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Memorials Begin for McCain; Graham Gives Emotional Tribute; Trump Revived Idea to Fire Sessions; Heat at U.S. Open; Death Toll Revised in Puerto Rico. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 29, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


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[06:30:33] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Five days of memorials and tributes celebrating the life of Senator John McCain begin today on what would have been his 82nd birthday. In a few hours, he will lie in state in Arizona's capitol and be honored by some of his closest colleagues.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is live for us in Phoenix.

What are we expecting, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Well, we know it's going to start just before 10:00 a.m. local time here where we will see Senator McCain's motorcade arriving here at the state capitol. Obviously Mrs. McCain, Cindy McCain, will be here, as well as their immediate family. A private ceremony will begin just about 10:00 a.m. and there you'll see remarks made by Senators John Kyle, also Governor Ducey, who will also be meeting Mrs. McCain here when she arrives here at the state capitol. And the benediction will be given by Senator Jeff Flake.

Now, after this happens, Mrs. McCain and the family will be lead up to the casket to -- for a viewing, and then there will be a procession of invited family members and guests. And then after that, at 2:00 p.m. local time, then we will see the doors will open to the public. And they're saying as long as people are standing in line to come in and pay their respects to the late senator, they will keep those doors open.

And after that, tomorrow, there will be another memorial service, this one at a Baptist church north of here. And that's where we expect to hear from former Vice President Biden -- sorry, Biden will also be there. He's expected to speak.

And then after that the senator will leave his adopted state of Arizona for the last time and make his way to D.C., where he will lie in state there. And then there will be a funeral service at the National Cathedral. And then, on Sunday, he will be laid to rest. And that will be in Annapolis.

So you're seeing throughout his life, John, he wanted bipartisan. And you're seeing that play out as he's going to have two former presidents speaking, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, there in D.C. So it's playing out with what he wanted in his final wishes after he passed.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Stephanie Elam for us in Phoenix. Stephanie, thanks so much.

One of Senator McCain's closest friends tearing up on the Senate floor. How Lindsey Graham honored the man he was so close to, next.

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[06:36:49] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So, our friend, you did it. You lived in the shadow of a four star father and a four star grandfather. You always worried, would you disappoint. You did not. To Cindy and the children, thank you for making me part of the clan. To team McCain, you taught me what loyalty is all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That is Senator Lindsey Graham taking to the Senate floor to honor his dear friend, John McCain, just days after his death. Later today, a five-day tribute will begin in his home state of Arizona.

So we are back now with Toluse Olorunnipa. Let's bring in former White House press secretary under President Clinton and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart.

Boy, Lindsey Graham just sure puts a lump in your throat, Joe.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I mean that is -- because you know the history, and how close they were. I mean, you know, I've said it before when I was on the Straight Talk Express in 2000, those guys -- I mean he was with him every day. you know, he supported John McCain in his presidential bid every day out of love, you know, for the senator.

LOCKHART: Yes. No, the speech on the floor reminded me of a younger brother more than anything else. Not a senator, a younger brother who had lost, you know, the -- kind of the guiding light. And they have that kind of relationship. And it's -- you know, it's particular in these times. It is still special when you see the -- when you see that relationship in politics.

BERMAN: Friendship's a beautiful thing.

LOCKHART: Yes.

BERMAN: You know, I'm not so sure that this has anything to do with politics. I mean it does to an extent. But Lindsey Graham lost a dear, dear friend. And it was very emotional and very moving to see him talk about it, period. CAMEROTA: Yes. And also, you know, he -- they were so funny, both of

them, you know are so funny individually and so fun together. And they had sort of a shtick, you know, where they could make fun of each other. And Lindsey Graham, we don't have it, but he touched on that. He said that John McCain told a few dumb jokes over and over, which we know he did, and that what Lindsey Graham said is the more he humiliated you, the more he liked you. In that regard, I was well served.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I mean, just even in his grief, you know, Toluse, that he's just capturing that spirit, I think, of their friendship.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Yes, definitely. And that tearful response from Senator Graham sort of harkens back to an old era in the Senate where, you know, you'd have sort of these smoke filled rooms and the comradery that was built across the aisle and people who spent a lot of time together and really were able to build up a rapport. Not -- you don't see that quite as much these days. There's a lot of acrimony in the Senate. There's a lot of public back-biting and attacks on one another.

But this was a true friendship. And as we saw on -- during the town hall that featured Senator McCain and Senator Graham last year on CNN, Senator Graham said, you know, I love the guys, I love him, he'll die for this country and he's a true friend. And that's the type of tribute that we saw on the Senate floor and we will continue to see for the next few days as Senator McCain is lauded and honored for his decades of service in our country.

BERMAN: One tribute we might not see is having the Russell Senate Office Building named after Senator John McCain. This is something that Chuck Schumer, the minority -- the Democratic leader proposed, but it's exactly catching fire inside the Senate. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, wants to put together this blue ribbon panel to figure out how to honor John McCain. There are other Republican senators who openly said, well, we're not so sure that's a good idea.

