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Wrap Up of Arizona Memorial Service for Senator John McCain. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired August 30, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: What a beautiful, beautiful memorial service for a truly wonderful American hero. What a way to conclude this service with Frank Sinatra performing, "My Way" because John McCain certainly did do it his way.
S.E. Cupp, you are holding back your tears, too.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED": Yes, that was really moving. On many levels. What's so great about it was, if you didn't know a lot about John McCain, you do now because those were deeply personal testimonies. From his bad driving to his heroism, his honor, willingness to work across the aisle, his strength in Vietnam, his love of family. You heard from people who truly, truly knew him in all aspects of his life. And through anecdotes and these very colorful tributes, I think you got a full sense of the measure of truly great man.
BLITZER: Certainly did live a life, David Axelrod.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE AXE FILES": Oh, without a doubt. The vice president talked about loss. Of course he experienced dramatic loss, the loss of a child, but no one could say John McCain was cheated. He, least of all, would say that. He lived one of the great American lives. What was so impressive about this service, which I suspect will be the most personal of the three or several that we are going to see is, as S.E. said, you got a sense of his courage, values, decency and humor. He was a guy who took public service very seriously, but didn't take himself too seriously. That was part of his great appeal.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I also thought Joe Biden's eulogy was extraordinary because it seemed to me, it was on three levels. It was a eulogy to comfort his family and his friends, a eulogy to celebrate the man and his legacy, but I also think it had a third audience, that was Donald Trump. So many of the things that he talked about, about John McCain, respect, dignity, civility, bipartisanship, they are just that much more potent in this day and age.
[14:35:21] BLITZER: It was a unique time. And certainly Vice President Biden underscored that. The casket is now coming out of the church and will be placed into the hearse, then the motorcade will take the casket and the family, close friends to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport for the flight to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C..
David, let's listen for a moment as the casket is placed in the hearse.
The U.S. Armed Forces Body Bearer Honor Guard, that group bringing the casket.
There you see Mrs. McCain and her son. They will be getting into the motorcade and heading to the airport for the flight here to Washington, D.C.
David Gergen, your thoughts?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR; Made especially poignant by the people who knew him so well. It was, essentially, from my point of view, when they took him off the pedestal and told us who John McCain was, all his strengths and weaknesses. In the political world, most of the conversation will be about Joe Biden. That was a remarkable eulogy on his part. Many in politics are wondering, is Joe Biden the right person? Is he too old to be president? Can he take it and handle it? This is the biggest speech he's probably going to make for at least the next year. He's going to have a lot of remembrance. In the beginning, he was -- I have not appreciated how much he contains his suffering. He is engulfed in grief with the losses in his life. There was a sense of a father figure out there. Then in the middle, he came alive. There was a place he was speaking from deep conviction. You said, that's the old Joe Biden, the energy, but the anger and almost the disgust. He didn't want to express in those words, but you could tell about his feelings, what's happening to the country. I thought that gave great power to his eulogy.
BLITZER: Certainly did.
Becky Tallent, you are a former McCain chief of staff. Talk about that relationship John McCain had with Joe Biden.
BECKY TALLENT, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO JOHN MCCAIN: You know, Senator McCain had a lot of personal, across-the-aisle relationships. There's been reference to Ted Kennedy. Obviously, Biden being here was a great symbol of that relationship and friendship. It's important to note this point about the pain, the real pain and the way that he reached out to the McCain family during that and made them understand he knew what they were going through. In that moment, to me, that really showed this wasn't a political trick or wasn't trying to be flashy and show insincere relationship, but one that was true and deep and long lasting. That was the first time I have heard the story about Jill being the one that pointed Cindy out to the Senator in Hawaii. I thought that was interesting. I have known both of them all these years and never knew that. The tribute, I feel, showed so many aspects of John McCain's personality. Grant Woods, long-time friend, traveling in Arizona, if Grant came along, we knew it was going to be an easier day. The two of them laughed and laughed and enjoyed each other. They had an appreciation for them. Tommy Espinoza showed that spicy side of John. Then Larry Fitzgerald showed the kind of reach across the country, the friendships and relationships the Senator had, up until the very end. Then, another man who really personifies Arizona and another person the people of Arizona adore. I thought the tributes were amazing across the board. I thought they were clearly picked out by John McCain himself.
[14:40:58] BLITZER: They certainly were.
