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Memorial Service for Senator John McCain in Washington, D.C. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 31, 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] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Dana, I was moved by so much of this, but especially seeing John McCain's 106-year-old mother, Roberta, there. You could see how moved she was. She is sitting right next to her, granddaughter, Meghan, only 33 years old. The two shared this enormous bond, this love of John m McCain.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was so human. It was a moment that everybody can relate to. Because it was a grandmother trying to comfort her granddaughter. A moment that people shouldn't be able to relate to, however, is a mother having to bury her son. The fact that she is still with us and she is -- she's in a wheelchair, but she's 106, and she still has so much verve. I got to see her briefly a few months ago.

That's Mark Salter, John McCain's long-time collaborator, almost like a son, very close.

But, yes, there's no question that the humanity of his mother and his daughter and the rest of the family watching.

But also the tributes that we heard really moving tributes, particularly from Paul Ryan, talking about the fact that he will take his children to the naval academy to see John McCain and say that this is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced.

BLITZER: It was a very moving moment from the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

S.E. Cupp, what did you think?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED": Yes, that was an incredible moment. Speaker Ryan and John McCain have similar streaks and appreciation for debate, stability, decency, honor, integrity. Another moment that Paul Ryan -- a memorable moment for me was when he thanked the family for their service. Not just Jack and Jimmy's military service. I presume for sharing this man with the rest of us, with this town, with the country. As I said earlier, you know, he has been a Senator as long as Meghan has been alive. So this family has long shared him. To thank them in particular I thought was a really lovely touch.

BLITZER: It was, indeed.

David Axelrod, you watched closely. We saw at the end, Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, well into his 90s, he was there as well. It was just a lot, a lot of emotion.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLIITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE AXE FILES": Wolf, I mean, the room was filled with political luminaries of both parties. It was extraordinarily moving. I found the family approaching the casket the most moving, more than anybody's words. The thing is that struck me as I was watching this was --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: By the way, this is former Senator Joe Lieberman and his wife --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- who was one of the best friends that Senator McCain had.

AXELROD: But if you were writing a novel about Washington today, you might start in this chamber that all of these people -- Speaker Ryan and Senator McConnell, who are managing this very tumultuous time, and maybe not living up in every way to John McCain's standards of the way things should run, the absence of the president, the vice president awkwardly saying the president asked me to be here. Rod Rosenstein, who is running this investigation, standing in front of Kellyanne Conway in the chamber. All of these people who are warring on normal days, coming together. It was really dramatic.

BLITZER: Yes. It certainly was.

Jamie?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I just -- to go back to what S.E. Cupp said about sharing, the family said about sharing with the public. The eulogies were wonderful. They really were. But as David just said, the moment where I needed Roberta McCain's Kleenex that we saw in her hand was when Cindy McCain first approached. You saw her forehead go down and touch her hand and saying good-bye. When Roberta McCain came up and turned to the security guard, the honor guard and appeared to be saying thank you to them. It's personal. It's their family. Here we have coming together both --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: This was the way it was moments ago.

GANGEL: This was the moment. This is their personal loss. He spent most of his time helping to take care of this country.

[11:35:01] BLITZER: David Gergen?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, the solemnity and dignity of this event really drives home how serious it is, how important it is. It also brings out the best in people. I thought it brought out the best in the speakers, especially, Mitch McConnell. One doesn't originally associate him with that kind of speech.

(LAUGHTER) At the same time, to be honest, I thought there was a big difference between yesterday and today.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That's Senator Lindsey Graham, one of his best friends as well.

GERGEN: He did a shave and haircut.

(LAUGHTER)

To come back to it, yesterday, which was meticulously planned by the Senator himself, had this real air of bipartisanship. We talked about that again about yesterday, 26 sitting or former Senators, 13 Democrats, 13 Republicans. Joe Biden, "I'm Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat, I love John McCain." You came away from that feeling that was an effort to unify. What was missing I thought in the eulogies today was a call to what that -- what those values were. It was a description more of his service and his bravery, but not what he stood for.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I suspect we will hear more tomorrow.

GERGEN: I think we will. But it was striking not to hear much of it today.

GANGEL: Except as Dana pointed out earlier, John McCain made sure that something bipartisan did happen today, which is a break with protocol. When they came up with the wreaths, he specifically asked for a Democrat and Republican to do it together, both on the Senate side and the House side. He got the message in.

