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Sen. John McCain Praised As A Patriot And American Hero; CNN "Reality Check": Senator McCain's Legacy Of Bipartisanship; Washington Post: Trump Rejected Statement Praising McCain. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:29] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Long ago, something unusual happened to me that taught me the most valuable lesson of my life.

I was blessed by misfortune. I mean that sincerely. I was blessed because I served in the company of heroes and I witnessed a thousand acts of courage and compassion and love.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Blessed by misfortune. What a poignant statement.

So the country is saying goodbye to Sen. John McCain today. Memorials are stretching over five days from his home in Arizona to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

What is his legacy after a lifetime of service?

Joining us now is retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA. He is a CNN national security analyst.

General, thanks so much for being here.


CAMEROTA: What are your thoughts and memories on John McCain and his legacy and what it will be?

HAYDEN: Yes. So, memories. First of all, he was a tough guy.

I had so many instances where I had to meet with the senator when I was particularly, director of CIA and there were several meetings where we were in strong disagreement. And he let you know what he believed in and why.

CAMEROTA: Like what? What would he tell you? What would he say to you?

HAYDEN: Well -- I mean, look, I was carrying the message. We were trying to change our detention and interrogation program. Take it out of the circumstances that it had been in right after 9/11 and adjust and modify it.

And obviously, someone with Sen. McCain's personal history -- if we could get him to our side and endorse the residual program, we thought that politically, and legally, and ethically we'd be in a very good place.

But he was a very, very tough negotiator and frankly, Alisyn, uncomfortable with some of the things that I was presenting.

Now despite all that -- despite all that toughness, it didn't interfere with the personal relationship. And for years afterwards, including after I left government, our paths would cross and we'd have pleasant, meaningful, serious conversations.

But Alisyn, there's one instance I had after I left government and the senator wasn't personally involved that I think captures what his legacy is.

I was in London. I was talking to two British friends who happened to be in Boston on the night of the 2000 election where President Obama defeated Sen. McCain.

[07:35:01] And bar in Boston where they were staying was absolutely raucous and full of Obama supporters. And they were observing all of this and they were waiting for the president to make his victory speech. But before they got to that, President McCain -- or Sen. McCain gave his concession speech.

And one man in the audience spoke up and said something intensely critical of the senator -- and you loser -- sit down -- and the bar erupted, telling that man to be quiet -- that the rest of these very pro-Obama supporters wanted to listen.

And one gentleman said be quiet and used an epithet. This is a hero. I want to listen to him.

And my British friends reflected on that and told me they learned a lot about America that night.

And so, I guess my sense of John McCain's legacy is that he pulled at the better angels of our nature throughout his entire career.

CAMEROTA: And so why do you think it is that President Trump doesn't respect John McCain's service?

HAYDEN: I think President Trump doesn't like Sen. McCain. I think President Trump envies Sen. McCain's history.

I think President Trump envies Sen. McCain's courage and -- much like several others things, like this whole Russian question -- can't get beyond self and simply act like the President of the United States needs to act when a hero passes.

CAMEROTA: General Mark Hertling -- another one of our CNN analysts whom you know, of course -- pointed out that Sen. McCain always wanted to go visit the troops and where the action was -- where the danger was. He didn't want a photo op.

Here's what Gen. Hertling tweeted.

"Every single picture of Sen. McCain with military personnel is in a faraway place where there was danger. He never used troops as backdrops in ceremonies. He came to us to see and feel and experience our world because that's what real leaders do, and we are all honoring him for it."

In fact, Gen. Hertling said that when he got to Mosul, which you see video of here, the general met him and said we weren't that happy that you were coming because it's spotty. You know, it's an active combat operation going on right now. And, John McCain said that's why I came.

HAYDEN: Alisyn, that's exactly right. In fact, he would go to places that if I were still in government I'd recommend that he'd not go simply because of the danger it represented to the senator.

And not just Mosul when it was still a zone of conflict, but he's been into Syria on the front lines with our folks and our Kurdish allies.

And again, you're right. Not a photo op.

He's there to tell them how much he believes in them and then to learn from them directly at the point of this fear. He was notorious for going way forward and meeting the troops.

CAMEROTA: President Trump has not done that. He has not gone to visit the troops where they are in some sort of active danger, active combat.

Is it important that a president do that?

