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Graham Salutes McCain; McCain Motorcade En Route to Arizona Capitol; Ceremonies for McCain. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 29, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: How deep his understanding of compromise is and how that must endure. And at one point, Senator Graham told his colleagues, quote, if you want to help the country, be more like John McCain.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He taught me that honor and imperfection are always in competition. I do not cry for a perfect man. I cry for a man who had honor and always was willing to admit to his imperfection.


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Graham joins me live now.

Thank you so much for coming in. I appreciate it.


BASH: I was sitting in the Senate chamber yesterday watching you deliver that speech, that tribute to John McCain. And seeing you speak right next to John McCain's desk, draped in that -- that black garment, the white flowers, it twisted my stomach. I can't imagine what it was like for you.

GRAHAM: Well, anybody that knew John, I'm sure -- the point was -- what hit me was the desk. I mean, you know, funerals are for a reason. They're for the living. They give us a chance to remember what we've lost and how we -- how we can cope with it. It hit me really hard when I saw the cloth over the desk because I've sat in that desk by him for years talking about everything under the sun. And that will be an empty desk. And my life is changed, like everybody who knew -- who knew John. And I want to make sure that what -- what lies ahead for me, that I -- that I learn from him and bring out the best in me trying to be more like him.

BASH: When you announced your candidacy for president in 2016, I was there in your South Carolina hometown and I learned more about your personal history.


BASH: That your parents died 15 months apart. GRAHAM: Yes.

BASH: You were just 21 years old. And it strikes me, thinking about that, that McCain was kind of a surrogate father to you, a surrogate big brother. How would you describe him?

GRAHAM: Well, let's break it down. I never did anything politically of consequence without John. So in the sense we had a political marriage. I've lost my partner here. I mean all of the big stuff, campaign finance, climate change, Iraq, you name it. I was by John's side. I was his wingman. When I decided to run for president, he was there doing anything and everything. So it was not a political friendship. It was a real friendship. I admired him. I respected him. And I came to love him. And what I'll have to do now is realize that the person I picked the phone up and call and ask a question about what to do or where should we go won't be there. I just --

BASH: So that's what I kind of meant, like almost a --

GRAHAM: Yes, no, this is --

BASH: A parent.

GRAHAM: When my parents -- my sister was 13. And when my parents died, I had an aunt and uncle who helped me raise my sister. But I focused on her because it meant a lot, obviously, to my parents that she be well taken care of and it broke their heart that they were going to leave that task to me. And so I just had something to focus on. And my sister turned out great, in spite of me.

So what do I have to focus on now? My job as a United States senator, and my time with John McCain, to make sure that what we cared about the most is still front and center.

John heard people that no one else listened to.

I just met with Ivanka today. What can we do in Africa? Africa is a place in peril, but it's a great opportunity. I'm going to be a voice in President Trump's ear, if he'll allow me, about why you can't leave Afghanistan. What it takes to win. And try to be -- pick up the -- the baton on human rights. Something that, as you look inward, Brexit and all of these sort of movements throughout the world, isolationist movements, they are dangerous because safety and security is never had within your borders. Safety and security is had when you're outside your borders shaping the world.

BASH: You talk about human rights. I mean you've told so many stories. You told some of them on the -- on the Senate floor yesterday about traveling the world with him. How many times did you go to Iraq and Afghanistan?

GRAHAM: We were -- that I can remember, 45.

BASH: Forty-five?

GRAHAM: Going -- BASH: And then --

GRAHAM: Going all over the world to places where people are yearning to be free that are being oppressed by their government. John had a romantic view of this nation. He was a hard-nosed idealistic person, but very practical. And I don't want to ever lose that. I want to -- I don't want to become so practical and so centered about me and my position in the world that I don't hear the voices of others. And the best thing we can do as a country for John McCain's memory is to engage the world, not retreat from it.

BASH: I want to play a clip from an interview back in 2012 that you, Senator McCain and Joe Lieberman did together. The famous three amigos.

GRAHAM: Yes. Thank God for Joe.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Lindsey is a reserve colonel in the Air Force. He serves as active duty for years in Iraq, now in Afghanistan. Joe, being a key member of the Homeland -- the chairperson of the Homeland Security Committee. Ad so we have a lot of common interests. Common interests, common working together has built up a unique friendship over the years.


