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Former Presidents Honor McCain with Words Aimed at Trump; Meghan McCain Takes Jabs at Trump During Eulogy. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 1, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It was pretty extraordinary, Dana, when you think about it, not only former presidents were there, the former vice presidents were there. You saw Al Gore sitting basically very, very close to Dick Cheney.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And one of the most emotional moments to a person in that cathedral, Gloria, was singing "America the Beautiful," something that, you know, every one of us has been singing since grade school, but I think everybody understood the import and the impact of singing that song with, as Wolf said, Democratic president, a Republican president, vice presidents of both parties, never mind sitting members of the U.S. Congress, doing it together. It was a message for the world about this country and exactly the kind of message that John McCain intended to send.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so. I think that -- remember, after 9/11, on the steps of the capital, you have members of Congress singing together. And you haven't heard that. You haven't heard that since.
Also, Dana, I don't know about you, but I learned a couple of things during this. One was that Barack Obama invited John McCain over a bunch of times for private conversations about all kinds of things they disagreed on. But President Obama felt that he wanted to hear from John McCain and I can only imagine how John McCain appreciated that. I'd like to have been a fly on the wall for those conversations. And of course, ironically as it turned out, while John McCain was against the Affordable Care Act, in the end, his vote saved the Affordable Care Act. As Obama said, he was unpredictable -- I think it was Obama who said it was unpredictable.
BASH: I think they both did.
BORGER: Or maybe it was Bush. But they were honest. They're saying, you know, some of you heard John McCain had a temper. Oh, really?
BASH: We have clips of both presidents, Bush and Obama, sort of feeding off John McCain's signature humor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Moments before my last debate ever with Senator John Kerry in Phoenix, I was trying to gather some thoughts in the holding room. I felt a presence. Opened my eyes. And six inches from my face was McCain who yelled, "relax, relax."
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After all what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: I don't know what was funnier, President Obama making a joke or president Bush laughing so hard that it kind of continued with his laughter and making everyone else laugh. Obviously, watching. But in the cathedral, there were big screams where I believe they were getting the feed from the camera pool so it gave an additional round of laughter.
BORGER: You know what was also revealing to me, in addition to the fact that there had to be humor in a memorial service about John McCain, was his old buddy Joe Lieberman devoted to him really for the first time I think talking sort of publicly about their discussions about the vice presidency. As you know, McCain has admitted it to you and to me and to others that Lieberman was his first choice, but it was kind of interesting, the way that Lieberman raised it today at this memorial service, letting the world know that it was something that they had contemplated together and they figured out, well, we really can't possibly do this.
BASH: Well, they were told to figure that out --
BORGER: Yes, right.
BASH: -- by John McCain's political advisers and consultants.
BASH: But also, just as I toss it back to Wolf, the humor there, even in, you know, Lieberman's speech, talking about how John McCain has the last laugh by somehow passing away on a day that made it so this was on the Jewish sabbath so he had to --
BORGER: I liked --
(CROSSTALK) BASH: Which is something that John McCain ended up having to do with Joe Lieberman so many times as they traveled together and observed the sabbath.
BORGER: And couldn't go to dinners because Joe Lieberman couldn't do so they sat in a hotel room instead.
BASH: Very, very nice.
BLITZER: It was funny, it was poignant, all of the above.
There was one especially moving moment that Meghan McCain shared with all of us when she was speaking about her dad, how much she loved her dad, how much respect she had for him, how much she learned from him. She told the story of how she once fell off of a horse and she learned some lessons from her dad in the way he responded. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:05:05] MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF JOHN MCCAIN: Meghan, he said, his quiet voice that spoke with authority and meant you had best obey, get back on the horse. I did. And because I was a little girl, I resented it. Now that I am a woman I look back across that time and see the expression on his face when I climbed back up and rode again, and I see the pride and love in his eyes as he said, nothing is going to break you. For the rest of my life, whenever I fall down, I get back up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, Maeve, you've got to be moved.
MAEVE RESTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR; So much her father's daughter. You think about those five and a half years in captivity, the stories we all know about him being tied up and in incredible physical pain, he imparted that grit to his children. You know, and throughout his life, didn't -- wouldn't even show that people around him how much pain he was living in, you know, not being able to comb his hair or put on his jacket. But he never let that physical pain show and he didn't complain about it and that's clearly something that he wanted to pass on to his children.
