saying, quote, "NAFTA has a bad connotation." He is now trying to work something out with our northern neighbor.

CNN's Alison Kosik is live at the New York Stock Exchange with more details.

Alison, what is getting in the way with this deal with Canada?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just like with any negotiation, there are sticking points. Two of the bigger sticking points we are seeing happen between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico is, Canada, of course, is looking to protest its dairy market. It's hoping to keep a mechanism for it to settle its disputes in a supply chain, if that would come up. What is interesting is how these are unfolding. Wall Street is keeping an eye on Washington, D.C., today. Canada really feeling the pressure because it's up against a deadline. a Friday deadline of signing on the dotted line or letting a bilateral agreement between U.S. and Mexico stand. The big question is, will Canada sign on within enough time. Analysts are putting odds that Canada will agree at odds of slightly better than 50 percent. It was these negotiations and the bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that propelled stocks to a fresh record highs. As we see today, stocks are up again in the green. The Dow up 80 points. The S&P 500 and the NASDAQ are seeing levels that we haven't ever seen before.

So what this is doing, Ryan, these negotiations is sort of putting Wall Street's mind to rest because there was a lot of uncertainty going on. And that is one thing that the markets don't like. They don't like uncertainty.

We'll talk about all of this when I anchor the "MARKETS NOW" segment, a streaming segment on CNN Money in one hour, at 12:45. It's not on TV. Go to CNN Money now.

[11:50:14] NOBLES: I will be tuned in.

Alison, thank you so much. Appreciate that.

(CROSSTALK)

NOBLES: Thanks for being on.

Coming up, President Trump announcing the departure of a key figure in the West Wing, White House Counsel Don McGahn. At least one Republican, a top Republican, calling on the president to stop it from happening. We'll have the details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:55:13] NOBLES: Professor, litigator, role model, dissenter. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has earned countless titles and accolades during her groundbreaking career. Now the new CNN original film, "RGB," takes a look at her life and legacy, including the first women's rights case she heard as a United States justice, the United States versus Virginia struck down the male-only admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute. Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion for the case. Here's a preview from the film.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY SULLIVAN, VMI GRADUATE: VMI fought very hard to keep women out. I had an alumni walk up to me and he said, I'm not going to shake your hand. I want to know why you're here and why you decided to ruin my school.

RUTH GINSBERG, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I know that there were some people who did not react well to the change. And my response to this was, wait and see. You will be proud of the women who become graduates of VMI.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: Joining me is one of those graduates, Kelly Sullivan. She was in that clip. She's a graduate of the first coed class of cadets at VMI.

Thank you for joining me.

You were a pioneer at VMI, as the film lays out. In many ways, so was Justice Ginsburg. What does it take to be the first at something? I imagine that is a difficult task.

SULLIVAN: Yes, it absolutely is. And VMI is a tough school on your best day. And to couple that with being in the first female class of women at VMI, it was a very, very difficult experience. But for the most part, we knew that we were going to encounter some resistance when we got to the school from not only the alumni but the corps of cadets. And when you're in a situation like that, you don't know how to react. And the best thing to do is to take it day by day. That's exactly what all of the women did.

NOBLES: We just heard Justice Ginsburg respond to critics about the decision in the VMI case. She said 20 years ago, and she reiterated her point then that you'll be proud of the women who graduate from VMI. There have been a number of women that have graduated from VMI since you first entered there. Do you think she was proven right?

SULLIVAN: Oh, I think so. And I think the institute is very proud of its female graduates, as it is of its male graduates. We have women that are leading business, practicing medicine, law, politics and rising through the military ranks. We have women very successful in all areas of life. And I know the institute is proud of them, and I'm proud of the women that were able to stand by my side and the women that have graduated since because it's an extremely unique school. It's a very tough school. And when you come out of VMI, you are just imbued with a different level of discipline, respect and honor.

NOBLES: Was that part of your decision to want to go to VMI initially when you made that decision was that you couldn't get an education like that anywhere else and that's why it was important for women like you to have that opportunity?

SULLIVAN: Yes, absolutely. That's what Justice Ginsburg calls out in the majority opinion. She said there's no other educational experience like VMI, and that is so true. It has a very strict academic curriculum. The military system is extremely rigid. And physically, it's very demanding on a cadet. So, yes, absolutely. It's not like any other experience. It's not like the service academies. It's not like its sister school the citadel. It's unique in and of itself. And the people that graduate from VMI are a different breed of individuals. They come out of VMI with a stronger sense of self-awareness, self-worth and confidence.

NOBLES: And quickly, you did get the chance to meet Justice Ginsburg when she spoke at VMI. What was that meeting like?

SULLIVAN: It was extremely overwhelming for me. I got choked up in a couple of parts of the discussion. She is a very slight woman, very delicate, but don't be fooled. She's extremely intimidating to have moved the women's movement forward the way that she h and fight for equality. It's just an incredible feeling to be in her presence. So I was able to thank her for giving me an opportunity that I wouldn't have had anywhere else, and for putting me in a position to live a pretty beautiful life.

[12:00:01] NOBLES: Great.

Kelly Sullivan, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.