[12:35:25] GRAHAM: And one thing we had in common is that we loved John, and John loved John.

You know, I've said, you know, love and John McCain don't usually go in the same sentence, but it should, because if he loved you, and Joe Lieberman, you know, I've talked to him a bunch. You know, Kelly Ayotte, you know, the band is still out there and we've got to get it reformed. But if you were loved by John McCain, you felt it. Man, this guy could -- could let you know he -- you appreciate -- you were appreciated better than anybody I've ever met.

BASH: But I want to ask you about that. So you're the only amigo left in the Senate.

GRAHAM: Yes, that's right.

BASH: So who are the next two or three or four?


BASH: I mean do -- you talked about it in the context of a wing man yesterday.


BASH: That you were John McCain's wing man. Who are your wing men or women going to be now? GRAHAM: Well, so, Marco was on the floor. Marco has John McCain's

world view. Dan Sullivan's going to be the new head of IRI. Joni Ernst was the first female combat veteran in the history of the Senate. Tom Cotton served in Iraq. So --

BASH: And are those -- you feel confident that they're going to be willing to put country first over politics?

GRAHAM: Yes, I really do. Cory Gardner has just really jumped all in, in North Korea. And, you know, I'm doing a Russian sanctions bill and Cory has really taken an interest in foreign policy, particularly Asia. There are a lot of people in the House who served in Iraq and Afghanistan that there's a thing called the maverick pact that John helped start where you invest in people under 40. A veterans component to it.

So I'm going to try to stay involved with these folks. Help where I can. But no one person will replace John. But all of us together, if we fight for that John McCain view of how to keep America safe and the strongest thing about America is our values, we'll be fine.

BASH: I want to play another clip for our viewers of something that you said on the Senate floor yesterday.


GRAHAM: John taught us how to lose. When you go throughout the world, people remember his concession speech as much as anything else. There are so many countries where you can't afford to lose because they kill you. And John said that night, President Obama is now my president. So he healed the nation at a time he was hurt.

I learned that serving a cause greater than yourself hurts. Anybody in the military can tell you the risk you take. He couldn't put his jacket on. He couldn't comb his hair because he got hurt serving a cause greater than himself.


BASH: Senator, people who know I cover you as a journalist, know I know you, ask me more than anything else the following question, how can Lindsey Graham be the man and politician that John McCain was and strive to be even more so and play golf with Donald Trump, be there for Donald Trump and, frankly, sometimes carry the water of Donald Trump. What's your answer to that question?

GRAHAM: It's pretty simple. If you knew anything about me, I want to be relevant. I want to make sure that this president, Donald Trump, who I didn't vote for, ran against, is successful. We went to president-elect Obama's side in Chicago, John and I, what can we do to help you, Mr. President?

I regret the relationship between the two. John is my dearest friend in the world and I'm going to try to help President Trump. And I will because I think country first means that. And if he'll listen, I'll talk to him. I've enjoyed my time with him. When he says something bad about John, it pisses me off. He called yesterday after my speech and he couldn't have been nicer. He said, that was very sad. I just want to let you know that you did -- did right by your friend. I said, thank you, Mr. President.

BASH: The president called you?

GRAHAM: Yes. Yes, he did. Just right out of the blue. And, you know, to those who want me to say the only way you can honor John McCain is to fight Donald Trump and try to kick him out of office, I don't agree. I am going to do what I think is best for the country using what John taught me about the country.

This president's got to figure out Syria. I know what John thought about Syria. Be nice if you could convince President Trump that John was right about Syria.

BASH: Can I just ask you, Senator McCain, you had a discussion with him, sought his advice on how to deal with President Trump.


BASH: Remember, we're cable, so you can tell --


BASH: Tell me the answer, tell me what he really said unvarnished.

GRAHAM: Well, basically he says, help him where you can but all the drama and the BS, watch it. A lot of people have been burned by being in Trump's orbit. Bottom line is, I just want to be a bridge to the extent I can be from the McCain world, the Bush world, all the other worlds to the Trump world so we can get good policy and keep this country safe.

[12:40:19] President Trump has rebuilt the military in a fashion that John and I believed he should. He has done some things against ISIS that were long overdue. He's withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement. So I want to give him credit where credit's due. And I literally, literally do want to help him. And if that makes somebody mad, I'll just live with that. I know what I need to be doing and I'm going to do it. And how I do it, a lot of it comes from John.