BLITZER: All of us saw that in action, those of us who covered him over the years.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question. You could see his physical pain, but also his joy at being a bell able to run. He considered it a privilege to run in 2000 but certainly in 2008. I'll never forget him conceding in 2008, saying it was a privilege to concede, because he, you know, reached those highest levels. But I thought an interesting historical takeaway from today, a lesson, was really viewing the 2000 campaign, the primary, and the 2008 campaign through today's lens of history. To hear President Obama, I don't recall him ever talking about this specifically about that moment we've seen replay so much this week about the woman in Minnesota at the end -- in the waning days of the 2008 campaign when she was standing up to besmirch Obama's character and saying she was afraid of him, McCain grabbed the mic and said, no, no, ma'am. The president said, "I was grateful but I wasn't surprised. It was John's instinct. He saw himself as defending America's character, not just mine." I think that is a takeaway from today. A bit of what Senator McCain was trying to do was perhaps put his final stamp on what really was an ugly side of that 2008 campaign. People questioning Barack Hussein Obama's citizenship. That lingered into the next campaign and it gave rise to Donald Trump. So I think when we look at this 10 to 12-year period of history here, certainly interesting to see John McCain's role in it.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE AXE FILES": This ties into Doug's point about the absence of Sarah Palin.
AXELROD: And Joe Lieberman's story about their conversation and the reality of 2008 was he couldn't do what he wanted to do. He couldn't be the candidate he wanted to be. Because he had to deal with forces within his own party that wouldn't allow him to do it. There was a statement in who was invited, wasn't invited. Lieberman spoke to this moment, this reckoning with that period in our history.
BLITZER: This is the former president, Barack Obama, talking about how important telling the truth is for politicians, something that also will resonate especially right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: He understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work. That's why he was willing to buck his own party at times, occasionally work across the aisle on campaign finance reform and immigration reform. That's why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. And the fact that it earned him some good coverage didn't hurt either.
John understood as JFK understood, as Ronald Reagan understood, that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our bloodline, not on what we look like, what our last names are, it's not based on where our parents or grandparents came from. Or how recently they arrived, but on adherence to a common creed that all of us are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:10:22] BLITZER: In other words, Jamie, what President Obama was saying, that John McCain believed that honesty is the best policy. Don't lie. Always tell the truth. Also, the press is not the enemy of the American people.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think there was anything subtle about his choice to say that. I think, as we discussed earlier this week, I think we've had three audiences for all of these eulogies, to comfort the family and friends, to celebrate the man and the third audience is Donald Trump and that was directed at him.
AXELROD: It wasn't mentioned here, but we ought to also recognize another -- you know, President Obama said he knew and that self- awareness made him all the more compelling. He also spoke to those moments where he felt he had fallen short such as the South Carolina moment in 2000.
AXELROD: When he, for reasons of trying to win the primary, grudgingly upheld the Confederate flags hanging over the state capitol there and he went back and addressed that later and said he made a mistake.
AXELROD: How many politicians do that now?
RESTON: Right. And he believed that was a necessary part of politics.
This week also went to the 40th commemoration of Martin Luther King's birthday at the Lorraine Hotel with Hillary Clinton. Even Barack Obama didn't go that year because he felt the need to apologize for having voted in 1983 not to make that a federal holiday. He believed that is what politics was about and what honor was about, admitting your mistakes.
JAN BREWER, (R), FORMER ARIZONA GOVERNOR: I think the message that came out over this last week is John McCain wanted to solve problems. He wanted to reach across the aisle. And that he was tired of all the bickering. But John wanted solutions. And I think in everybody's tributes and in their eulogies, that's what we heard. That he wasn't going to stand there and just because somebody says something, he would listen to you, he would listen to your complaints or your congratulations or your ideas, but he wanted to know both sides and then work together collectively. Today, after looking at this funeral, we all need to come together, all together, and, remember, we all are Americans. We have problems on the forefront. And if we don't all come together, it's on both sides.
AXELROD: Governor --
BREWER: We all have to come together to solve them.
AXELROD: -- how many conversations did you have with him about the issues in our politics and the difficulty of trying to --
BREWER: I've had a lot of conversations with John McCain. I travelled with John McCain. We started our careers together. He ran for the House of Representatives. I ran for the House in Phoenix. He ran for the Senate. I ran for the Senate. And for 33 years, we ran parallel, so we were on buses, trains, planes, and we discussed these things. And he was a problem solver. And I, you know, I took a lot of bullets too. No bad pun intended. But because I would defend him, because I knew John McCain. I knew what was in his heart. I knew he wanted to do what was the best for our country and I knew that he listened. But there was just like such a pile-on all the time and nobody wanted to talk or there was so strong differences. And that caused him to be -- people want to call him maverick but he was a problem solver and he loved our country and he was a man of greatness.