BLITZER: That's why we saw Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer together with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan presenting the wreaths that we see there surrounding the casket.

BASH: Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, former Homeland Security.

Wow.

AXELROD: I want to also say, one of the other really moving images of the day was when the family was standing at the top of the capitol steps and Cindy McCain was flanked by her two sons in uniform. It just reminds us of the legacy of service of the McCain family that has extended to yet another generation.

BLITZER: We see the speaker of the House, the majority leader. The vice president of the United States paying their respects right now. The vice president representing the Trump administration.

BASH: Just as we watch Mitch McConnell, one of the first big legislative fights I covered was campaign finance reform in the early 2000s. And to see those two battle. surely, a really deep ideological differences on the idea of whether to reform the campaign finance system or not. McConnell was convinced it was a hindrance to free speech. McCain was convinced that it was hinderance -- that not doing anything was a hindrance to the way government and politics in general. Watching them fight for years, I never thought that the two of them would be able to reconcile. Not only did they reconcile, they reconciled in a big way. McConnell went to see him in Arizona and talked about it.

BLITZER: That's William Cohen, the former secretary of defense. He was a Republican Senator from Maine as well. He is there paying his respects as well.

You see John Bolton, the national security adviser, is there as well.

They are all going to be walking up to that casket, paying their respects.

GANGEL: I don't know if you saw it, Wolf, but at the beginning of the line was Defense Secretary John (sic) Mattis. They came up as a group. And also chief of staff, John Kelly, walking by.

(CROSSTALK)

GANGEL: So a whole group from the White House.

BLITZER: Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy. You see members of the Senate Democrats and Republicans paying their respect to this wonderful man, John McCain.

And it underscores, David Axelrod, his unique ability to bring people together. You were talking about campaign finance reform. Remember who his partner was on campaign finance reform.

AXELROD: Russ Feingold.

BLITZER: Russ Feingold. McCain-Feingold was the legislation. John McCain, a very conservative Republican, Russ Feingold, a liberal Democrat, but they worked together and tried to get something passed.

[11:40:09] AXELROD: There are a number of issues like that, immigration reform being another where he worked with Ted Kennedy.

BASH: His current Senate colleagues.

BLITZER: They are all there, basically. Susan Collins, you see her there, the Republican Senator from Maine.

They are all walking past this casket, paying their respect, honoring this great man, a man that as we heard the speaker of the House Paul Ryan say, quote, "This is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced," which is a factually accurate statement, Dana, because when you think about the five and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Two of those years in solitary confinement, in isolation, tortured. He could have left earlier because his father was head of the Pacific Command, but he stayed with his men. BASH: He did. We are looking at younger Senators coming to pay their

respects, Democrat and Republican -- John McCain made sure to mentor, made sure to impart on them and with them a sense of why he thinks America's place in the world and being aggressive and pushing Democratic values and traveling to get a firsthand look at what's going on in far-flung places is so important. To see them paying their respects.

BLITZER: You see so many representatives, Dana, of the Trump administration that are there, the vice president, national security adviser, secretary of defense, national security adviser. You see John Bolton with the white mustache walking out right there and others. Unfortunately, conspicuously missing, the president of the United States.

BASH: Conspicuously because that's what John McCain wanted. Very explicitly, to his family, to his friends, that he did not want President Trump there. Look, they had a very, very tense relationship starting from when Senator McCain said during the campaign that he ignited the crazies. Donald Trump shot back by saying that war heroes are those who aren't captured. That always bothered John McCain not so much because he couldn't take it but because of the way he felt it insulted so many people who are captured and handled themselves in an honorable way.

BLITZER: They are continuing to pay their respects.

It was very sad, S.E., last night, the president of the United States spoke for an hour and 10 minutes at a political rally in Indiana. An hour and 10 minutes and he never mentioned the name John McCain.

CUPP: It continues, the pattern since McCain announced the -- the family announced he was ending treatment, that this president has decided to be petty and small, everything that John McCain was not. As Dana mentioned, this is a -- they have had a long feud. What's so remarkable, of course -- it's been mentioned over and over again, is that John McCain feuded with lots of people. But he still maintained the respect. He respected them. It is clear that Senator McCain did not respect the president and the way the president treated people. So this final act of not inviting him, in fact, telling him, essentially, he is not welcome, I think is a reflection of that. Senator McCain can disagree while still respecting people as long as they earned that respect. This president did not.

