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Sen. McCain Lies in State Today at U.S. Capitol. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired August 31, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- remarks followed by the House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence, then a bipartisan wreath laying. Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will join their Republican counterparts to present wreaths. Vice President Pence will represent the Trump administration after Sen. McCain made it clear that President Trump would not be welcome at these services.

A public viewing will stretch up from early afternoon into the evening. Tomorrow, a memorial service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral. Then the senator will be laid to rest beside his longtime friend Admiral Chuck Larson at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

You are looking at live pictures right now, the motorcade arriving up on Capitol Hill with the casket and the family and some very, very close friends. I want to bring in our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. So, Dana, you covered Senator McCain for a long time. Walk us through what we're about to see.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, what we're seeing right now, Wolf, the moment that John McCain is coming back to the Senate that he absolutely loved. He loved it not since he was a congressman briefly and then a U.S. senator, but before that when he was still in the military, when he was still in the navy, he got to know and understand the impact that senators can have as a military aide to the Senate. And that's when he got to know a lot of really prominent people like Joe Biden, like Bill Cohen who then became -- went on to become the Defense secretary.

And he has said to me in the past and others in interviews that this is where he became to understand that you can really do things to impact the world in politics and as a U.S. senator because he was grappling at the time with how to deal with his injuries that he got, obviously, when he was a prisoner of war after he was shot down and the fact that he wasn't going to be able to be the kind of navy officer that his father and grandfather were. And he realized he could change his public service to the U.S. senate and just to watch these pictures coming back to the Senate. It's really powerful.

BLITZER: Very powerful. You see the hearse has now arrived with the casket. And there will be a formal ceremony. All of this is worked out in a lot of detail. And I just want you to remind, Dana, our viewers that the senator himself over these past 13 months, once he was diagnosed with a severe form of brain cancer, he personally was very much involved in planning every step of the way.

BASH: He was. And being -- making the U.S. Capitol part of his final journey was so critical, as critical as yesterday in Arizona was because he spent three decades in the U.S. Congress. He loved being a senator. He loved the toing and froing of actual legislating, the art of legislating, the art of fighting for your principle but also fighting to find that point of compromise and he loved what you can do as a senator on the international stage. And boy, did he use it every single chance he got, traveling the world with his colleagues.

And again, just being a man of the Senate was so much part of the complex essence of John McCain. And he wanted to have this moment where he could have a final day lying in state, being honored but also his way to honor the U.S. Senate.

BLITZER: Representatives from all branches of the U.S. military will participate in this ceremony in the Capitol rotunda. The family, of course, will be there as well. We're going to have a lot of extensive coverage on this truly, truly moving moment in American history, the passing of Senator McCain and the respect he so deserves here in the nation's Capital.

Our senior political analyst David Gergen will join us, our special correspondent Jamie Gangel is with us, our senior political commentator David Axelrod, our CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp.

You know, David, let me just ask you. You're a veteran of both Democratic and Republican administration. The reverence for this senator transcends political divisions.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It does. And it really comes out in a moment like this when people can be more reflective and not down in the arena in combat. People can stand back from it. And I think we're moving today from what was very heartfelt and more informal sense we had yesterday of people who knew him best back in his native state, which he loved so much, and now we're coming to the more formal part. He's going to be surrounded by powerful people who he has had combat with some, he hated some of them, some of them hated him. But at a moment like this, it's such a good American tradition that people come together and say the final regard.

[10:35:02] BLITZER: This is Capitol Hill, Jamie, an area the senator loved so much. He served two terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Senate where he served for more than 30 years. And now his body in that casket will lie in state at the Capitol rotunda, an area that he knew so well and loved so much.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, as David said, yesterday was personal. Today is public. And the word I thought of when I was listening to Dana was fitting. Because over the years, there was talk sometimes, would John McCain run again? And he never wanted to stop. This was really where he loved to be. It was the work he wanted to do. And even this past year when he was dealing with this illness and he was back in Arizona, he was working every day. People were coming to visit him. He was reading briefings. He was putting out statements. He really never wanted to stop. And this was what was at the center of it.