ZELENY: I think the question is the reality to all of this. There's no question, you know, that a week in here, after seven days of mourning, the lesson is politics is broken. There's little civility. But as the audience sort of needs to hear this listening. President Trump was at the golf course today which is, you know, certainly his right to do so. But a lot of his supporters simply thought John McCain was a rhino, Republican in name only. My question is will this change politics in Washington. Will this change politics in America. I hate to be skeptical here but I think there's a little sign it will, at least in the short term.
BLITZER: While we watched this moving memorial service, the president was at his golf club outside of Washington, D.C. But he was also tweeting, tweeting about the absence of Canada, NAFTA, and other issues, including the Mueller probe.
Give us a historic perspective.
[13:15:14] DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I thought that was disrespectful of President Trump to be tweeting during the memorial service. I might be old-fashioned in that regard. I think he should have taken a time-out with it.
I thought Dr. Kissinger made a point that maybe we haven't reflected on, that dissidents all over the world loved John McCain, meaning dissidents for freedom and democracy. And who this week hasn't fallen in love with John McCain, Russia, the "Moscow Times" is beating him up as a relic of the Cold War and writing nasty things about him. But anywhere around the world where people are fighting for democracy, the name John McCain meant something. He was exported our American ideals all over the globe.
AXELROD: One of the pallbearers was Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was here the other day, who is still fighting for democracy, a protegee of Boris Nemtsov, the slain opposition leader in Russia. When I went into Senator McCain's inner office, a little bit ago, he had a photo of Boris Nemtsov in his office. So dissidents around the world had him in mind and he had them in mind.
RESTON: There was even a reading by former Senator Kelly Ayotte that spoke to that, "the destiny of the righteous." When I was talking to some of John McCain's friends this week, they said he wanted that to be part of the service because it's a message to every dissident around the world. Don't give up. Believe in what other people might see as lost causes. I think it was also Kissinger today who said this was a much need moment of unity for the comfort and something for us to honor and sustain. And to Zeleny's point, we'll see whether that is what happens going forward.
BLITZER: Jamie, I think if Senator McCain were watching, he would have been pleased with what he heard.
GANGEL: Yes, he would have. I'll tell you, I apologize for my phone just going off, but it was a Republican trying to text. And what he said was --
AXELROD: Obviously, an older Republican.
GANGEL: -- "did you hear what -- I'll never have emergency bypass on my phone again.
But what he said was, "Did you hear what President Obama said?" And the part he was talking about was, "When President Obama said that John McCain made us better presidents, meaning the three of them there, just as he made the Senate better and the country better."
And I think that sums up a lot of what we heard.
BLITZER: He certainly did. What a really moving, moving moment in American history.
CNN's special coverage of the funeral of Senator John McCain continues right after a quick break.
[13:22:22] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday from Atlanta. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
A final farewell to Senator John McCain. After a week of honoring, mourning and celebrating his life, colleagues and friends said their final good-byes today during an emotional service fit for a true American hero. That service radiated the values close to John McCain's heart, pride, patriotism, his strong relationships as a beloved colleague, father and husband. And a reminder that there's more to Washington than your personal politics.
His daughter, Meghan McCain, giving a heartfelt, powerful tribute to her father. That sentiment echoed throughout the service.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I am here before you today saying the words I have never wanted to say, giving this speech I have never wanted to give.
We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing. Not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly. Nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of
John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.
MCCAIN: Love defined my father. As a young man, he wondered if he would live up to his distinguished lineage. I miss him so badly. I want to tell him that he did.
Dad, I love you. I always have. All that I am, all that I hope, all that I dream is grounded in what you taught me. You loved me and you showed me what love must be. My father is gone and my sorrow is immense. But I know his life and I know it was great because it was good.
BUSH: Some lives are so vid, it's difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant and distinctive, it's hard to think of them stilled. A man who seldom rested is laid to rest. At various points throughout his long career, John confronted policies and practices that he believed were unworthy of his country. To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist we are better than this. America is better than this.