HAYDEN: It's absolutely important that a president does that. And to not be critical, the president is spring-loaded to wrap himself in the flag and in patriotism.

But folks like me take more note of what it is he does with his time. Where it is he is willing to go in order to just meet with the folks who are out there truly defending the flag and American ideals.

CAMEROTA: General Hayden, thank you. Thank you very much.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: It's great to get your memories of John McCain -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Wonderful conversation. Thanks so much for that.

At the time of his passing, John McCain's approval rating was higher among Democrats than Republicans. How did that happen? We're going to get a CNN "Reality Check," next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:42:42] BERMAN: Senator John McCain leaves behind a political legacy of bipartisanship, but how did a Republican senator -- a one- time Republican nominee for president -- end up more popular with Democrats at the end of his life?

John Avlon joins us with a "Reality Check" -- John.


Look, Sen. John McCain's passing has been marked by an outpouring of love and respect across the political aisle, the kind usually reserved only for U.S. presidents. But, McCain's death also seems to mark an end of an era.

Today, principle compromise is considered a firing offense by many activists but McCain never shied away from it.

As he said in his last book, "The Restless Wave," "You're damn right, I'm a champion of compromise in the governance of a country of 325 million opinionated, quarrelsome, vociferous souls. There is no other way to govern an open society, or more precisely, to govern it effectively."

But there's a political cost to that common sense.

Last December, a CNN poll showed that the 2008 GOP presidential nominee was more popular among Democrats and Independents than Republicans. And if that seems odd -- well, it should.

After all, as our Harry Enten showed when he was at 5:30, McCain's vote in the Senate were reliably conservative. He voted with the GOP 87 percent of the time between 1987 and 2015 compared, for example, with a little less than 60 percent of the time for centrist Sen. Susan Collins of Maine over the course of her Senate career.

And, McCain received an American Conservative Union score of 81 on key votes over the last 30 years, only slightly less than the median Republican senator at 87.

He was an unapologetic western conservative -- anti-abortion, pro-gun rights, pro-military, fiscally conservative, and a hawk on foreign affairs.

But he broke with the GOP in key areas that some activists see as unforgivable.

He co-sponsored a campaign finance reform law with liberal Sen. Russ Feingold. He was outspoken about climate change and voted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001. And after 9/11, he denounced the Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques which he simply called torture.

He was part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that crafted immigration reform in 2013, which House Republicans never brought to a vote.

And, of course, as President Trump constantly reminds crowds, McCain voted against repealing Obamacare.

But what really explains his rejection by many Republicans, maybe that the GOP has gotten more conservative over the past 16 years. Gallup found that almost 70 percent of Republicans describe themselves as conservative as compared to moderate or liberal Republicans.

[07:45:12] Now, by comparison, only half of Democrats identify themselves as liberal, though that number has jumped from 30 percent just a decade ago. And nearly half of Independents describe themselves as moderate.

During his 2000 campaign, McCain declared, quote, "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics." But over the course of McCain's career, the Senate became more divided and more dysfunctional.

It's worth remembering that when John F. Kennedy wrote "Profiles in Courage" he honored senators who bucked their base to vote their conscience. That requires an independence of thought and action that McCain exemplified. But it's precisely that quality that has become MIA in Congress today.

As the tributes to McCain show, heroes really never die but they are in short supply.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: And just to be clear, it is a Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer asking a Senate office building be named after John McCain?

AVLON: That's right. A fascinating proposal from Chuck Schumer to rename the Russell Senate Office Building in honor of John McCain.

Senator Russell, a Democrat from Georgia but a staunch segregationist who fought civil rights.

Now, Jeff Flake, who's McCain's Arizona Senate colleague, has already said he'd be honored to be first Republican to co-sponsor it, but no word yet on whether Mitch McConnell will get behind that bill.

But a fascinating proposal and I think an honorable sign of the bipartisanship that McCain tried to exemplify.

CAMEROTA: Well, this is the thing, John. I mean, he embodied the bipartisanship, as you say, and the compromise, but it's hard to say this morning as we search for his legacy that that's his legacy when it's not on display today.

So he embodied it -- I mean, that is his spirit -- but we're not seeing that.

AVLON: I'd argue that his legacy is formed in differentiation in contrast with the current political climate. Indeed, with the current president. It's that contrast that I think makes it stand out, but I think years past it would have been almost taken for granted.