Dana Bash, you are at the church and watched it so closely. You covered Senator McCain so many years.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Picking up on what Becky was saying about Vice President Joe Biden and Jill, I have never heard either. But remarkable that she was the one to say go talk to Cindy. Moments ago, as they came out, there was another poignant moment where Vice President Biden, Jill Biden were standing in front of the church. Cindy McCain went to the car, saw them, came back and gave both of them really big hugs. Clearly, so grateful for speech, but obviously the friendship he described they had for decades, more than 30 years. You can see the pictures. You can see the picture on the air of the hearse and the motorcade.
One of the things we are also going to see is a larger motorcade. Maeve Reston is here with me and we were talking about the fact that it is larger because there are so many people, again, they call themselves McCainiacs that want to take the journey with the McCain family, with McCain himself, from here in Arizona back to Washington.
Maeve, talk about that.
MAEVE RESTON, CNN POLICAL REPORTER: That's so poignant. Because as we all remember, John McCain hated to be alone. He always wanted to be surrounded by his friends. He always said he was too restless and needed company and companionship. I think so many of the leaders that are here today felt a deeply personal need to be with him from Arizona to the very end, the naval academy. Last night, just talking to many of his friends, I think so many of them were comforted by the fact he had lived such a full 81 years. They were laughing about how many fighter planes he crashed an and, you know, saying he had nine lives and really was happy with his life at the end.
BASH: You can see the motorcade is beginning to leave.
Senator McCain will be leaving his beloved, adopted state of Arizona for the last time because, of course, he's going to go back to Washington. There will be another ceremony. He will lie in state at the U.S. capitol. There will be a ceremony on Saturday. He will have his final resting place at the U.S. naval academy in Annapolis. That is the place he chose. That is the McCain name. That is McCain essence. So, over the last half century has become Arizona.
You can really feel it on the ground here in Arizona, how much love there's for this man. Sure, he was a politician, but, because he was so devoted not just to the country and the world, but to this state and to all of the intricacies and the needs of this state from water to native Americans, to just the basics. You saw that represented in the kinds of people who were chose to speak, to sing, and to pay tribute to him.
Senator Ben Sasse, you are here with me.
A quarter of the Senate was here. You are somebody who -- you are Republican, but somebody who understands intuitively the essence of the McCain rebellious streak.
SEN. BEN SASSE, (R), NEBRASKA: Yes.
BASH: What did you take as you sat in that church and listened to the ceremony?
SASSE: It was a beautiful service. The juxtaposition of John McCain, an American hero, a man destined for the history books for decades and decades, someone we want our kids to emulate, and yet John McCain, a guy who knew himself to be a Senator. Garcia told of the story of hope, much bigger than John McCain that John McCain would have approved of. It was a special event, a painful event. You saw the wide diversity of the people from the state and across the country who loved John and wanted to be here and pay tribute to him today.
[14:45:30] BASH: You are a relatively new member of the Senate, compared to John McCain. The fact that you felt close enough to him to want to not just pay tribute to him in the U.S. capitol where you served together, but here in Arizona. Why did you feel that desire?
SASSE: I went home, picked up my 7-year-old and brought him here to be at a hero funeral. You're right, I'm one of the few people in the Senate who has never been a politician before. I'm only 46. John was 81. It's weird to be 46 and speaking of an 81-year-old as a friend. John endorsed against me in my primary five years ago. I didn't know him. But when I won, I felt I need to meet him. A, John, you're a hero. B, I volunteered for on one of your campaigns in the past. What's up with this move of endorsing against me. He let loose on a tirade that only John McCain can do. It was all fake. Like, he was insulting me for getting up in his grill because he loved people who didn't have patience for small stuff. So, we became fast friends 47 months ago. I have learned global security and a lot of national security, traveling to war zones and refugee camps and midnight flights all over the world with him. Everywhere you went, John McCain never thought it was about him. John McCain believed in American and John McCain sang a constant hymn to America. I think you see at the Bagram Air Force Base or at refugee camps on the edge of Syria, people wanted to be around John McCain. Today, people wanted to be around John McCain.
BASH: This is a message about John McCain but it's also John McCain's message to America.
SASSE: Well said. Joe Biden gave a hymn to America. He said the America we know is an idea. It's a declaration of universal human dignity. And 7.5 billion people across the globe created by God with rights. You don't have rights because we gave them to you. You have rights because humans are created with dignity. John was the foremost exponent and proponent of that American ideal on the global state. You heard a lot of people singing a McCain refrain to that.