[13:25:00] OBAMA: John liked being unpredictable.
Even a little contrarian.
He had no interest in conforming to some prepackaged version of what a Senator should be and he didn't want a memorial that was going to be prepackaged either. He had been to hell and back. And yet somehow never lost his energy or his optimism or his zest for life.
What better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience.
And we laughed with each other. And we learned from each other. And we never doubted the other man's sincerity. Or the other man's patriotism. Or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: An incredible mix of humor and tears.
I'm joined right now by CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, CNN senior political commentator and former senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod, and CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Good to see all of you.
What an incredibly powerful and memorable service.
Dana, this was a tribute to McCain but, at the same time, it was a challenge to Washington. Even without naming at least one name, the message was very clear, that it's time to reset.
BASH:: In so many ways. I had the honor of being inside the cathedral during the entire service. And the message to reset was in every way. It was in the people invited to speak. It was in the messages that those speakers were intent on giving. And of course, the most powerful, the most blatant, was Senator McCain's daughter, Meghan, who just came right out with it. And frankly, I was again in there and some surprise that she went there. Maybe shouldn't have been since beforehand she said his message to her when they talked about her giving the eulogy was to talk about how strong you are. She did, talking about the fact that America doesn't have to be great again because America was always great. There was that. There was, of course, President Obama. Not so subtly talking about the bombast and the smallness and so forth.
But I think the message was also so much bigger than that. It wasn't so much who not to be like, it was who to be like. And what to be like. In order to try to follow the lead and the example of John McCain.
But it was also, Fred, it wasn't, you know, sort of a way, as one of the clergy people said, he would be somebody worthy of sainthood. Not even close. They talked about him, the warts and all. His temper came up more than once. His impatience came up more than once. But so did his love of love, his love of his friends and, of course, his family.
And along the lines of that humor, David, it was fun to hear, you know, the former President Obama say we couldn't be more difficult. He from a distinguished military family. Me, from a broken home. You know, Obama saying he was known for being, you know, the cool -- having a cool head but it was McCain who was not so much.
WHITIFLED: So that humor, but also underscoring the differences. Even despite all of those differences, John McCain exhibited character that President Obama could relate to on so many occasions. I think we all learned it would be John McCain who would visit the White House fairly regularly. This is something probably you knew.
But talk to us about, you know, this enlightenment that despite all their differences, they would end up meeting regularly at the White House, talk about and family.
AXELROD: First of all, let me say, I think the most important thing the president said, President Obama, was that, at the end of the day, we didn't question each other's motives. We knew that we were on the same team. And I think that is a really, really powerful point that John McCain would want made and drawn from these days of remembrances. He always spoke about that, about the ability to battle rigorously. Both Dana and Gloria remember his battles with his old friend, Ted Kennedy, and others over policy matters. And yet, they remained good friends. They had high regards for each other. I think President Obama was speaking to that then.
I can also tell you when Barack Obama was considering running for president in 2006, as formidable as the primary and nominated process seemed, what he wanted to talk about was John McCain. Because he said John McCain has larger-than-life qualities. John McCain has a kind of character that is very, very powerful. And he could be a very formidable candidate.
As it turned out, McCain was subject to the political forces of that particular time. It wasn't a good time to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. But there was a regard, even as they didn't always see eye to eye. They sometimes clashed, as McCain did with friend and foe alike. Barack Obama had a deep, deep respect for him as a colleague in the Senate and later as an opponent and then as a president, working with him as a Senator from the opposition party.
WHITFIELD: And it was evident, wasn't it, Gloria, you know, all that David just said, about that great respect. President Obama saying he was surprised, nonetheless, to get this phone call from John McCain asking him, you know, to eulogize him. While John McCain had a hand in this funeral, wanting his two political opponents to be there, is this exactly, you know, is the outcome exactly, you know, by design of John McCain.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. You know this was -- this funeral was John McCain from start to finish. I mean, I was even looking at the way people were seated.
Dana, you were inside the room.
But, you know, there was Hillary Clinton seated I believe next to Dick Cheney, two people who probably normally don't go out to dinner a lot, let's just put it that way.
