Return to Transcripts main page


Remembering the Life & Legacy of John McCain. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 06:00   ET



SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It's tough to imagine the Senate without him.

[05:59:18] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He went every place, every place that no one else would go, to stand up for America.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When he joins the fight, he sticks to the bitter end.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: If you were his friend, he would stand up for you. He didn't like the personal attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House has prepared a draft statement, and the president nixed it.

JOHN MCCAIN (R), FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR: I'm very happy with what I've been able to do. I am able to celebrate a wonderful life.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, August 27, 6 a.m. here in New York, and leaders from around the world are remembering Senator John McCain's life and legacy today. From Navy pilot to war hero to a six-term senator and presidential nominee.

McCain will be honored for five days in various cities this week. It's a schedule that John McCain planned himself, knowing this was coming. Memorials will be held in his home state of Arizona, and later in the week the senator will lay in state at the U.S. Capitol before he is laid to rest at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

So throughout the morning on the program, we will be speaking with John McCain's friends and colleagues.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: People with empathy, compassion and respect. On the other hand, CNN has learned that the White House drafted a statement for President Trump, specifically praising Senator McCain, but it was never sent out. "The Washington Post" says the release called McCain a hero and talked about his service to the country. Chief of staff John Kelly wanted it sent out. Press secretary Sarah Sanders wanted it sent out. Other aides wanted it sent out. But the president did not. He rejected it, "The Post" says.

Instead he sent out a short tweet that never mentioned the senator's four-decade career in the Senate, nor his service and sacrifice in Vietnam. And he put out an Instagram post with a photo of himself instead of John McCain.

The president's words and actions, while predictable in their smallness, are not reflective of the depth of emotion being felt around the country, the feeling of loss around the world, and a sense of gratitude to a man who tried to make the world better.

To the McCain family, we're sorry for your loss. To America, we're sorry for our loss.

We have it all covered for you this morning, starting with CNN's Stephanie Elam, live in Phoenix, Arizona, with the very latest -- Stephanie.


All throughout the weekend, people were coming to the senator's cabin in Sedona to drop flowers, to drop flags as this state is mourning the loss of one of their iconic sons.


ELAM (voice-over): In Arizona and Washington, D.C., flags fly at half-staff, honoring decorated Vietnam War hero, prisoner of war and six-term Republican Senator John McCain.

Groups of people gathering along the road to pay their respects as the two-time presidential candidate was transported to Phoenix after succumbing to brain cancer.

FLAKE: It's tough to imagine the Senate without him. It's tough to imagine politics without John McCain.

ELAM: On Wednesday, McCain will lie in state at the Arizona capital on what would have been his 82nd birthday. On Thursday, a memorial service will be held at North Phoenix Baptist Church, where former vice president Joe Biden is expected to speak, according to "The Washington Post."

JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John is a man of significant intellect, deep conviction, and unmatched character.

ELAM: Departing Arizona for the last time, the late senator's body will then be taken to Washington, D.C., where he will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.

On Saturday, his funeral will be held at Washington's National Cathedral, where sources say McCain's two past rivals, former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, will eulogize the decorated lawmaker, known for his spirit of bipartisanship, detailed in his final book, "The Restless Wave."

MCCAIN: Before I leave, I'd like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations. I'd like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different.

ELAM: President Trump is not expected to attend the funeral. Sources told CNN months ago that McCain did not want him there.

On Sunday, a private memorial before McCain is laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy next to his long-time friend and former classmate, Admiral Chuck Larson.

Senator McCain's death prompting an outpouring of support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a true American hero.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: We will really be missing such an important voice for national unity.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: He had a joy about politics and a love for his country that was unmatched.

ELAM: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announcing he'll introduce a resolution to rename the Russell Senate Building after McCain.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I'd like, decades from now, little children to ask their parents, "Who was John McCain?" And they'll explain his sacrifice, his patriotism, and most of all, his fidelity to do the right thing as he saw it.

ELAM: A sign of the senator's global posture: glowing tributes also pouring in from a number of world leaders who praise McCain's commitment to international alliances like NATO.

A number of White House aides also honoring McCain despite his contentious relationship with President Trump. But from the president himself, one sole tweet, referring only to McCain's family.

A source telling CNN that the White House did draft a more comprehensive statement that aides expected would be released upon McCain's passing, but as the president spent Sunday golfing, it never went out.


[06:05:07] ELAM: And while it's worth noting that there was just that one short tweet from President Trump directed to McCain's family, all other living presidents have come out with lengthy statements about John McCain, the man he was, the patriot he was. And it's important, John, to keep this in context, because he did not always agree with those presidents, but yet, they still felt the need, and were compelled, to honor him in his passing.

