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U.S. Senator John McCain Dies at 81. Aired 12-1a ET
Aired August 26, 2018 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Death of a legend. U.S. Senator John McCain. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.
John McCain served the U.S. Senate for more than 30 years. Six terms in that role. Better known as the Maverick. And what you're seeing right here, these images in progress, the hearse being carried through the city of Phoenix, Arizona. John McCain being remembered in that state.
The senator passed away Saturday afternoon. He was at his home near Sedona, Arizona, surrounded by his family in his final hour. He just recently discontinued treatment for the aggressive form of brain cancer he was fighting.
People knew this moment would come. Still it didn't make it any easier for the many people who knew him, people who admired him, people who loved him. His Senate colleagues remember him as a giant in that body, politically conservative but fiercely principled and independent.
His absence in the Senate this year due to declining health, it was clear a true warrior until the end. He battled that aggressive form of brain cancer, first diagnosed in 2017.
McCain served as a U.S. Navy aviator for more than 20 years. He was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. He was captured and held there as a prisoner of war for more than five years.
After the war he returned to politics in the United States. He ran for the highest office in the land, President of the United States, twice. And in 2008 became the Republican nominee, eventually losing, though, to the former U.S. president Barack Obama.
Shortly after the news broke of his death, a procession of vehicles could be seen escorting his hearse from the property. And again, what you're seeing right now, what we've been watching here for many hours now, the hearse carrying U.S. Senator John McCain.
CNN's Stephanie Elam has been covering the senator's death from outside McCain's home in Sedona, Arizona, and has this report for us. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Senator John McCain passed away late in the afternoon here in Sedona, Arizona, at his beloved cabin here in this beautiful part of the country, as the skies became increasingly cloudy and we saw spots of rain fall in this part of Arizona.
According to the statement that was put out by his office, he was surrounded by his wife, Cindy, and family members and they also noted that, at his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 60 years.
Since the news of his passing has spread, we've seen people come by, some dropping off flowers. We watched one couple leave an American flag here outside of the property we understand Senator McCain loves so much.
Just really an outpouring of admiration and love for the senator, a man who was elected six times to represent the state of Arizona in the U.S. Senate.
And as we were standing out here we saw, as a parade of SUVs arrived, led by a procession of police officers on motorcycles and a hearse. And then not so much longer after that we also saw that same procession leave the property here.
And from what we understand the senator was very much a part of planning how he wanted to be remembered and also planning how he wanted his funeral procession to go. Just another showing of just the strength that this American icon had all the way up until the end -- Stephanie Elam, CNN, Sedona, Arizona.
HOWELL: Stephanie, thank you.
Let's now bring in political analyst Michael Genovese. Michael the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University, joining us this hour from Los Angeles.
Michael, again, thank you for taking time with us. It is certainly a day that many people in the United States and quite honestly people who know of this man around the world, mourning his loss. Let's talk about the career first of Senator McCain, the statesman.
He ran twice for president in his career, both times falling short but he stayed on as a U.S. senator throughout, serving six terms in that role. Remarkable.
MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: When you think of this man as someone who was dedicated throughout his life to public service. And you know, it's never a good time to lose a hero.
And so often, with the passing of a public figure, we are in the situation where we puff up the person and his career and life. You don't have to do that with John McCain. John McCain's career was admirable. It was dedicated to public service. He gave of himself.
He was not superhuman. He was a man who was complex. He had his flaws. He had his feet of clay. But he was a truly great man and we've lost a hero.
And the question is who will replace him?
HOWELL: When you talk about, you know, his image certainly defined and shaped by his military service, let's talk just a bit about that.
How did that come into play, this veteran, this POW?
How does that define his legacy and death?
GENOVESE: He comes from a military family. His father was an admiral. And in Vietnam, of course, as you reported, he was a POW for about 5.5 years in Hanoi Hilton. He was offered the opportunity to leave early when the North Vietnamese found out his father was such a celebrated American military leader.
He refused. He refused because he said, no, there are men ahead of me who should go first. And he stayed. That resulted in an incredibly brutal series of tortures that he suffered, left him disfigured and permanently scarred.
While he was doing that, I was protesting the war in Vietnam. While he was doing that, most of us were sitting at home. This shows the dedication of the man, his love of country, his service, his devotion. It started in Vietnam. It didn't end there.