BERMAN: That absence even more acute because of it.

John Avlon, thanks so much.

AVLON: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: President Trump releasing a one-sentence statement about the death of John McCain and reportedly rejecting an official White House release that would praise the senator for his service and his heroism.

Why would he reject such a thing? We're going to ask his former legislative director, next.


[07:51:30] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: We need each other. We need friends in the world and they need us. The bell tolls for us, my friends.

Humanity counts on us and we ought to take measured pride in that. We have not been an island, we were involved in mankind.


BERMAN: The life and legacy of Sen. John McCain being honored around the world this morning.

But, "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump rejected a statement that specifically praised the late senator for his service in Vietnam and his service in the United States Senate.

Instead, the president sent out a very short tweet, really sending his sympathies to the family -- the McCain family -- but nothing about the senator himself.

Joining me now is Marc Short, President Trump's former White House legislative affairs director, now a CNN political commentator.

Marc, you worked as a Senate staffer for some time. You are a career Republican.

I just want to get a sense of your personal feelings about the passing of John McCain.

MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Well, John, I think that it's an American hero who served our country nobly. I think it's an important time for America to reflect on his amazing sacrifice to our country, not just in uniform in his time as a prisoner of war but also his time serving in Congress.

So it's a great celebration of life, I'd like to believe.

BERMAN: American hero, you thanked him for his sacrifice and the service to our country.

You, Marc Short, are not the President of the United States. The person who is the President of the United States could not find it in himself to say any of those words that you have just said.

Are you disappointed by the president rejecting a fulsome statement of gratitude to Sen. John McCain?

SHORT: John, I think it's important to keep in mind a couple of things.

The president did express his condolences to the family.


SHORT: You saw yesterday several members of his cabinet, including Sec. Mattis --

BERMAN: They're not the president. They're not the president.

SHORT: I'm not finished, John.

The vice president all issued statements that would have been approved by the president before they went out.

I think that it's a little bit of a situation of a catch-22 because John candidly -- if the president put out a fiery statement about John McCain's life, the media would criticize it and say it is not consistent with the other things he's said in the past and it would become a story about the president.

The best thing the president can be doing right now is allow the family to get the opportunity to celebrate his life and to mourn his loss, and to not inject the president into this.

And so, the media's looking to bring the president into this. I think it's actually respectful for the president to give it space and distance and to allow the family its opportunity to celebrate John McCain's life.

BERMAN: He did send his sympathy to the family but you're saying it is more respectful somehow to the legacy of John McCain for the president not to --

SHORT: John, I think --

BERMAN: -- thank him for his service?

SHORT: No. What I'm saying is it's most respectful if the media keeps the focus of this on John McCain's life --

BERMAN: And we are.

SHORT: -- rather than making this about President Trump. And I think that that's where we should be focused -- is celebrating John McCain's life. BERMAN: Well look, the president is not celebrating John McCain's life. The president distinctly rejected a statement which celebrated John McCain's life.

And I understand what you're saying. The two have a history.

When someone passes it is generally an expression of humanity. This isn't about politics. This is about being a human being with feelings to express gratitude, particularly for someone who led the life the likes of which John McCain led.

SHORT: Right, and I shared with you, John, my personal opinions that John McCain's life and our opportunity to celebrate it.

But I do think that the president's in a -- in a position that if he puts out something that is considered inconsistent with statements the two of them had back and forth, the media will make that a different story. And right now, I think it's appropriate to keep --

[07:55:06] BERMAN: Well --

SHORT: -- the focus on John McCain and his family.

BERMAN: The reason it might be inconsistent is do you think that President Trump thinks that Sen. McCain was a hero?

SHORT: You know, John, I think that the two of them had obviously a very tense relationship back and forth.

I do recall after the first few months of the presidency, the president hosted Sen. McCain and his bride over at the White House. Everything seemed to be very cordial.

In fact, the president subsequently nominated Cindy McCain for a Senate-confirmed position at the Department of State that she had to withdraw once her husband was so ill.

So there was a moment that I think there was hope for a detente but obviously, there were issues in the last 12 months that continued to spiral and created more tensions.

BERMAN: Hey, Mark, I have to ask you -- if you were disappointed in the president, could you tell us?