BASH: One more question, how do you -- how do you take this message and continue it in a practical way? How do you take his life and legacy, and what he did in the U.S. Senate and politics, and continue it in a real way, not just talking about it now, but in the future?
SASSE: Sure. This is obviously a week, not just yesterday and today, through Saturday and the burial coming in Annapolis at the naval academy, this is a time to celebrate John, not just legislative particulars.
But one of the things you see is a civics that are bigger than policy preference in John. We have a lot of people in politics who are mostly interested in their own incumbency and the low-grade tribalism. Just start questions of, what should we do about "X"? The other guys are worse than our guys. That's just not the way John talked. It would be great to come out of the week, there's a lot of celebration, as you rightly say. We're often in a hurry. It would be great to come out not just 100 people in the Senate or 535 people in the Congress, but people across America saying, Republicans and Democrats, we differ on a bunch of things, but there are things bigger that unite us. And those were the things John wanted to talk about.
SASSE: What does America mean?
BASH: Senator, thank you. Thank you for sharing this. Great for your son that he got to experience this. He'll always remember it. Thank you.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
The motorcade making its way from the church to the Goldwater Air National Guard base at Phoenix International Airport. Take a look at the bottom, right corner of the screen. You can see all the U.S. military personnel who are already present, 150 Army National Guard troops, 150 Air National Guard troops standing on the west side in formation as the motorcade makes its way. The casket will be placed aboard the C-32 military aircraft that will be taken -- taking the family and close friends and John McCain to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., where the memorial services will continue tomorrow at the U.S. capitol. Then Saturday morning at the National Cathedral before John McCain is buried at the U.S. naval academy in Annapolis, Maryland. On Sunday, that will be a private ceremony on Sunday.
Vladimir Kara-Murza is with us as well. He's a close friend of Senator McCain.
Vladimir, my condolences to you.
You have been invited by the family and Senator McCain to become a pallbearer at the service. How did that unfold?
[14:50:12] VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, VICE CHAIRMAN, OPEN RUSSIA: Senator McCain left a message in April that he wanted me to be one. I didn't want to think about it or speak about it. We knew this day was coming, but we hoped it would not come so soon. For me, this is deeply personal and immense, but heartbreaking honor to be able to do this. It's very important for me to be able to say one last good-bye to somebody who, for so many years, was a pillar of support and pillar of principles. Those who live in authoritarian states and with regimes, we got used to many western political leaders who pay lip service to human rights, to human freedoms, who speak nice words, then find it within themselves to do business with the tyrants. Literally. John McCain was never like that. One of the things that defined him most was he spoke the truth, regardless of party, political advantage or convenience. He stood up for what was right. He lived by the values and lived by them, he stood in them. One of the biggest lies propagated by the Russian state media, the Kremlin media is that John McCain is somehow an enemy of Russia. He was never an enemy of Russia. He was an enemy of the kleptocrats and this crooks and criminals in Russia that are stealing from the people of Russia, denying them the rights and freedoms. He was never an enemy of the Russian people. He was the biggest supporter of the freedom and dignity of the rights of Russian people.
BLITZER: Did he call you personally and ask you to be pallbearer?
KARA-MURZA: It was a message from a mutual friend. We saw each other less than a year ago. We saw each other in 2017, here in Washington. We presented a documentary film about Boris Nemtsov, a friend of Senator McCain's. When I first met Senator McCain, it was with Boris Nemtsov in 2010 when Senator McCain was a leading advocate of the Magnitsky law, the U.S. legislation that imposed personal targeted sanctions against corrupt officials and human right abusers in the Putin regime. Over these years, I can tell you, the doors of Senator McCain's office were always open for Russian Democrats, Russian civil society leaders. Those fighting for a better future for Russia. He didn't just say those things. He acted them as well.
BLITZER: You saw him two months after he had been diagnosed with a severe brain cancer. Tell us about that.
KARA-MURZA: Well, the diagnosis was already known. It was astonishing. In another way, it was typical John McCain. He presented the film and stayed for the entire film. I see his assistant was looking at their watches.
He stayed to the end. Then we went on stage and had a 40, 45-minute discussion. He was lucid and active as ever. That is something that always amazed not just me, but many people who met with him and spoke with him, including Boris Nemtsov. You know, in the years we have dealt with political leaders in Western
countries, very often they speak in general terms and ask very general questions. He was pointed, detailed, specific. Vague discussions were not of interest to him. He was always interested in specific things and specific solutions.