HOWELL: Let's talk a bit more about the spirit of this man. Again, Vietnam vet, POW. He survived torture. Better known as the Maverick. He charted his own course. He had that slogan, putting country first.
GENOVESE: And he was, in so many ways, the Republican Democrats loved the most. They loved him even though he was very conservative. They loved him because they felt he was a straight shooter and that was what he called his bus when he ran for president.
And in so many ways he was. He was willing to take on his own party. I remember early in his career as a senator, when Ronald Reagan put troops, American troops in a vulnerable position in Lebanon, he stood up as, I think, the lone Republican against that and said there's no clear mission, they're not protected, this is an accident and a disaster waiting to happen.
And in fact, a few days after he made those remarks, 241 Americans were slaughtered.
HOWELL: Michael, you talk about moments. There are a couple of moments I want to share with our viewers and I'm sure you'll remember these moments. The first, that critical moment on the Senate floor, if we can take that video to show our viewers. This was the moment that Republicans, they took control of the White
House under the U.S. president Donald Trump. They controlled both the Senate and the House. McCain's colleagues needed his vote for the complete repeal of ObamaCare.
And then he stepped in, in dramatic flair, and he denied them that opportunity.
There was another moment I want to talk about. We can talk about it in a moment just to play for our viewers. This was during the campaign, 2008, when he was running against the then democratic candidate Barack Obama. During a town hall, a woman accused Mr. Obama of being Arab. Look at how John McCain handled it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not - he's a - he's an Arab. He's not ...
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
MCCAIN: No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about. He's not. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: The first clip we talked about, an example of bipartisanship. The second clip, we have so many fact checkers that have to come into play now, soothsayers, it's kind of insane sometimes, just having to sort fact from fiction. But here's a guy who, when put on the spot, integrity defined his response.
GENOVESE: You know, we all have our favorite John McCain moments. That was my favorite because, in the middle of a heated race that he desperately wanted to win, he stopped, he paused, he corrected someone in the audience and he corrected a misimpression.
So there were moments when honor prevails and that is, I think, by far, my favorite McCain moment.
There's a kind of parlor game we all play, which is, who was the greatest person never to become president?
George (INAUDIBLE) one of my favorites. John McCain's another.
HOWELL: Let's look on for a moment. Michael, stand by with us; 9:08 presently in Phoenix, Arizona. We're looking at these images in progress. We've been watching the hearse carrying John McCain right now. We're looking at the American flag being held up.
Right there, we believe this may be the place, the funeral home possibly. We'll have to confirm that, of course, with our newsroom. But what we're seeing right now seems to be the point of destination, from watching this hearse carrying John McCain for the last several hours from Sedona, Arizona, to Phoenix, Arizona.
I think we're seeing it now in progress. This aerial may give us an indication. I think -- I believe that is the procession. We may be able to see the hearse.
And you know, you're looking at this and, you know, we're learning together. But I do believe that they are head toward that destination. Perhaps that is where cameras have been set up. We've been watching this procession carry Senator McCain down the highways through Arizona for several hours now. And again, it does seem that that will be the point of arrival, this destination point there in Phoenix, Arizona.
Michael Genovese --
HOWELL: -- is on the phone with us -- or rather live via Skype with us.
And Michael, again, thank you for being with us. Let's talk just a bit more about the legacy of this man.
How will he be remembered, in your view, in the state of Arizona?
How will he be remembered in the United States by people who may have voted for him or voted against him?
How will he be remembered around the world?
You'll remember Senator McCain stood firmly, saying that Russia is not an ally, not the people but rather the government of Russia not an ally. He was very clear in his position on state issues, on U.S. issues and international issues.
GENOVESE: That's right. He wasn't shy. He wasn't a wallflower. And he spoke out, even when it was against the government, whether Democratic or Republican.
But when you ask what manner of man was he, the answer I would give is he's the kind of person who should inspire us and serve as a role model and should give us hope that, in the midst of the ugly partisanship that so plagues our nation, that there are times when character rises above, when the right thing can be done, when you can look across the aisle to your opponent and not see him as an enemy.
So I think those are the things I hope we learn and I hope that are breathed into the American fabric, that John McCain's death should inspire us to do better, to be better.
HOWELL: A question that my producer shared with me earlier. I think it's very poignant but I want to pose it to you as well.
Does John McCain, in your view, represent a bygone era of bipartisanship?
Will we see it again?