[06:40:11] I'm sort of surprised, Joe. You know, Richard Russell was a Democratic leader for a long time, made a lot of changes to this country, but he was a staunch segregationist.

LOCKHART: Sure.

BERMAN: I don't quite see why it would be controversial to change the name of the building for John McCain.

LOCKHART: Well, I mean we live in a time where we have a president whose constantly sending messages to, if not white nationalists, to people who have some of that sentiment, that segregation maybe wasn't so bad and --

CAMEROTA: But is that what this is about, or is it about not wanting to give John McCain that much credit because the president also was, at you know, at odds with him? LOCKHART: Sure. I actually don't think it has to do with John McCain.

I think that there is not -- there would not be a lot of support within the Republican Party right now to do this. And I think it does say something about our politics, that we can't -- you know, this is the -- this -- we have a president who talked about there being good people on both sides in Charlottesville. We had a president who said we shouldn't be pulling some of these statutes down. This is a statute. You know, it's a statute to Senator Russell and to the segregationist past of this country. And my guess is Senator McCain will slow roll this until it's a distant memory and it will never happen.

BERMAN: Look, it could just be inertia. It could just be inertia. But I'm always curious about the arguments. Oh my gosh, if we rename one building, we're going to have to rename every building. Imagine that, we'll be renaming everything, like it's going to be some disease of renaming that we have to guard against.

Toluse, Lindsey Graham made news on two fronts yesterday. First, that deeply moving speech he made about John McCain. But he's also been making commenting about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Lindsey Graham said there would be hell to pay at one point if the president fired Jeff Sessions. Now he is saying something distinctly different about it. I just want to play that quickly.

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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Here's what I know. Trump doesn't like him. And that this relationship has soured. And I'm not blaming Jeff. It can't go on like this. I mean it's either got to get better -- it's just not good for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Then "The Washington Post" overnight followed up on reporting from CNN's Jim Acosta that the president has been asking people, including his personal lawyers representing him in a criminal case, about whether or not he should fire Jeff Sessions. This appears to be gaining renewed steam, Toluse.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, we've -- I mean I've talked to people within the White House and they said that every time the senator -- or the former senator and current Attorney General Sessions, every time his name comes up, President Trump just sours and he immediately goes to the issue of the recusal from the Russia investigation. And it really gets under his skin. And we're starting to see some of the blockages that former senator -- various other senators have put around Attorney General Sessions, start to break down.

We're seeing people like Senator Graham say, you know, this can't go on. And this is a former senator who was in the Senate for 20 years who has a strong relationship with a number of people in the Senate who you would expect to protect him. And now we're seeing them start to say that this can't go on. That, you know, maybe after the midterms President Trump would be free to get rid of Attorney General Sessions. So this is something that's going to come to a head -- to a head pretty soon.

CAMEROTA: Then there's Mitch McConnell, Joe --

LOCKHART: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Who says something different. We have that moment. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I have total confidence in the attorney general. I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOCKHART: Right, it's before 7:00 a.m., so I can say something nice about Mitch McConnell. That's the right position. I think Senator Graham's playing a very dangerous game here. He's legitimatizing in advance an illegitimate move that the president's considering. There's no doubt in my mind that -- that President Trump, as he gets -- as the vice tightens a little bit, will do whatever he can to save himself, including, you know, pardons across the board, Manafort, for example, firing Sessions, firing Rosenstein. And I think Senator Graham hasn't fully thought through what he's talking about here.

You know, the personal relationship between the attorney general and the president, I mean look at -- look at Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy. It wasn't about whether they liked each other or not or whether they got along. It's about whether this investigation is legitimate, which it is, and whether it will continue.

CAMEROTA: Toluse, Joe, thank you both very much for being here.

OK, now to sports. Players at the U.S. Open facing a formidable opponent, the heat. How they're trying to stay cool under pressure in the sweltering temperatures.

BERMAN: You know, it was hot other places. I mean we had to deal with the heat too.

[06:44:51] CAMEROTA: But -- yes, but I wasn't really --

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BERMAN: It is offensively hot in New York right now, which is a problem for all of us, but Alisyn is particularly concerned about what it means for some people playing tennis at the U.S. Open.

CAMEROTA: I kind of like the heat.

BERMAN: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

CAMEROTA: I know I'm not staying on message, on script with you --

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: But I like it. But, again, I'm not playing tennis at my peak, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you might like it, Alisyn, but the guys out there playing tennis, and the ladies, it's not -- it's not pleasant, right, playing in the extreme heart. And three players actually had to retire yesterday at the U.S. Open due to the brutal temperatures there at Flushing Meadows. The heat index actually got all the way up to 107 on the courts.

This "Bleacher Report" is brought to you by Ford, going further so you can.