Today is his birthday. This is the first time in a long time he is without pain. Happy birthday, John, you have earned everything you're experiencing right now. And I will be there, sooner probably rather than later given my family's history. But between now and the time -- my time -- my time's up, I'm going to use every day, every hour and every minute to try to make this country stronger and safer and make this world better. And the best way I can do that is take the values of John McCain and mix it with the personality of Lindsey Graham and do something about it. Rather than be an observer to history, I'd like to help shape it.

BASH: I want to show you something that -- is on the Internet. I think we have it. We can put it on the screen. Google Maps. And I know you're not big into technology. Google is a search engine. GRAHAM: I'm as good as John was.

BASH: A search engine. Sure. And it also shows you maps. And that is one. Check that out. On Google Maps, the Russell Building is already called the McCain Office Building.

GRAHAM: Oh, really? Yes.

Well, Mitch had a good idea. Rather than Schumer or any one person figuring out how to honor John, let's all get together. And I'd like to see if we can find a way to honor John big, not small, and see what the family feels about it.

One thing I thought about is the visitor center. If you -- Capitol -- if the first thing you saw when you got -- got to the Capitol was the life of John McCain, you'd be pretty impressed.

BASH: Although he didn't like how much money was spent on that.

GRAHAM: That's why I want to do it. He hated that place. It's my way of getting back at him. I want to name something after him he hated.

BASH: All right, senator, thank you so much for coming. Thank you for your remembrances. And thank you for everything.

GRAHAM: Happy birthday, John.

BASH: Happy birthday, for sure.

And as we go to break, I want to show our viewers, and you, senator, the latest cover of "People" magazine. The amazing life of an American hero. Very well said.

We're going to continue our special coverage remembering Senator John McCain. You're seeing live pictures. The state capitol in Arizona. Stay with us.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We want to welcome you to our special coverage of the memorial service for Senator John McCain. So many words used to describe this man, hero, statesman, patriot and friend, mentor and maverick, and for so many an inspiration.

John McCain, he passed away on Saturday, a victim of cancer. He was a respected senator and presidential candidate, a leader in the truest sense of the word. For the past 30-plus years, making his mark here in Washington, a hard-charging senator who spoke his mind, fought the good fight, doing his best to honor the people who put him there. That would be the people of Arizona, honoring them by being a champion for honest discourse, for fairness and for compromise.


the right thing at your own expense. And he did that time and time and time again.


[12:45:08] BLITZER: During his overseas travels, so many war zones, checking in on members of the U.S. military, the American sons and daughters on the front lines of his country's conflicts serving as he had, and always remembering the sacrifice.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: They knew that no one had their backs more than he did. They knew that no one was doing more for them to ensure that they had the means to prevail. Our troops loved him, and they knew that he loved them.


BLITZER: His personal sacrifice saw him spend five and a half years in a north Vietnamese prison camp, the Hanoi Hilton as they used to call it. Shot down, tried to use him as a political pawn, but he wouldn't take the easy way out, instead standing strongly with his brothers in arms. In the end, he wanted to be remembered for his efforts on behalf of America.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: But I've tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I've been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so grateful.


BLITZER: A patriot. He said a flawed patriot who may not have always made all the right decisions, but always tried to do what was right for his country and for his family and to do so honorably.

Today is the first ceremony leading up to John McCain's private burial on Sunday. And it comes on what would have been the senator's 82nd birthday.

The motorcade that you're seeing live pictures right now carrying the senator's casket will arrive over at the state capitol in Phoenix, Arizona, just moments from now. We're told maybe 10 or 15 minutes or so following the service. The public will be allowed into the capitol rotunda where the senator will lie in state.

This will be a special chance for the people of Arizona to honor Senator McCain for his decades of public service to his state and to the nation.

Our correspondent Stephanie Elam is joining us now from outside the state capitol.

Stephanie, set the scene for us as we watch these live pictures coming in of the motorcade making its way to where you are. Set the scene about the details of today's ceremony.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as it is, it would have been his 82nd birthday. It is the perfect time for them to celebrate the life of this Arizonian, of this icon of the state, who was beloved here. This is a state that he and his wife Cindy McCain chose to raise their family, to adopt as their home. And this is where he chose also to pass away, at his beloved cabin in Sedona.