BLITZER: Certainly was. And I just want to inform our viewers who are watching us right now, for those who are -- want to see the Aretha Franklin funeral in Detroit. Our sister network HLN will have nonstop coverage of that. We will go back to that later. But right now, we're focusing in on Senator McCain and this memorial service that's about to begin at the U.S. Capitol.

David Axelrod, he worked very passionately on so many sensitive issues, national security, foreign policy, comprehensive immigration reform, campaign finance reform. He always was anxious to work not just with his fellow Republicans but with Democrats as well.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that is part of why there's such sadness about his passing, because we're living in a time of such heritage polarity where that spirit of cooperation has really faded. And so in a sense, people are paying tribute not just to John McCain but to a style of politics that I think many people miss. And so, you know, he would have been honored in this way under any circumstance. But I think given the times, it is even more powerful and more poignant.

BASH: May I just add one thing as you were talking, David. I just got a text from a McCain aide who underscored what you were saying which is that what we're about to see here is protocol. This is Capitol protocol when there's somebody lying in state, with one exception. And that is Senator McCain expressly wanted Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, to have a role so he will be jointly laying the Senate wreath with the Republican leader Mitch McConnell. That's the exception expressly and explicitly asked for.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I want to point out. The House wreath will be laid by Speaker Paul Ryan together the Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

AXELROD: We've spoken many times over the last couple of days about how assiduously the senator himself planned this. And you know, I said Dana yesterday, I think that - you know he is like anyone else probably would appreciate the tributes that have been spoken. But it really feels like he planned this to send a message to the country --

BASH: No question.

AXELROD: -- about the kind of politics that he believed in. And I think that's -- it's coming through very, very powerfully with details like the one you just shared.

BLITZER: So I say, the political leadership, a lot of political leaders will be here at this rotunda memorial ceremony. But it's especially moving for the family. The family that you know and so many members you obviously love as well. We're seeing some pictures now, some live pictures of the family standing atop those steps. Cindy McCain, the widow, with her sons and other children. S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, yesterday was hard for family in that they watched their father and husband leave Arizona for the last time. But to come here, a place this family has shared John McCain with. They shared him with Washington for at least in Meghan's case, all of her life.

You know, this was his other home. And so, it's as much a part of their family as Arizona was. And whenever John -- Senator McCain was home, Washington as was noted was always on his mind, always. She would be visiting with us in D.C. or in New York and get a Facetime from her dad who wanted to talk politics even while he was you know resting in Arizona. So, this place, as much as we talk about Washington being what it is, this place is very special, equally special to the family.

BLITZER: You know, Dana, they are about to bring the casket and take the casket out of that hearse. The family was watching.

[10:40:00] You saw Cindy McCain and all the kids, including Jimmy and Jack, her sons who are both members of the U.S. military, a special honor guard will be bringing that casket up to the U.S. Capitol.

BASH: Yes. And - I mean the flood of images and thoughts probably going through their head, certainly all of U.S. who had watched Senator McCain is -- how many times he bounded around in those hallways. That the steps in and around there and that this will be the last time he is brought up those steps into the Capitol that he loved so much.

BLITZER: Certainly did. Yes, David.

GERGEN: I just wanted to say yesterday Joe Biden in the eloquent eulogy raised a question, why has this hit the country so hard? Why has this had such the John McCain's passing and why are we doing this? He thought it was about the optimism that he represented. I think it's nostalgia for a different day, a different kind of politics that he came to represent. I just think that -- he embodies values people think have been almost forgotten. And they want to see -- they want to restore -- I think it's one of the most heartening parts of this whole episode has been how people are pouring out. You realize there are millions of Americans who want to change our politics. They're not into this combat that we see every day.