And because of the extreme temperature, the United States Tennis Association releasing an extreme heat policy for the tournament. It states the men receive a 10 minute break between the third and fourth set. No coaching is permitted, but the players are allowed to take bathroom breaks and showers to cool down. And Novak Djokovic and his opponent, well, they decided to take full advantage of their short break.

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NOVAK DJOKOVIC, TENNIS PLAYER AT U.S. OPEN: We had the two ice baths. We were naked in the ice baths. So it was quite a -- quite wonderful feeling, you know. Battling with a guy for two and a half hours, and then you get into the locker room and you haven't finished the match and you're naked in the -- in the -- in the ice baths. It was quite a magnificent feeling, I must say.

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[06:50:20] SCHOLES: Yes, it sounds awesome on a hot day.

Djokovic went on to win his opening match in four sets.

All right, finally, Jhonny Santos of the minor league team, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, he thought he drew a walk. So he put his bat down to run to first, but it was a strike. And once that bat was down, Miss Lou Lou Gehrig, the bat dog, went out to retrieve it. But Santos is like, I still need it. But Lou Lou's like, nope, it's mine now. Went for the second effort. But, guys, poor Lou Lou had to go back to the dugout without a bat. She was just there trying to do her job.

Had to feel bad for her.

CAMEROTA: I agree. I mean she's trained to do that, so --

BERMAN: Well, Lou Lou knew what -- it was clearly a bad call by the umpire. Lou Lou knew what the call was supposed to be. I mean you don't -- who needs replay when you have Lou Lou.

SCHOLES: That's a hometown dog right there.

CAMEROTA: There you go.

Andy, thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

CAMEROTA: OK, now this story that obviously we've been following for months and you have as well. Until yesterday, the official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria was 64 people. That's how many the government said died, 64 people. Now, that number has been revised to nearly 3,000. The study that changed everything, next.

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[06:55:37] CAMEROTA: The official death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is 46 times higher than originally recorded by the government. The Maria death toll went from the official number, 64 people, to 2,975. This change happened because of this new report by George Washington University.

Joining us now to discuss all of this and everything that we've learned is CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago. She has been covering this since Maria hit and she was there at that time.

Leyla, how did this happen? How did it happen that the death toll is so starkly different from what we were told by the government, from 64 to almost 3,000?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's something that we've been asking for a long time, how is it that the number was 64 when we ourselves saw how devastating this was, how long-term the impacts of the conditions in which Puerto Ricans were living in without power, without access to health care. How could it be that it was 64? Remember, we did our investigation in November and since then many have brought this to light and many have studied it.

Harvard University did a study on this. There were several investigation in other news outlets. So that pressure was mounting and many were criticizing that number being so low. That's when the government of Puerto Rico commissioned a study. That is the study you speak of, George Washington University. And once they commissioned that study, once they paid for it, they said, we're not going to touch the death toll till that study is complete. That study was released yesterday. And within hours, they changed the death toll to a number that was in the thousands.

And it really reflects those conditions that I was -- I was just talking about, the direct deaths that happened when Hurricane Maria was going -- was passing through that island, really ripping through the island. And then the indirect deaths. Those that were living without power and depended on that power for their medical equipment, those who didn't have access to health care because -- because of road closures, et cetera. Those type of indirect impacts are also reflected in that number that is nearly 3,000.

CAMEROTA: Leyla, just to put some of this into perspective, let me put up a graph of the death toll from other hurricanes that we know well. Katrina, 1,833. Hurricane Sandy, that was so destructive, 147. Harvey, 68. Irene, 49. Irma, 44.

So when Maria is close to 3,000 people, why was the death toll so much worse in Puerto Rico?

SANTIAGO: Wow, very hard to look at that graphic and see that.

But I -- you know, I was actually just talking to some of the researchers that studied Hurricane Katrina. And it's important to note that there are multiple numbers out there because of different studies. But in the official Hurricane Katrina death toll that's on the state of Louisiana's health website right now, I talked to one of the researchers there, and one of the things he pointed out is, look, when Katrina happened, a lot of people were able to escape to safety, right? They could get in a car and get someone. Not immediately, and not easily. In Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans didn't have that. They couldn't get off that island as quickly. They were stuck in those conditions that you were showing right now. I mean dreadful, deadly conditions. And that really was a factor.

You know, in the George Washington University study that was released yesterday, they talked about communication being a key problem and also how death certificates were being filled out by doctors being a big problem. Lack of training for those doctors not in place. And so they had some recommendations for the government of Puerto Rico.

But now comes the hard part. There could be recommendations, but will there be the money, will there be the action to actually carry these out and prevent these types of deaths in the future?

CAMEROTA: Yes. And we also do need some government accountability on how they got all of this so deadly wrong.

Leyla Santiago, thank you very much for your coverage of this then and now.

SANTIAGO: You bet.

CAMEROTA: And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN "TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.

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