GENOVESE: It certainly looks that way in the short run. But I have enough faith in the American system, the character of the American people, to say that we make mistakes, we learn from our mistakes, we turn it around, we right our mistakes.
One of the great things about our character is that we are able to look hard and true at times in the mirror and say we did wrong. John Kennedy called on us during the Civil Rights Movement to say, we are wrong, we need to change.
I think John McCain gives us the same kind of lesson, the ability to look ourselves in the eye and say, you don't have to follow partisanship blindly; rise above it, go for what's right. You may be wrong at times but try to do what's right above party.
HOWELL: Michael Genovese, live for us in Los Angeles via Skype. Michael, thank you again for your time on this day.
GENOVESE: Thank you, George.
HOWELL: John McCain, a war hero, a father, a political giant. We have more on the life, on the death and the legacy of this U.S. senator from Arizona. Stay with us as CNN breaking news coverage continues right after this.
HOWELL: He survived plane crashes, survived being taken captive in war, even survived skin cancer. But in the end, John McCain fought an aggressive form of brain cancer. McCain died at the age of 81 years old. Let's take a moment now to remember of the high points of his life.
John McCain was a Navy bomber pilot in the Vietnam War. He escaped death in a massive fire aboard an aircraft carrier and was shot down in his Skyhawk jet over North Vietnam.
McCain parachuted into a lake near Lake Hanoi, breaking both arms and a leg and was captured by communist soldiers. And in captivity John McCain was tortured severely and beaten repeatedly.
McCain later served his country in Washington, D.C., as a lawmaker in the House and then in the Senate. Twice ran for president. He died Saturday at his ranch in Arizona, his family at his side.
An official statement from McCain's office saying this, "At his death he had served the United States of America faithfully for 60 years."
Let's talk more now about this with Maeve Reston. Maeve a CNN U.S. political reporter. Maeve joining us this hour.
Thank you so much for your time. Undoubtedly, Senator McCain cast a big shadow on the U.S. Senate, on Washington, D.C., and on this nation. Tell us more about his life.
MAEVE RESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really interesting. I got to know him during the 2008 presidential campaign, when he was running for the second time. And in those early days in New Hampshire in 2007, he literally was riding around on the Straight Talk Express through the snow in New Hampshire, where he had staked his entire campaign, with just a couple of reporters.
His -- he was thought to be the heir apparent earlier on that year. And then his campaign completely blew up. He ended up boarding a Southwest flight back to New Hampshire. He put the campaign back into full gear and really had to start from scratch.
And he did that just by going from town to town throughout New Hampshire. And people were so struck by his frankness, his humor. He was constantly making people laugh throughout his speeches, sometimes telling the same jokes over and over again, but they seemed to always kind of work for him.
And he basically kind of charmed his way through New Hampshire in that campaign. And you could see the energy just start to build around him. There are those kind of electric moments on the campaign trail, when you know that someone is really rising to the top of the pack.
And it was just on the sheer force of determination, you know, to get back in it, to stay in the fight. He had an explosive temper. But often was just in great humor on the back of the bus.
There was nothing he liked more than traveling around with Lindsey Graham and Joe Liebermann. They called them the Three Amigos. They would tell funny stories about traveling with Hillary Clinton and trying to get her to do shots in one of those countries like Estonia or somewhere on the other end of the world. And just constantly telling jokes.
I've spoken to his friends and former advisers over the last couple of months. So often, those conversations were filled with those kinds of funny stories, really remembering that lightness that he brought to politics. And he was so determined to make sure that he stuck to the principles of bipartisanship, stability, respect --
RESTON: -- for your colleagues in the Senate, no matter which party they were with. And, of course, we all remember that famous moment in the 2008 campaign, when a woman stood up at one of his town halls and took the microphone and said she was scared thinking about the idea of Barack Obama as president.
And she went on to say he was an Arab. And McCain immediately shook his head, interrupted her, took it away and said, no, ma'am, he is a decent man, I admire him, I respect him. He just wouldn't stand for that.
And that is so different, George, than the tenor of politics today. It just, as you think about it, it just seems like a totally different era of politics.
HOWELL: You know, yes, there was no ambiguity. He didn't leave that to stand. I was just speaking with a guest a moment ago. And, again, we have many people, fact checkers, people who make sure that the truth is separated from fiction.
But you know, how refreshing to imagine a lawmaker who, when put on the spot, made it clear, was clear about the truth.