BERMAN: Leaders around the country, leaders around the world. In some ways, this collective sense of sympathy being outsourced.

Stephanie Elam, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy came from different political parties. They held many different views, but the two men had great affection for each other. They became such close friends, with McCain speaking at Senator Kennedy's memorial service nine years ago.


MCCAIN: He was good company, excellent company. I think I'm going to miss him more than I can say. We disagreed on most issues, but I admitted -- but I admired his passion for his convictions, his patience with the hard and sometimes dull work of legislating, and his uncanny sense for when differences could be bridged and his cause advanced by degrees.


BERMAN: Joining me now is Patrick Kennedy. He's the youngest son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy and a former U.S. Congressman from Rhode Island.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. I know that Senator McCain died nine years to the day after your own father, so this has to bring up many emotions for you and your family. So for that, we're sorry.

I was in the room when Senator John McCain eulogized your father like that. And what jumped out to me nine years ago and what I'm reminded of this morning is when he said, "I think I'm going to miss him more than I can say." When John McCain said that out loud nine years ago, you felt that he meant it. And this morning I think America feels the same way about John McCain. I think we're going to miss him more than we can say.

What are you going to miss about John McCain?

PATRICK KENNEDY, SON OF SEN. TED KENNEDY: Well, thanks, John. You really point to the essential element about John McCain, and that he's been an institution, someone who we can't ever take for granted, especially in times like this, when the kind of statesmanship that he offered is so appreciated; and missing that voice in a time where so many people appear to be so petty is going to be something I think all Americans mourn. They mourn the man, but they mourn what his message was to this country. And that was that we ought to strive to be better.

And no one could deliver that message with more authenticity than a great American war hero who had dedicated his life on behalf of his country. He articulated a message of values, and you knew that they weren't platitudes to John McCain. They were heartfelt.

And that's what people connected to. They knew he spoke from a place of integrity. He believed what he said. He didn't suffer fools very well.

I had the privilege of serving on the Armed Services Committee with him, and I recall, we had many members who wanted to beat their chest about being tough on Vietnam, you know, 40 years after the fact. And John McCain was like, "No, we need to have reconciliation."

He wasn't looking for the quick popularity. He was really in it for the real, essential truth of whatever the issue was that he was advocating for.

I'm so proud that he received the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award. Because he exhibited those profiles in courage throughout his life, on many different issues. And of course, on that issue, it was campaign finance reform. He understood that money was destroying democracy. And he cared about this country. And, you know, he focused on those issues that were really undermining what made this country great.

And so that is why Americans so mourn this man, and why we will always remember him for who he was.

BERMAN: Your father was a real old-fashioned liberal. John McCain, a true Reagan Republican in every sense of the word. How do you explain their genuine friendship and what do you want people to know about it?

KENNEDY: Well, they both recognized and loved each other's passion. I mean, for my father's part, everyone knew how passionate he was. And that was known for John McCain. He really loved the fight, but he never let that get in the way of respect. And that is what was missing in today's politics, is that genuine respect for democracy, and then for the people who dedicate themselves to democracy.

He knew that my father cared for this country. He knew my father had lost his brothers for this country. He knew that my father was part of this country, and he respected that. And my father genuinely loved and respected John McCain. It's an example of what we need today again, and that is that even though they disagreed, they were always searching for ways to put their country ahead of their party.

And it sounds so trite, but no, not at all. And these days that we're living in, we really need people to have that as their goal. Both of them used to take their issues and then find out where they overlapped and then knew they had to work on those issues where they overlapped, rather than spending all their time disagreeing on those issues that they different. And that is a rule of thumb that we definitely need more of in the United States Senate and the United States Congress.

BERMAN: Anyone who ever heard, by the way, your father laugh or John McCain laugh would not be surprised at all that the two became friends, because the joy of laughter and the joy of life that they both exhibited make them naturals to have been together.

You were talking about finding that common ground. And something that John McCain said about your father jumps out at me. He said, "His uncanny sense for when differences could be bridged and his cause advanced by degrees." That's what you're talking about, the ability to find ways to get something done even when there are disagreements.

And as I'm looking at pictures on the screen of your father with John McCain, I think it does beg the question. Is that lost forever? Can this ever exist again?

KENNEDY: It absolutely can. The Founding Fathers of our country, which now include John McCain and all of those who dedicated themselves to the principle that our Founding Fathers had for the United States Senate, particularly, is that it was the cup that -- the saucer that held the cup so that it wouldn't be too hot.

Democracy's passions can get over-zealous. And we need some cooling off and better minds to prevail so that we could come to compromise.