BLITZER: The way he was with the news media as well.
I can testify to the interview in 30 years.
It's going to be an important eulogy on Saturday when your former boss, the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, is at the National Cathedral.
ALEXROD: Yes. What strikes me about this is Senator McCain didn't orchestrate a tribute to himself. He orchestrated a civic communion where we took it to revisit principles of who we are as a country, what politics should be about. The fact President Obama is speaking and President Bush is speaking, two vanquished opponents, but respectful opponents is enormously important, at this time in our country, when politics is so angry and polarized, to see former opponents, people of different parties stand-up and pay tribute to each other, I think is not about John McCain, it's about what he believed about our country and so I'm looking forward to both presidents.
BLITZER: Jamie, you have been doing reporting. Former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, they are invited to the National Cathedral as well.
GANGEL: Correct. Everyone was invited, except Donald Trump. So, the Clintons will be there. President Bush 41, because of his health, won't be there. The same is the case with the Carters. We are going to have the Clinton's, Barack Obama, George W. Bush. And I just thought it was very nice, it was either President Obama or George W. Bush who said they were honored to be -- they were the ones honored to be asked to give this speech.
[14:55:30] BLITZER: John McCain personally asked them to do so.
BLITZER: What does it say to you the former presidents will be there, the current president won't?
GERGEN: Well, I think it's one more unfortunate sign about where we are as a people. I very much respect John McCain's judgment in that. I think it would have been extremely -- a lot of controversy. Everybody would have been watching the Trump's had they been there, trying to read this or that into it. Instead, what we have, in the memorable phrase from Senator Sasse, a hand to America.
GANGEL: Somewhere, John McCain said amen after that.
CUPP: On that, people are going to ask who can replace John McCain? The answer is no one. Period. In terms of the Senate, you should keep an eye on Ben Sasse because he, in many ways, models the moral certitude, the moral fortitude, the respect that John McCain treasured so deeply.
One more thought on Joe Biden.
David, you said it perfectly when you noted his anger.
He was angry today. That's because we all know how much we lose in John McCain. We know the stakes are so high. It feels as though, in many ways, John McCain and his sensibility are of the past. That makes us angry. That makes us scared. That makes us afraid. In the end, he gave us his words of optimism to not be afraid, to know this, too, shall pass and we'll be stronger for it.
AXELROD: In Biden's remarks, the things that stood out, said McCain could not stand the abuse of power, giving hate no safe harbor. Those words hit very hard. I think are very true.
BLITZER: How did you see it, Becky?
TALLENT: I also found it surprising during Biden's remarks, he was addressed the Senators. They were sitting off to the left. You could find him kind of trying to have a one-on-one conversation with them. I know there are comments about whether he was addressing Trump, but he was addressing the U.S. Senate as well.
AXELROD: And 36 years of habit.
TALLENT: Good point. Good point. He never met an audience he didn't love.
But, you could see him calling them to arms on it, too.
TALLENT: We lost Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain. A lot of people have been talking about the lines of the Senate. It's important not to miss the ideas there are up and comers that have the potential to become that. We don't need to give up on this generation of politicians. There's still opportunity for some of these people to grow into the alliance of the Senate. There was call to arms for the Senators. The House members and the other politicians that were there. And there were a lot of them there, too, former and current.
BLITZER: You were pointing out, what 25, 26 former and current Senators were there, half Democrats, half Republicans.
GERGEN: Exactly half. Exactly half. Four former, two Democrats and two Republicans. Knowing how much Senator McCain put into planning this, you know that
was purposefully. He didn't mean to send a signal. To have that, the symbolism, going on throughout the ceremony, not just in the words, but the symbolism is really, really well done. It sends a powerful message about his values.
BLITZER: Take a look at this. You can see John McCain, the sign on the billboard as the motorcade gets closer and closer to the airport. Look like part of the tarmac. They are now at the airport. "We honor your service." That's what the billboard is saying, in honor of Senator John McCain. There you see it. "Thank you for your service," is precisely what it was saying.
The motorcade getting to the airport now. The Air National Guard base at the Phoenix International Airport. They will have a ceremony, a brief ceremony, speaking at the airport. The casket will be placed on the C-32 U.S. Air Force military aircraft. There will be a brief transfer and a flight to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C.
Nick Watt, you're over at the airport right now. Walk us through what else we should expect.
[15:00:03] NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are 300 Arizona Air National Guard giving John McCain a fitting send-off from the state.