AXELROD: You are so right, S.E.. You heard the speaker and the heard Senator McConnell talk about being on the receiving end --

CUPP: Right.

AXELROD: -- of John McCain, and probably every legislator in the room was familiar with that. Yet, he had that ability -- he spoke about it -- to have fierce disputes and be able to walk away and still respect people and work with them on other things. I sat down with him right before his illness was announced on my show. I asked him about the president. He said -- he was elected president of the United States and it's my job to what I can to get along with the president, but I cannot betray my principles and my values and things I believe in. It's a careful line to walk.

BLITZER: I can speak for Dana and Jamie. We were recipients of his anger from time to time as well, those of us in the news media that spent some quality time interviewing him, pressing him with tough questions. Always fair but tough questions. He didn't like some of the questions. He would get irritated.

Dana, I think you will agree, it didn't take long for him to get over it.

BASH: No, as soon as he started calling me a little jerk again, I knew we were fine.

(LAUGHTER)

[11:45:10] GERGEN: He had a problem with anger management from the time he was a child. It was said that he -- when he got angry, he would hold his breath.

BASH: He wrote about it.

GERGEN: He held his breath so long that he would pass out sometimes.

GANGEL: First of all, no one was immune from the other side. And I heard a young staffer the other day saying, yes, he was a hot head and then he started laughing. That's the point. Everybody got past it.

GERGEN: Self-described wise ass.

Strikingly, to go back to what David Axelrod was saying, he had very rough times in two presidential campaigns, first with George W. Bush, especially in South Carolina, and the aftermath of that. There was a lot of bitterness there on McCain's part. Similarly, with Barack Obama, he had a rough time. Both of them have been invited to speak here this weekend. Both will speak tomorrow. I think it speaks to John McCain and how he did manage most of his relationships. It makes the absence of the president here today and this weekend even more striking or glaring.

BLITZER: Members of the House and members of the Senate, representatives of the Trump administration, representatives of the U.S. military and eventually representatives of the diplomatic corps, the ambassadors here in Washington.

Let's not forget, Dana, he was so admired here in the United States. But John McCain was admired around the world. He had a lot of pals among the U.S. allies and certainly in other countries as well.

BASH: Yes. I read somewhere that they are thinking about naming the new NATO building after him because he was so fiercely supportive of international alliances, talking about how critical they are, certainly, post World War II, in sticking together. I mean, he went at dictators and went after people who they were being oppressed by and went out to see them as much as he could. Tried to make clear to them that he and others in America see their problems, hear their pain, and are trying to help. This is something that he did virtually every recess. In fact, in the first six months of 2017 alone, the first half of the president's first year in office, he traveled to 20- something countries, almost as a self-appointed ambassador for the U.S., trying to reassure allies that things were going to be OK.

CUPP: I think so remarkably, too, when it comes to his foreign policy, he was an unapologetic voice for franchising America and democracy overseas. At a time in his later career when there was an urge among some on the left and right to pull back, to withdraw. He loved this country so much and he loved what we stood for so much and he knew how important that was received abroad that he never changed that message. He always believed in the sort of importing of American democracy overseas.

BLITZER: Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold.

Ryan, you have a unique vantage point. You are right there. It was really significant when there was that bipartisan show of support for this great man with that -- the respective wreath ceremonies.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT; That's right, Wolf. There's been so much talk about how Senator McCain meticulously planned these series of events to look back on his long life and service to the country. What's interesting is that when dignitary is honored, there's a protocol in placement. You don't necessarily have to plan anything. It's already done a certain way. And the protocol states that only the leaders of only one party partake in that moment where they lay the wreath near the coffin. Senator McCain specifically asked that the leaders of both parties from both chambers participate in that exercise. Just another example of the symbolism that he wanted to be a part of this series of events.

And even though Senator McCain worked hard to meticulously plan every aspect of this, there's aspects of things that are out of his control. It seems as though even those things out of his control are playing into the narrative of this week.

If I can go back to that moment where his coffin was taken out of the hearse and then they took that long walk up the capitol steps here. And, Wolf, today, it was a very warm, humid day. It's back to being a very warm, sunny and humid day here in Washington, D.C. As the coffin was being brought out, we started to feel a few sprinkles and by the time the coffin was out, it was pouring rain. Heavy, thick, wet rain drops. That honor guard, as they often do -- this is not something they're unprepared for -- slowly and carefully made their way up those long capitol steps to take Senator McCain to where he was going to be lying in state.