And I could see -- I could see the hand of John McCain in all of this and kind of trying to mix it up. And it brought me back to the days of the Straight Talk Express. Dana and I were talking about it. Although I was on it a lot in the first generation. She was on it a lot in the second generation of it. But it is where McCain, this authenticity that David Axelrod is talking about, that Barack Obama talked about before he decided to run. It is where the McCain authenticity came to life. I cannot tell you how many hours he spent answering every single question reporters asked. Much to the chagrin of his staff. Because he knew a lot of those answers were going to cause headlines. And he would say to us, not that we're enemies of the people, he'd call us a bunch of jerks. He'd say, OK, time for you jerks to get off the bus and let me have a little peace. I thought of that today as I was watching this. Because everything in this seemed real, seemed authentic. People talking about John McCain, the warts and his achievements, and his temper, and true stories about the way he lived his life and the imperfections of his life. And I thought here we are again, we're on the Straight Talk Express, right until the very end, only the other people are doing the talking --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I just say one thing that happened to Gloria and me moments ago?
BASH: And it really speaks to what she is talking about. Obviously, we have these luminaries, the people who represented the leadership of this nation in both parties. Right before we came on with you, Fred, the bus driver of the Straight Talk Express came up to us. He was here as a guest. He drove in 2000. He drove in 2008. Everybody from presidents to his bus driver wanted to come because they were his friends.
WHITFIELD: Wow. It was so inclusive.
BORGER: And he said to us -- it was. He said to us, you know, there's nothing I have ever done in my life that was as much fun and as meaningful to me as it was being a part of those two campaigns and being included the way he felt in the family and in those campaigns and we ran into him today and it was really a remarkable moment for both of us.
WHITFIELD: How nice. That inclusion and the word of authenticity is so great because with political opponents, there has been some forged friendships. Just like, David, President Bush sitting next to Michelle Obama. Even though President Bush talked about in John McCain, he could frustrate me, but he made me better. In fact, he made us all better public servants.
You also saw a very cute moment of -- it was almost like, you know, you being with your brother sister or kids in church. And it looked like President Bush was handing Michelle Obama some mints or something and she kind of giggled a little bit and took it. It was such a cute moment. But it was very real that no matter the differences any of these people may have had politically, somehow in this aura, in this place, John McCain's funeral has displayed that there's real camaraderie, real mutual respect for one another.
[13:35:30] AXELROD: Well, that speak that President Obama quoted of Teddy Roosevelt's is really apt, "The man in the arena." John McCain, he respected people who were in the arena. He was a politician in the best sense of the word, in that he viewed it as service. He thought fighting for the things you believed in in that arena was the highest calling. And others who were in the arena and willing to engage in that fight were people he respected. Even if they were on the other side of issues. I also want to mention, I did my first show on CNN with John McCain
and, at the end of it, I asked him about how his political story would end and whether he might run for re-election again. And he talked about people who stayed too long. He said, I don't want to end on the downside. I want to end on the upside." So let the record show that he was impactful to the very end. Even in death, in these last few days. And what a remarkable legacy.
WHITFIELD: Yes, influential in life and death. We're seeing that.
BASH: And -
WHITFIELD: Gloria, go ahead.
WHITFIELD: It's -- Dana.
BASH: That's OK.
David mentioned Teddy Roosevelt. One of the things I think you can glean from people quoting Teddy Roosevelt or Robert Jordan, the fictional character in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which John McCain would say is as real as anybody, because he had this romantic vision since he was young and he started to love books and to read novels of larger-than-life figures. And he was a romantic in that way, but he also liked drama. He understood pageantry. That was also very, very much on display today and also really all through the week from the fact that he chose specific songs to, as Gloria was saying, probably putting people next to each other who wouldn't have otherwise broken bread or even sat next to each other. That was also and is also McCain's sense of drama and the romantic ideal of what could and should be.
BORGER: And also tradition. I would say Dana and I were talking about this earlier this morning, because it was Dana who pointed it out to me. But his son, James, read this requiem by Robert Lewis Stevenson, which is exactly what John McCain read when his father died at that service. And so there was -- there was a real respect for tradition which I think those of us who have known McCain for years and all of us have understand that it was an important part of his life. I mean, after all, he did serve. It was so key to understanding who he is because part of the tradition he lived is that people serve alongside each other, no matter what color they are, no matter what politics. If you believe in national service, you believe in service, then you serve. And that's your goal. Not self- aggrandizement. I think we saw that today.
WHITFIELD: Yes, very well put. Resonating images and messaging
David Axelrod, Gloria Borger and Dana Bash, thank you so much. We'll check back with as we continue to absorb all that took place over the last few days, culminating today at the funeral service at the National Cathedral.