RESTON: Exactly, wouldn't buy into those conspiracy theories.
HOWELL: You know, one question I pass on to you here, the last time Senator McCain was in Washington, D.C., a year ago back in December, the question to you, during that time, look, he has spoken up about things he disagrees with.
But Mr. McCain did cast a big shadow over that body in his absence.
How noticeable was it?
RESTON: I mean, it was incredibly noticeable. Not just because, you know, the Republicans have such a slender majority at this point. But because -- I remember when I was covering Congress earlier on.
You know, he was always the senator along with colleagues on the other side of the aisle who would spearhead those bipartisan groups, particularly on immigration, really a driving force within that issue in particular, which so many politicians were just completely afraid to touch.
And it's hard to think of anyone else who is in the Senate right now, who is capable of, you know, forging that kind of consensus, at least getting people in a room to talk and fight out the issues.
And as you know, on immigration that became an incredibly thorny issue for him in his own re-election campaign. He had to take a hard swerve to the right to get re-elected. But that's a big part of his legacy. That was really the last big effort to get real comprehensive immigration reform through Congress.
And that voice was really lacking. And, of course, there was that remarkable speech once he had his diagnosis, when he came back to the Senate floor and, you know, made it clear to his colleagues, like, we're here to do things. You all need to remember that.
And, you know, a lot of senators said that they took that speech to heart in the moment. Unfortunately, I don't think we've seen as much cooperation as the American people would like to see in that spirit that he spoke of.
HOWELL: Speaking also to the moment in time that we are experiencing in the nation, a time of great polarity, a time you when -- you described these stories earlier, where Senator McCain would have drinks or whatever, shots, you said, with his rival. You know, a time that seems bygone at this moment.
But it's interesting because, through our coverage and looking at people's responses on social media, some people saying, look, I didn't agree with his politics but I respected the man. And others who did agree with his politics, they saw him as a person who could find paths forward together with the political rival.
The question that I have for you, how do you believe people will remember John McCain?
RESTON: Well, there is so much about kind of the legend and the story of John McCain, those days in the Hanoi Hilton that he has written at length about and going through that period of torture.
So people remember him certainly as a real war hero with the exception, of course, of President Trump, who made those really regrettable statements about John McCain.
And I think that really shocked a lot of people, even people who supported Trump, because you just -- it seemed unthinkable to tarnish someone who had -- or to try to tarnish --
RESTON: -- someone who had served their country and gone through that kind of ordeal.
But I do remember talking to Democrats throughout that presidential campaign and, over and over again, even when it got pretty nasty toward the end, people did have real respect and reverence for his service to the country, which, of course, was a deeply instilled principle within his family.
And the way that he had supported service members, you know, he was constantly going overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, really making sure that the military and veterans had what they needed. And I think that was appreciated by Americans of all political stripes. And that also really is a voice that will be missed.
HOWELL: Maeve Reston, on the phone with us. Again, thank you for giving us the perspective there.
RESTON: My pleasure, George. Thank you.
HOWELL: Thank you.
Reaction again coming in from the many people who knew John McCain.
The Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence posted this tweet, quote, "Karen and I send our deepest condolences to Cindy and the entire McCain family on the passing of Senator John McCain. "We honor his lifetime of service to this nation and our military and
in public life. His family and friends will be in our prayers. God bless John McCain," end quote.
The U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell visited with John McCain back in May, saying he didn't want to miss the opportunity to tell him how much his friendship meant to him.
Earlier on Saturday, McConnell released a statement, saying this, "The nation mourns the loss of a great American patriot, a statesman who put his country first and enriched this institution through many years of service. It's an understatement to say the Senate will not be the same without our friend, John."
Again, we'll have more on the passing of U.S. Senator John McCain after the break. You're watching CNN continuing coverage. Stay with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
HOWELL: Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and around the world. Our continuing coverage on CNN, the death of a war hero, the Republican senator from Arizona, Senator John McCain.
I'm George Howell at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.
The people who knew John McCain described him as genuine, as bold and brave. McCain became an institution respected by both sides of the aisle during his more than 30 years in Congress.
He survived 5.5 years as a prisoner of war, this in Vietnam. He did not let that, though, stand as a defining point in his life or career. McCain ran twice for President of the United States.
Today his friends and former rivals remembering him and honoring him. McCain died Saturday. He was at his home in Arizona. This after battling a vicious form of brain cancer. This Wednesday he would have turned 82 years old.