Wolf, it seems as though every aspect of this day, just like everything we've seen up until this point and likely what we'll see going forward, has played perfectly into what Senator McCain would hope would be his final message to the people of the United States.

[11:50:44] BLITZER: Yes, you couldn't have made that up. Couldn't have been written. There you see the flag at half-staff up on Capitol Hill. Elsewhere in

the D.C. area, it was OK. But all of a sudden, when the casket was being removed from the hearse, it started to rain at the U.S. capitol. And it continued to rain, as Ryan points out, as the casket was being brought up by the U.S. military honor guard, representatives of the various branches of the U.S. military.

I'm going to play a clip. Once again, this is the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, speaking so movingly, so powerfully about John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: I think ahead to the day when I, like so many, will bring my own children and perhaps their children to that hallowed lawn in Annapolis. I think about that. I think about what I might say to them. This is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced. However you choose to do your part, I hope you do it the way he did, with energy and urgency, playing for keeps, never back on your heels, never letting principle yield to expedience, resisting the false allure of the fleeting, and battening down the hatches when things get rough, and always, always having a really good story to tell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dana, as we continue to see the live pictures coming in from the capitol rotunda, various individuals now paying their respects to John McCain. What Paul Ryan said, the outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives, was so, so true and so powerful.

BASH: That's right. We all kind of held our breath as he said that and pointed at the casket. Because he's a relatively young man, obviously retiring, but he has young kids. I think that that's what so many of us are thinking about, it that this is a moment in history, because of this man and how much he shaped American history and how much he represents what many people hope and view, maybe in a romantic way, much like John McCain viewed America in a romantic way, to be the best of what America has to offer. And so that, I think, is why all of us kind of pause when we heard that, because it's not just about people honoring him today but about making sure that he does have a place in history for the ideals that he represented for our children and their children.

BLITZER: Representative Charlie Dent, former Representative Charlie Dent, a CNN contributor, was there. He's joining us from Capitol Hill right now.

Give us your impressions, Charlie.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's obviously very emotional for all of us who had the honor to know and work with John McCain. I guess the only thing you can say is the man was a titan. He meant so much to so many people. So tough, such an institution to himself. I keep thinking we have to honor this man. If there's one thing that we can do, I think when he's laid to rest, let us not lay to rest his capacity for governance, his capacity for compromise. And too often, too many people around here and elsewhere consider those qualities as surrender or capitulation. But John McCain, he taught us. Our job right now is to try to, you know, do what he'd want us to do in these difficult times. And to lead and to show some courage and be like he was, fearless. So I really think that's what I'm taking from all this.

And to watch Henry Kissinger, who's here today, and you think about the international order that these men helped lead and accomplish and defend, and I just -- it really makes you appreciate that generation of leadership. It's very emotional to talk to your friends and celebrate this man's glorious life.

[11:55:08] BLITZER: So emotional, indeed.

I want to alert our viewers, the doors to the public, for a public viewing of Senator McCain as he lies in state at the U.S. capitol rotunda, are about to open.

Those doors, Dana, should remain open, we're told, until around 8:00 p.m. tonight. I assume a lot of folks are going to want to stand in line and pay their respects.

BASH: Absolutely. I mean, you saw what happened in Arizona, even in the 110-degree heat. People were lined up to pay their respects in his home state. I can't imagine it will be different here, probably even more intense.

BLITZER: This is a moment that a lot of people did not want to see. We all anticipated it would happen, once he was diagnosed with this severe form of brain cancer some 13 months ago. Then all of a sudden, it happens.

A final thought, S.E.?

CUPP: Well, I think in addition to all of the optimism, the tales of heroism, there's a fear underlying all of this that we'll never have another John McCain. And in so many ways, we won't because he is, you know, irreplaceable, admirable. But you just wonder if someone of his spirit of honor and dignity and decency and bipartisanship will come along. We hope, but it's uncertain.

BLITZER: I know you're going to have a special hour tomorrow night on your program here on CNN, 6:00 p.m. eastern, on John McCain. We'll look forward to that.

As this honor continues for the late U.S. Senator, we just want to alert our viewers, we're going to take a quick break. But when we come back, our Fredricka Whitfield is in Detroit. She'll pick up our special coverage of the funeral of the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:59:29] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We're in Detroit, and we are outside the Greater Grace Temple. (SINGING)