You know, politics is a substitute for violence. And everywhere else in the world, they've never quite gotten that reconciliation. America is the longest surviving democracy, and yet, it's not that long a period in the total history of this world. And so we cannot take for granted that the normal in this country is democracy and us talking to one another.

So I hate to kind of say this, but I think John McCain would want it constantly said, that the real heroes in this country are the ones that are not scoring political points for partisanship, but that are trying to fight to have our national interests prevail over our partisan ones. And he was a fierce partisan, as was my father, but they understood the higher calling.

And I appreciate your comments about them both laughing. They had a great sense of the reverence for the thought that you could have a great personal relationship and still fight it out on the politics.

BERMAN: Congressman Patrick Kennedy, thanks so much for being with us. Thank you for sharing your memories of the late Senator John McCain, as well as that of your father. Really appreciate you having [SIC] here this morning.

KENNEDY: I appreciate being on, John. Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: And by the way, John, I mean, that symmetry of their death dates, and the fact that they died of the very same disease, I mean, I don't know. I see -- I think symmetry like that is -- I think that sometimes that happens, and I think that yesterday, certainly, I heard a lot of people noting it.

BERMAN: And Congressman Kennedy has noted before that some of the first calls that Ted Kennedy got when he got his prognosis some ten years ago was from Senator McCain. Senator McCain always very close to the entire Kennedy family all through that.


BERMAN: I mean, there is a symmetry here. And decency, as Congressman Kennedy said, decency is the norm, or should be. Everything else is an aberration.

CAMEROTA: We're bringing it back today on our program as the country pays tribute to McCain.

President Trump is taking a different tack. We'll explore why.



[06:18:52] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: How do you want the American people to remember you?

MCCAIN: He served his country, and not always right. I made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors, but served his country, and I hope they could add honorably.


CAMEROTA: Senator John McCain discussing his legacy with Jake Tapper last year. Now, after his death on Saturday, dozens of glowing statements from leaders around the world honoring him. CNN can report, however, that the White House drafted a statement of praise for McCain's record, but President Trump didn't want it released.

Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot, who worked as a foreign policy campaign advisor during McCain's 2008 presidential run; and CNN political analyst David Gregory. Great to have all of you.

Max, you worked with him on the 2008 campaign. Can you share with us your thoughts today?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I'm -- you know, I'm devastated, Alisyn. I knew this was coming, but it's still a huge blow, because you know, remember back to the fact that John McCain was first elected to Congress in 1982. I mean, I'm not a young guy any more, but I was 13 years old when he was first elected to Congress, and it's just hard for me to imagine an America and a Senate without John McCain. I mean, he just stood for all the principles I believed and so many other Americans believed in.

[06:20:05] And he didn't just stand for those principles; he exemplified those principles. He lived those principles in a way that very few other people can do. And he just towered over politics in my lifetime. He was the greatest man I ever knew and one of the greatest this country has ever produced. And so it's just hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that he's not going to be around anymore.

BERMAN: And Max, you note, as you eulogize him, as you would at any time, that his passing, which would be tragic at any time, you think is even sadder now?

BOOT: Absolutely, because he embodied all the values that we so desperately need and that are missing in this current White House. I mean, you have a president who appeals to the lowest among us, who divides us, who traffics in demagoguery, who caters to isolationism and protectionism, and kowtows the dictators. And this is the opposite of everything that John McCain stood for. He was a freedom fighter above all. That was what he devoted his life

to, to fighting for people's freedom, because he knew how precious it was because he himself had been denied his freedom for more than five and a half years. And so -- and he really stood for the better angels of our nature. He stood up for what made America great and fought for it and risked everything.

And above all, as you had that clip where he said that he served his country. He truly, really did. He did not serve his ego; he did not serve his narrow self-interest. He served his country. And often, he did it at the expense of his own personal interest and not just his body that he put on the line in Vietnam but his political career that he put on the line time and time again. And that's an example that is desperately needed and completely missing in our politics today.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And with honor. You heard him say there, "I hope, with honor." Honor is a word that McCain exemplified. It is a word that has gone out of our politics, and not only by the dishonorable action of President Trump not putting out that statement. Profiles in courage are an endangered species in Congress. You know, Senator McCain exemplified that, as well.

And you just see the outpouring, the bipartisan tributes from leaders around the world, from his former captors in Vietnam, and not from the American president.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, of course, you've covered John McCain. You've covered George W. Bush. And George W. Bush put out a statement, so let me just read a portion of it.

"Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it's hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order. He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I'll deeply miss. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathies to Cindy and the entire McCain family, and our thanks to God for the life of John McCain."