And until the last moments, McCain remained grateful, writing this year in his memoir, quote, "'The world is a fine place worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it,' spoke my hero, Robert Jordan, in Ernest Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.'
"And I do, too. I hate to leave it. But I don't have a complaint. Not one. It's been quite a ride," he says.
Let's bring in Lanhee Chen now, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was the public policy director for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney in 2012 and joining this hour from Mountain View, California.
Thank you for your time.
LANHEE CHEN, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Thank you, George.
HOWELL: Lanhee, people who remember the life and legacy of this man, he was fiercely conservative but bipartisan in his approach. It is hard not to contrast that to the current political environment of polarity.
CHEN: No, I think the differences are glaring. You had here a man in John McCain, who was fierce in defense of his own principles yet willing to work across the aisle when it required -- when it was required to be done.
And he was someone who, I think -- we don't see enough of characters like John McCain in our politics here in the United States today and I think we're worse for it.
You look at the people who have expressed their condolences and the sentiments of sympathy coming from so many different people across the political spectrum. You realize the impact this man had. They just don't make them like John McCain anymore.
HOWELL: You were involved in the crafting of Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate. Let's talk just a bit here about the crafting of John McCain as a presidential candidate.
What stands out to you?
Here's a person who certainly had the military experience to back it up, had the brand of integrity that certainly carried through. We saw that play out in very certain specific moments.
What do you take away from that point in his career?
CHEN: Well, recall, John McCain actually ran for president in 2000 against George W. Bush. Then he ran again in 2008.
And both times he ran as a candidate who would give it to you straight, somebody whose experience in the military, experience in government qualified him well but also gave him the opportunity to speak out on issues where maybe he would buck his party.
And I think you saw that in 2008. You saw that when there were efforts to try and smear, for example, President Obama as something other than American. John McCain came to his defense. You can see it over and over again.
So that branding of him as a candidate really wasn't very difficult because he was somebody -- the Straight Talk Express was what his bus was called, his campaign bus was called. And that was a very easy thing to do because that's exactly who he was. HOWELL: From the position of crafting a candidate, his pick for Sarah Palin, we have seen her respond, of course, offering condolences to Senator McCain's family.
But that point, that decision, how does that play into his legacy and how people remember him?
CHEN: Well, obviously, that's a very controversial moment. And a lot of people, particularly, I think, on the American Left, have criticized McCain for that choice.
Now there's no question that people will continue to debate whether that was right or wrong. But John McCain, for all of his plaudits and all the things he did in his career, he said, if you look at the pick of Sarah Palin, it was something at the time that maybe made sense but perhaps, in retrospect, he may have done --
CHEN: -- differently. And I think everybody has decisions in their lives they wish they had made differently.
And I think for Senator McCain that is something that will stand out but will not define his career. So much more beyond that defined him and who he was, not the least of which was his ability to reconcile with former political enemies or political people whom he disagreed with.
HOWELL: Ability to reconcile with many but perhaps not one. We do know Senator McCain, he followed his gut, followed his instinct in life, for sure. We understand, in his passing, he's indicated he does not want the U.S. president Donald Trump at his funeral. Instead, he would prefer previous presidents to be there to speak for him.
But the simple disconnect there, let's just talk about the fact that that is.
CHEN: Well, it's sad, first of all, that the relationship was not reconcilable before his passing. Obviously President Trump said a number of things about McCain during the campaign in 2016 that were not just difficult but really were fundamentally, I think from Senator McCain's perspective, probably unforgivable.
And I think a lot of people around Senator McCain would have said the same thing. And so that relationship, unfortunately, didn't get a whole lot better after President Trump won. So what you saw was a relationship that was unreconciled. And ultimately the two men just never did see eye to eye.
And I think you even see that in the way President Trump has responded tonight to Senator McCain's death. He's basically said that he offers condolences to the family while not commenting at all on Senator McCain, his life or his career.
So that measure of failure to reconcile I think is a sad thing, both for the country but also individually for the president and probably Senator McCain.
HOWELL: The U.S. president did tweet condolences to Senator McCain's family. Important to point that out. We appreciate your time, Lanhee Chen. Thank you so much for your time there in Mountain View, California.
CHEN: Thank you.
HOWELL: Duty, honor and country, the principles that guided this senator from Arizona. Up next, we continue our coverage, remembering, celebrating his life and legacy.