BLITZER: I want to point out as we are looking on the left part of the screen, as the coffin is being removed from the hearse, already gathered in the rotunda are members of the diplomatic corps here in Washington, the ambassadors who have gathered to pay their respects and to bring the respects of their respective countries to Senator McCain. Members of the House of Representatives, members of the Senate, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various governors have shown up as well, the mayor of Washington, D.C. will be there -- is already there, we are told. And of course, the vice president will speak, the speaker of the House will speak, the Senate majority leader will speak before the formal wreath laying ceremonies.

GANGEL: One person is not going to be there today or tomorrow. And that is as we know President Trump.

BLITZER: Hold on one moment. I just want to pause as we watch this moment.

[10:45:00] The military honor guard has brought the casket now up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol. They will be going into the rotunda for this service for this memorial ceremony that is about to begin. The vice president of the United States, speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, they will be entering the rotunda momentarily. We will see the casket placed on that platform, draped in black right in the middle of the rotunda. And various important people, Dana, here in Washington, representing all sorts of the House, the Senate, the diplomatic corps, governors, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they have gathered to honor and pay tribute to this American hero.

BASH: That's right. I mean we see members of the Trump administration in there. John Kelly, the chief of staff, Kellyanne Conway and others. People who have known John McCain for decades before this current administration and before this current president, they worked for. We are seeing representatives from the diplomatic corps, from all parts of the political landscape, which is, of course, very telling about what we're seeing, what kind of man that we are seeing the tribute to.

BLITZER: And the family will be walking in momentarily as well. You see those seats that are empty right now, members of the family and others will be there, including those who will be speaking. David Gergen, I interrupted you before. You can see various members of the House and Senate who have already gathered there. Nancy Pelosi to the left, you see her right there among others.

GERGEN: Absolutely. I wanted to go back you were raising a point about who is not here.

GANGEL: You know, as you just pointed out, Chief of Staff John Kelly is there. We saw a picture of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other members of the Trump administration are there, many of them. One person is not there. And that is President Trump. He was specifically not invited. And yet, there are many top cabinet officials and others who are there.

BLITZER: Yes and General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense Mattis was at Joint Base Andrews yesterday representing the administration when the U.S. Air Force plane brought the casket and family back here to Washington, D.C.

Ryan Nobles, you are up on Capitol Hill. We saw that honor guard bring the casket up the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It started to rain as they were taking that casket out of the hearse.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Wolf, I know you guys were watching it on television. But to be here and watch it live was pretty dramatic. It's been a very sunny morning here in Washington, D.C., hot and humid. The second the casket was brought out of the hearse, there were a few sprinkles and then the skies just opened up. And it was a dramatic pouring rain here on the steps of the Capitol. And to watch that honor guard slowly take Senator McCain's body up the steps of the Capitol was an incredible moment.

And it should be noted that there are other places here in Washington, D.C. that are still experiencing sunny skies. And to see the way that this played out and to watch that honor guard not break their pace at all, not seem to be phased for even one second by the deluge of rain. I can't understate for you just how heavy the rain was at that moment. It was absolutely incredible. As if this moment weren't dramatic enough, to see that all play out the way it did was something else. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, very poignant, indeed. You saw very, very carefully the military honor guard taking that casket up the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Family will be walking in momentarily and the leadership of the U.S. House and Senate will be walking in as well. And we will be hearing remarks.

Just walk us through what we will be hearing. The invocation will be led by Reverend Patrick Conroy is the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. Then the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will speak. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House will follow. And then the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence will speak. Then there will be this presentation of the Senate wreath jointly by Mitch McConnell and the Democratic Leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer, followed by the presentation of the House wreath by the House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

There will be a presentation - a separate presentation of the administration, the Trump administration wreath by the Vice President Mike Pence, a final benediction by Barry Black the chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

[10:50:02] Before - and then later by an hour after the ceremony is over, people from the public will be allowed to walk in and pay their personal respects to the late senator. It's going to be very emotional, S.C., especially for this very, very loving family.