I understand that there are members -- and you did work on the campaign, particularly for the vice president during the campaign -- who signed non-disparagement agreements. I'm not sure if you signed one. Did you sign one?

SHORT: John, I signed a document that says that I would not reveal national security secrets. I would not discuss private, confidential conversations with the president.

If I were to write a tell-all book, the benefits would go to the federal government and not to me personally. But before I signed any contract with CNN, I had a personal lawyer contact White House ethics lawyers to get confirmation that I could come on television and give my unvarnished and honest opinion, which is what I'm doing.

BERMAN: So if you were disappointed in how the president has reacted --

SHORT: Yes, absolutely -- absolutely.

BERMAN: -- about it, you would tell us?

SHORT: John, I think on your network I've already had instances where I've talked about the mixed messages that were conveyed in Charlottesville. I've conveyed disagreements at times.

But I think that this is one in which we have to accept that the president issued his tweet and acknowledged condolences to the family.

I think that many members of his administration were very close to John McCain. I went to that yesterday on one of your shows to talk about the relationship that Mike Pence had.

And Mike Pompeo, when we called him to invite him to come and interview for CIA director, he was actually on a codel with John McCain at the time.

I think that Sec. Mattis was one of his closest friends and John McCain, I remember, being very excited about Mattis' nomination, as well as obviously, Gen. Kelly.

BERMAN: What does it say about the state of politics in this country where the President of the United States is on the outside of collective -- this collective sense of sympathy and mourning that the country's going through?

SHORT: Again, I think that there's a challenge as to what you publicly express versus saying what is on the inside or the outside, John.

BERMAN: Well look, you don't actually think that the president's hiding some deep sympathy and gratitude for John McCain on the inside and he's not saying it out loud.

SHORT: No, I think the president's -- I think the president's pretty open about his emotions pretty frequently with the American people. So, no, I don't think it's -- I don't think I'm suggesting that he's hiding --

BERMAN: I guess what I'm getting a here, Mark, and you know this, that one of the things that a president does is he or she is a mourner in chief. At these moments when the country wants to come together, whether it be to mourn or to thank or to feel, the president is at the center of it --

SHORT: Right. BERMAN: -- but not now. He can't step up and stay thank you, John McCain, for your service. He wouldn't even do it when he signed the defense authorization.

SHORT: John, I guess a question back -- well, a question back to you would be if the president were to take those steps would the media cover that and say hey, what a great -- what a graceful statement by the president or would they simply go and dissect his statements and say that it's a disingenuous statement and here's all the things --

BERMAN: You know --

SHORT: -- that they've disagreed with on the past, as opposed to simply saying let's keep the focus on Sen. McCain's family and allow them to celebrate his life without injecting more politics into this?

BERMAN: I think what the media would say is the two had a history but at a moment of passing and at this moment where the whole country is expressing their gratitude, the president stepped up the plate and did the same.

I get the sense he didn't even take one step toward that plate and he rejected a statement written by, among others, Sen. Kelly (sic) and the press secretary.

SHORT: John, we don't know -- we don't know what was in that statement. I saw "The Washington Post" story --

BERMAN: Well, we understand the reports are -- the reports are all --

SHORT: I saw "The Washington Post" story.

BERMAN: There were -- all the reports are -- and it was even -- they didn't go out on a limb. All it said is thank you for your service in the Senate and expression of gratitude --

SHORT: I don't think --

BERMAN: -- to his service of the country.

SHORT: I don't think you've --

BERMAN: He was a POW for 5 1/2 years. This is not some --

SHORT: I don't think you've seen that statement and I don't think I have either.

BERMAN: You haven't? But if it said that, do you think it's the kind of thing that would be a problem for the senator -- the president to sign?

SHORT: Look, John, I just told you what I believe that John McCain is an American hero who served our country nobly.

So no, I think that that's a perfectly appropriate sentiment to express and I think you saw that expressed by multiple people in the president's cabinet.

BERMAN: We thank you for being with us and we thank you for sharing your personal feelings which I know are heartfelt. Anyone who served -- worked in the Senate as a staffer or worked in that situation shares those feelings with you.

Marc, thanks for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.

SHORT: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me on.

BERMAN: All right, we are following a lot of news this morning so let's get to it.


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

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: 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.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: He taught me so much about national security, even when we didn't always agree.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you were his friend, he would stand up for you.