[13:39:08] Senator John McCain's legacy is living on through his children. Coming up, more of the emotional and fiery tribute from his daughter, Meghan McCain.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Senator John McCain's daughter, Meghan, not only delivered an emotional, sincere, heartfelt, tearful eulogy today in honor of her late father, but also took a few jabs at a person unnamed, but everyone kind of puts it together, the president of the United States, by contrasting her father's legacy with the conduct and rhetoric of the Trump presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF JOHN MCCAIN: I am here before you today saying the words I have never wanted to say, giving the speech I have never wanted to give, feeling the loss I have never wanted to feel. My father is gone. John Sidney McCain III was many things. He was a sailor. He was an aviator. He was a husband. He was a warrior. He was a prisoner. He was a hero. He was a congressman. He was a Senator. He was a nominee for president of the United States. These are all the titles and the roles of a life that has been well lived. They are not the greatest of his titles. Nor the most important of his roles. He was a great man.
We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing. Not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served. He was a great fire who burned bright.
[13:45:20] Today, I want to share with you where I found out who John McCain truly was. It wasn't in the Hanoi Hilton. It wasn't in the cockpit of a fast and lethal fighter jet. It wasn't on the high seas or on the campaign trail. John McCain was in all of those places. But the best of him was somewhere else. The best of John McCain, the greatest of his titles and the most important of his roles was as a father. Imagine the warrior, the knight of the skies, gently carrying his little girl to bed. Imagine the dashing aviator who took his aircraft hurdling off pitching decks in the South China Seas kissing the hurt when I fell and skinned my knee. Imagine the distinguished statesman who counseled presidents and the powerful singing with his little girl in Oak Creek during a rain storm to "Singing in the Rain." Imagine the Senator, the fierce conscience of the nation's best self, taking his 14-year-old daughter out of school because he believed that I would learn more about America at the town halls he held across the country. Imagine the elderly veteran of war and government whose wisdom and courage were sought by the most distinguished men of our time. With his eyes shining with happiness as he gave his blessing for his grown daughter's marriage. You all have to imagine that. I don't have to because I lived it all. I know who he was. I know what defined him. I got to see it every single day of my blessed life.
John McCain was not defined by prison, by the Navy, by the Senate, by the Republican Party or by any single one of the deeds in his absolutely extraordinary life. John McCain was defined by love. I came to appreciate it first when he demanded it of me. I was a small girl thrown from a horse and crying from a busted collarbone. My dad picked me up. He took me to the doctor and he got me all fixed up. Then he immediately took me back home and made me get back on that very same horse. I was furious at him as a child but how I love him for it now.
My father knew pain and suffering with an intimacy and immediacy that most of us are blessed never to have endured. He was shot down. He was crippled. He was beaten. He was starved. He was tortured. He was humiliated. That pain never left him. The cruelty of his communist captors ensured he would never raise his arms above his head for the rest of his life. Yet, he survived. Yet, he endured. Yet, he triumphed. And there was this man who had been through all that with a little girl who simply didn't want to get back on her horse. He could have sat me down and told me all of that and made me feel small because my complaint and fear was nothing next to his pain and memory. Instead, he made me feel loved. Meghan, he said, in his quiet voice that spoke with authority and meant you had best obey, get back on the horse. I did. Because I was a little girl, I resented it. Now that I am a woman, I look back across that time and see the expression on his face when I climbed back up and rode again. And I see the pride and love in his eyes as he said, nothing is going to break you.
For the rest of my life, whenever I fall down, I'd get back up. Whenever I am hurt, I drive on. Whenever I am brought low, I rise. That is not because I am uniquely virtuous or strong or resilient. It is simply because my father, John McCain, was.
When my father got sick and I asked him what he wanted me to do with this eulogy, he said, show them how tough you are. That is what love meant to John McCain.
America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.
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[13:50:01] WHITFIELD: With me right now, Lauren Fox, a CNN congressional reporter, Matt Lewis, a CNN political commentator and a senior columnist for the "Daily Beast," David Swerdlick, a CNN political commentator and assistant editor for the "Washington Post," and Elaine Povich, author of "John McCain: American Maverick."
Good to see all of you.