CUPP: Yes, you can see Meghan's husband Ben Domenech is just there to the right along with some other family members and some members of Congress. This has already been a poignant week, this poignant moment --

BLITZER: The vice president we're now seeing is already there as well, together with his wife.

CUPP: And Speaker Ryan and Mitch McConnell made more poignant by that sudden rainstorm. If I were prone to metaphor, you might say that the nation is weeping for this man today.

AXELROD: That's something that Senator McCain could not have planned. Some higher force planned that.

BLITZER: That's the mother --

BASH: That's Roberta McCain. She's 106 years old.

BLITZER: John McCain's mother who lives here in Washington, D.C. outlived her son who would have been 82 last -- a few days ago. She's 106, Dana. And she is there and she will be at the National Cathedral tomorrow for the formal memorial service.

BASH: I mean, not only did she as a mother you know lived through her son as a prisoner of war, not knowing if he would come out alive, but now she has had this long fulfilled life and has been able to see her son have such an impact on this country and around the world. And for her to live long enough to be the one to bury her son is just really hard to wrap your mind around.

And I should also say, this is why despite the fact that he would have been almost 82, so many people never thought this would happen so soon, because of his genes. Look at the longevity. And he was a lot like his mother who famously wasn't allowed to rent a car when she was almost 100 traveling through Europe. So she bought one.

BLITZER: The casket is now being brought into the rotunda by this military honor guard. And it will be placed on the platform which is historic. 30 Americans have been -- have received this kind of honor treatment in the U.S. Capitol. It's a sign of how much everyone deeply, deeply appreciated the really amazing role that John McCain played. Let's not forget, as his mother watches this -- hold on one moment. Let's just listen for a moment.

[10:55:29] REV. PATRICK CONROY, HOUSE CHAPLAIN: We give you thanks, all mighty God, for the appearance among us of great men and women who serve as inspirations for all Americans to be their best in service to God, country and neighbor. This day we honor a true American hero, Senator John McCain. He dedicated his entire life to public service as a vocation, first in the military and then in elected office. He placed himself directly in harm's way during the Vietnam War and his great sacrifice of personal freedom is well-known.

As a senator, he served with honesty and integrity working both with those with whom he agreed and many with whom he did not. His willingness to speak the truth as he understood it, even when it was not politically expedient to do so proved to be a rare phenomenon. For that reason, it was all the more precious.

As we continue this celebration of honor, grant that all who attend to these proceedings might transcend smallness and limitation and emerge as people desirous of being our best selves in service to all our brothers and sisters as you might call each of us to be. Dear Lord, thank you for inspiring such greatness in Senator John McCain and continue to bless the United States of America. Amen.

REP. MITCH MCCONNELL, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, colleagues, (INAUDIBLE). It's an honor to welcome you this morning. We gather to recognize a great loss and celebrate a great life.

We celebrate six decades of devotion to the American idea and the cause of human freedom. Generations of Americans will continue to marvel at the man who lies before us, the cocky, handsome, naval aviator, who barely scraped through school and then fought for freedom in the skies, who witnessed to our highest values even through terrible torture, and who became a generational leader in the United States Senate where our nation airs its great debates.

Now airing our great debates is a gentle way to describe how John approached the work of a senator. I have long joked that his guards at the Hanoi Hilton probably needed group therapy after John was finished with them. Well let's just say there were times when some of his Senate colleagues attempted to form a support group of our own. He treated every issue with the intensity the people's business deserved. He would fight tooth and nail for his vision of the common good. Depending on the issue you knew John would either be your staunchest ally or your most stubborn opponent.

At any moment, he might be preparing an eloquent reflection on human liberty or a devastating joke served up with his signature cackle and that John McCain glint in his eye. He had America's fighting spirit, our noble idealism, our solemn patriotism and our slightly irreverent streak all rolled into one. I will miss a dear friend whose smile reminded us that service --