HOWELL: Back to our breaking news covering, the U.S. senator John McCain has died. He was 81 years old. His family announced Friday that he had decided to stop treatment for the aggressive form of brain cancer he was fighting.
McCain is being praised across the political spectrum as a Navy officer, a prisoner of war, a statesman. He served his country for six decades. CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox is covering this story from the nation's capital.
Lauren, what's been the reaction across Washington?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tonight are devastated by this loss. Senator McCain was such a force on Capitol Hill. It's really hard to even summarize the kind of impact that he had on foreign policy, immigration, the release of the torture report, as it became known in the U.S. Senate.
He talked so often about issues on the Senate floor. He talked with reporters constantly. We were always badgering him to answer news of the day type questions, politics, foreign policy, immigration again.
So was just into every piece of politics in Washington. And while he was a conservative member, a member of the Republican Party, there were times where he voted against Republicans and, of course, notably that came in 2017, when he voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act.
I was working, covering that vote in the Senate that night. And it was just such an impactful moment when Senator McCain walked in and, of course, had that famous thumbs down for the vote. Just --
FOX: -- it was a note again about how Senator McCain would vote with his party on so many issues. He was a Republican. But when he thought something was wrong -- and he did in this process of repealing the Affordable Care Act; he was upset that it had not gone through regular order, that Democrats weren't brought into the process -- he voted against it.
And I think that that is what he's going to be remembered for. Senator Chuck Schumer had a statement tonight. He's the leader of the Democrats in the Senate. He said that he was going to introduce a resolution to actually rename the Russell Senate office building after Senator McCain.
Of course he can't do that unilaterally. But it's just a testament to how close Senator McCain was with his Democratic colleagues. Obviously, he's going to be deeply missed in Washington. It's just not going to be the same place without him.
HOWELL: It is interesting. As journalists, we cover the news. We cover the events of these politicians, Right or Left or independent, down the middle, whatever they may be.
But it is interesting to hear the people who knew John McCain, talking about a man who really embodied the spirit of bipartisanship, a person who really came from the gut and tried to find a path through the middle. Lauren Fox, we appreciate your time in recounting those experiences, reporting on Senator McCain.
FOX: Thank you.
HOWELL: Again, you're watching CNN breaking news coverage. The death of Senator John McCain. We'll be right back after the break. Stand by.
HOWELL: Breaking news this hour, following the life and legacy of Senator John McCain. He leaves an incredible legacy in U.S. politics. Colleagues across the political spectrum continue to remember his life this hour. His death leaves an empty spot not just in the Senate but in the Republican Party as a whole.
John McCain was known as the party's Maverick, not shy about making his feelings known, even if that meant crossing party lines. The spirit of his character was first seen in the 1970s, when he survived more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
After his two-decade career in the U.S. Navy ended, he turned to politics, serving one term in the House and six terms in the U.S. Senate. That career in politics also included two runs for the U.S. president.
After several bouts with skin cancer over years, doctors diagnosed him with an aggressive form of brain cancer last year. It took him away from Washington, D.C., but he still remained a firebrand in his home of Arizona. John McCain was 81 years old when he died Saturday. He leaves behind his wife, Cindy, and seven children.
Also weighing in on his thoughts about John McCain, our senior political analyst, David Gergen. I spoke with him just an hour ago and here are parts from that conversation.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: At a time when the country so needs new heroes or icons, so young people can look up to somebody, John McCain reminds us what that's all about.
I think (INAUDIBLE) he was captured in Vietnam at a time when his father was a four-star admiral and headed up the Pacific fleet. And the North Vietnamese, when they realized that he was that son of Admiral McCain, went to John McCain and said, we're going to let you go home. We're going to free you because of your father and who you are.
And he said, I'll only go home if my men go home with me.
GERGEN: And the North Vietnamese refused that. And he stayed. And he was tortured. Our POWs in the Vietnam War were imprisoned longer than in any other war in American history. They suffered badly. But John McCain came out with the respect of his comrades and increasingly of the country and the world.
HOWELL: David, how would you say his military experience, his service, how did that play into his life of public service?
GERGEN: I think it heavily shaped his life. I think he discovered, through military service, as his father and his grandfather had, that doing something beyond himself -- and John McCain --
GERGEN: -- talking about that all his life, was one of the most rewarding things one could do as a way to give back, say thank you for being -- for letting me grow up in this country, for the freedom I've enjoyed.