David, very powerful words coming from Meghan, John McCain's daughter, not a mention of the name, you know, but you knew she was making reference to the president. And really, it seemed as though she was trying to set the record straight, respond to criticisms or even behavior. Do you think that was mission accomplished? DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it was. Good
afternoon, Fred. Yet, it was a moving, emotional speech, punctuated with that statement that America didn't need to be made great, America was always great. And I think she was reflecting the sentiments of a lot of people watching and a lot of people in that room.
My takeaway from the entire service that we watched today was that it was a rebuke of President Trump and of Trumpism. A lot of people, myself included, have been critical of Senator McCain on policy issues over time, but what you saw today was someone who had a sendoff that was dignified, had a sendoff that was bipartisan and had a sendoff that reflected service to something higher than oneself. None of those things is something that you would associate with President Trump, necessarily. And I think that was a message that resonated out of the memorial service, apart from, obviously, the mourning of the loss of Meghan McCain's father, Senator McCain.
WHITFIELD: Right, and this is about honoring the life of John McCain.
But, Matt, rebuke, that's a good word because we're talking about the president of the United States was not invited. However, you did see the chief of staff. You did see the secretary of defense. You did see his daughter and son-in-law. I found that to be very striking, considering the president was not invited. What did you make of that?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Donald Trump was the elephant not in the room or in the room, you know, whatever the expression is. You know, you don't have to say Donald Trump's name for the contrast to just be so obvious. And I think that, you know, John McCain is somebody who obviously sacrificed for his country, somebody who represented, I think, a post-World War II political time in America. The, you know, liberal democracy and the norms that we've become, you know, whether it's the Reagan era, the Vietnam era, 9/11. Donald Trump has changed all of that. And so I just think, you know, so many moments that were compelling in this funeral and the different eulogies, but the big takeaway, obviously, is just the clear contrast that every speech, every single speech, I think, was kind of -- I hate to say trolling Donald Trump, because I think that's the wrong way to frame it, but it was a subtle contrast to Donald Trump's life.
I mean, perhaps they were veiled criticisms, if not really trolling, as if to, you know, kind of ensnare and bring in, but it was almost, it seemed, Lauren, as -- I mean, rebuke is a great word. It's almost as though it's a reset or, like, you know, let's pull it together. Look, we are honoring somebody who symbolizes patriotism, reaching across the aisle, working together even if you have differences. Why can't that still be the case.
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, to me, it was really a pause in the way that we have been doing politics for the last two or three years at this point. And I will say, I was in the capitol rotunda yesterday and I was watching all the people who were coming in to pay their respects to Senator McCain, and what really struck me was just how different every person was. There were kids, there were elderly people, there were people who were all there celebrating Senator McCain and just such a diverse crowd. John McCain represented, to so many Americans, what it meant to put this country first. And I think that was something that just really struck me yesterday when I was at the capital, and then this morning, I was back at the capitol watching as he left the United States Senate for the final time, and the crowd outside, again, just very diverse. People wanting to remember what this country can be, and I think that that's what they heard from a lot of the speeches we heard today about Senator McCain.
WHITFIELD: And, Elaine, we now know, of course, John McCain's among his final wishes, he crafted his sendoff, his good-bye, hand picking, personally calling President Obama to be there, even to the surprise of President Obama, despite what Obama, you know, revealed, is that they would have nearly weekly meetings in the White House. So, was this the result, you know, in your view, what he was hoping, what John McCain was anticipated when he brought all of these people together and now we've all heard their thoughts.
[13:55:05] ELAINE POVICH, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, STATELINE.ORG & AUTHOR: Absolutely. What we say today was a reflection of the many facets of John McCain in an era where one dimension seems to be all we're capable of coping with, politically. John McCain was a man of many layers and many facets. And today, you saw the political, you saw the very serious, you saw the laughter, you heard the laughter. I could almost hear John McCain's own laughter in some of those terrible jokes that he used to tell that Senator Lieberman talked about. The food was better when I was governor, to the other inmate in the prisoner. You could hear John McCain laughing.
And above it all soared his family. Every single one of his seven children spoke, either in the Arizona memorial or the rotunda or here. Everyone, including Bridget, his daughter from Bangladesh, who very rarely speaks in public. So, you saw the many layers of this man on display. And I'm sure that's exactly how he wanted it.
WHITFIELD: It was memorable. It was touching. It really was a culmination of so much emotionally.
Elaine Povich, David Swerdlick, Lauren Fox, Matt Lewis, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.
And of course, join CNN tonight as we remember the life and legacy of John McCain in a special documentary, "John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls," tonight, 9:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.