I mean, I don't have to remind you, David, that they had a very contentious -- I guess is the least I could say -- battle for the presidency. And there were dirty tricks used against John McCain, and John McCain rose above. And he was able to get on board with the agenda of what President Trump [SIC] wanted -- sorry President Bush at the time wanted.

And then just contrast it to here is President Trump's tweet, not a statement: "My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you."

Your thoughts, David.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, so going back to President Bush, I mean, they had a nasty battle. The nastiest part of it was in South Carolina during that primary. I remember, Jay Carney and John Dickerson wrote a piece for "TIME" magazine, a cover story called "Hardball." And it was the hardball tactics used by the Bush campaign, including people who they denied were part of the campaign who employed some really nasty stuff to go after John McCain.

And there was a time, even in the course of that campaign, where their reconciliation politically was such a big story, because McCain had his own independent power base within the Republican Party, within the media and elsewhere.

But they ultimately came together and were allies, of course. And President Bush gave his his blessing at the White House, notably in the Rose Garden, when John McCain would become the standard bearer of the Republican Party in 2008.

But what was striking about McCain, and that was true in the Bush years and in the Obama years, was that he believed that you had to be a check, as a senator, on any administration. And of course, we see that with such eloquence and such passion.

Now in his death, and how he will continue to speak to the country about the Trump presidency and all the things that it represents that run counter to what John McCain represented and what he stood for.

So that idea, that he believed, as a senator and as a political figure in this country, that you should be a check on any administration, sometimes it made him unpopular, but he always did it. And I think that's a lasting legacy.

The other piece that I think is so interesting to think about this morning is that John McCain, as a senator, as a presidential candidate, as the Republican nominee in 2008, he had a ringside seat to the populism that was growing in this country. And in many ways, he contributed, in some ways, to it by elevating Sarah Palin, who was kind of a canary in the coal mine about the populism of Donald Trump back in 2008.

[06:25:31] So he saw this. He got close to it. He had regrets about Palin. He understood the -- the power of it, and then spoke out against it.

So he's just been -- he's been so close to all the important currents in our politics for generations now.

BERMAN: It really is interesting. And I guarantee you that statement written by George W. Bush was not hard for him to write. In the sense that it was easy for him to come up with those nice things to say, those warm things to say, those genuine things to say, even though I've heard him swear about -- about John McCain. I mean, these guys really did not like each other at all in a way that --

CAMEROTA: During the campaign.

BERMAN: During the campaign. During the campaign. And the reconciliation was complicated at best, as David Gregory says.

Max, to you and your area of expertise. I'm also just blown away by the outpouring of sentiment from around the world. You know, Emmanuel Macron with a really unbelievable statement today. Freedom fighters around the world, as Mark Salter noted in his piece over the weekend. You know, these are people who always knew they had a champion in John McCain.

BOOT: That is truly what he devoted his life to, is to opposing despotism and championing freedom. And he did it; he was tireless in that cause.

I mean, during congressional recesses when other members are going home, he was going to places like Ukraine and Georgia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was on the front lines of freedom all the time, in part because he believed in tending to American alliances. He was a leader in transatlantic relations, which are now in such a dire state. He believed it was so incredibly important to attend to that world order that America created after World War II.

But he also believed that not just to tending to our democratic allies, but to standing up for embattled democrats in repressive countries, which he did, whether it was in Burma or Russia, or anywhere else around the world. He was really somebody who -- they always knew they had a champion in -- in John McCain, which is why it's so tragic that today we have a president who has nothing but kind words for dictators, and has nothing to say about their victims.

I mean, it was just really telling to me that just a few days ago, Donald Trump tweeted warmest regards and respect for Kim Jong-un, one of the worst dictators on the planet, somebody whose human rights abuses John McCain spent years criticizing. And so Donald Trump has warmest regards and respect for Kim Jong-un, but he has nothing positive to say about an American hero like -- like John McCain.

AVLON: What I think is so important to keep in mind is that, to some extent, this is an aberration. Yes, you know, John McCain was an early warning system for some of these forces. You know, he famously said in 2000, in a speech at Virginia Beach, that neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of politics.

He witnessed the Senate become more polarized. But he always became a bridging force, as conservative as he was. But he represented that Teddy Roosevelt Republican tradition so powerfully and so effectively. And even though many of those folks feel politically homeless today, he was able to embody them in action and word without ever adopting a false perfection. He understood that what makes heroes even more compelling is when they're not pretending to be perfect. He was authentic in a way that didn't require that veneer of populism, but instead really just was about heroism and honor.

BERMAN: Guys, stand by. We're going to talk much more about this in just a second. We're going to talk about what politics looks like without John McCain. What his role, what his passing means. Could be that the Republican Party, John, has already moved way past Senator McCain. We'll be right back.