And John McCain, by the way, was also -- he had a very playful side. And he challenged authority a lot. He wound up with a lot of demerits when he went through the Academy. But he was -- when he came out, he was steeled for the occasion. But there are a lot of wonderful stories about John McCain, the hell-raiser, too.
HOWELL: The last time he was in Washington, D.C., this was back in December. And Senator McCain, he lived 13 months after his diagnosis, again, with this aggress form of brain cancer. Next Wednesday would have been his 82nd birthday, just shy of making that birthday, David. But even in fighting cancer, he still continued to make his voice
heard with, as you point out, the political winds shifting, quite frankly, to his dislike.
GERGEN: Yes. There's something about -- to some people, it's spooky that he died on the same day of the year as Ted Kennedy died and of the same disease. I think John McCain would have found something very special about that because he knew a lot about American history.
And he would remind you that two of the founding fathers famously died on the same day in the same year, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. And it was on the 50th anniversary of the 4th of July, the 1776.
And it's one of those quirks in history when two people come together. John McCain and Ted Kennedy really had a great deal of respect for each other. They were people who were larger than life and also reached across the aisle.
And I think, in many ways, it's very fitting. John McCain would think it's fitting. And I wonder if he let himself go in some ways for that day, to die on the same day as his friend, Teddy Kennedy.
HOWELL: Wow. Didn't even think of that possibility, David. You know, I want to -- you're on the phone with us. So you may not be able to see the images. But I want to ask our director to play a moment.
There were certain moments, David, as you'll remember, moments that really stood out in John McCain's life. One moment -- we just played it a moment ago -- but this was that critical moment on the Senate floor. This, of course, after the Republicans took the White House under the control of the U.S. president Donald Trump.
They controlled both the House and Senate. And McCain's colleagues needed his vote for the complete repeal of ObamaCare. You saw it there. That move in dramatic flair, denying them the opportunity. David, that was a moment.
And then I want to play this other moment. This was during the campaign, when McCain was running against the then Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, during a town hall. A woman accused Mr. Obama of being an Arab. Here's how Senator John McCain handled it. Let's listen and watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not - he's a - he's an Arab. He's not ...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
MCCAIN: No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about. He's not. Thank you. (END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: David, nowadays it takes fact checkers, it takes teams to sort out fact from fiction. But John McCain in that moment, the man stood for integrity. He said what needed to be said.
The question I have for you, this man, who stood as a tower of bipartisanship, regardless of blowback, what are your thoughts about that life that he lived and he stood by?
GERGEN: Well, I have a great deal of respect for it because I think he was a person of integrity. He stood up for what he thought was right. And he was willing to take a lot of punishment when he did that, especially, say, on the ObamaCare you that cited.
But I thought (INAUDIBLE) the piece that you had, when he talked to that woman, that was very special to me because, in the rallies that Sarah Palin, his running mate, controversial running mate, and (INAUDIBLE) were starting to get very rowdy and very anti-Obama and there was a racist quality to it.
But there was also a very threatening quality to it. And McCain put a stop to that. He did not think that was in bounds. It was out of bounds to go after Obama like that. He stood up and said that. And I can tell you some people in his party didn't like that.
But at a time when, you know, when the Trump rallies --
GERGEN: -- are as controversial as they are and a lot of people in his base welcome these rallies as a time for them to really express their true feelings. But a lot of people who are not part of the McCain base see those rallies as threatening and as, increasingly, you know, the "lock her up" and all the other stuff, it's very disturbing.
And they worry about the safety of those rallies. And nobody has put a stop to that in the McCain (sic) rallies. I'm sorry to say. I hoped the president would do that.
HOWELL: David Gergen, our senior political analyst on the phone with us, remembering the life and legacy of the U.S. senator, John McCain.
David, thank you again for taking time to join us by phone from Massachusetts.
GERGEN: I'm -- it's a privilege to take part in honoring him. Thank you.
HOWELL: Again, the United States remembering an American hero. This U.S. senator from the state of Arizona, John McCain, passed away just a few hours ago after a long battle with brain cancer.
After the break, stay tuned for our CNN documentary about his extraordinary life, "John McCain: Moments that Made the Man."
Remember again, John McCain, a person who was really the spirit of bipartisanship, a man who, many people who remember him, define him as a person who stood for integrity. John McCain. Stay with us.