So now he is making his way to the capitol here. And if you take a look behind me, you can see that there are members of the military, of law enforcement that are lined up outside of the capitol building. They are here to honor the senator as he makes his way here to the capitol.

We understand that Cindy McCain and the family will be following in that motorcade as well. And when they arrive here, they'll be greeted by Governor Doug Ducey. And Cindy McCain will be escorted by their sons Jack and Jimmy and the immediate family will come behind them.

And then, on the inside, once the private ceremony begins here, not too long after the top of the hour here, when that private ceremony gets underway, we should hear remarks from Senators Jon Kyl, Governor Ducey again, also Congressman Jim Kolbe, also a Vietnam veteran, is expected to play a role today as well. And then the benediction will be given by Senator Jeff Flake.

And then after those family members and invited guests pay their respects, later today, at about 2:00 p.m. local time, Wolf, they are going to open the doors up to the public and allow everyone who wants to come and pay their respects to the senator to do just that. They're saying they'll keep the doors open as long as there are people in line. Keep in mind, this is a man who won six times to represent the state of Arizona in the U.S. Senate. So it just shows you how well he use loved. And there are people who have been coming out here since before the sun was up, coming out here with their flags to remember him and just to have that moment to thank the senator for all he did for the state of Arizona, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Stephanie, we'll get back with you.

We're showing our viewers these live pictures coming in from the state capitol and the motorcade moving toward the state capitol right now with Senator McCain's casket.

Joining us now to access and to take a close look at this amazing individual, our CNN political commentator, former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, Charlie Dent is with us, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, former State Department and Pentagon spokesman, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, Elaine Povich is the author of "John McCain: A Biography," a journalist for, and our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is with us as well. [12:50:04] And, Dana, let me get right to you, first of all, because

you've covered Senator McCain, I've covered Senator McCain, for a long time. This is a special moment, and it's just the first of several moments that we'll be taking place in Arizona and then here in Washington, finally in Annapolis, Maryland, at the U.S. Naval Academy.

BASH: That's right.

I mean just watching the motorcade making its way to the state capitol, there's so many things running through my mind. The first thing is that Arizona was and is the only home that John McCain ever knew. As Admiral Kirby, you know, as someone who comes from a military family, he had an itinerate life. He moved around. Went to a different school pretty much every year in his childhood because that's the way it works when you are in a military, in his case, Navy family. And it wasn't until he married Cindy McCain and really laid down roots in Arizona and, of course, ran for the House first and then the Senate, that he came to find and have Arizona as his home.

And he was in a really tough race when he first ran in the House. And the way that he beat back his challenger, who was calling him a carpet bagger by saying -- was by saying, the longest he ever lived in one place was in the Hanoi Hilton when he was held prisoner because that was what happens when you're in a military family. And really, from there on in, he was in that home state of Arizona so much, did so much for the state and, of course, spent the last six months or more there at his favorite spot in his cabin near Sedona.

BLITZER: And, Dana, as you know, he was diagnosed with a very severe form of brain cancer about 13 months ago. He went through all sorts of treatment. In the end, clearly, it didn't work out.

But he was very much involved in planning a lot of what we're about to see.

BASH: Very much. He -- my understanding is that he wasn't initially that enthralled with planning a funeral. This is before he got ill with cancer. But he was convinced by friends, friends like Bob Dole, who understands the idea of legacy and things like that. You know, John, you've got to -- you've got to plan your funeral. You want to do it right and you want to have your wishes known for your family and your friends and your colleagues. And so he did. And as we know, this is very detailed down to, you know, all of the specifics in terms of who's going to be there, what readings we will hear tomorrow in Arizona and also Saturday at the National Cathedral and so forth.

BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures on the left part of your screen. That's the Arizona governor, Governor Doug Ducey, and the first lady of Arizona, Angela Ducey. They will greet Cindy McCain, the McCain family, who are now in this motorcade heading towards the state capitol.

Elaine Povich, you've spent a lot of time working on the biography of Senator McCain. What goes through your mind as you watch this first of several memorial services that are planned? ELAINE POVICH, AUTHOR, "JOHN MCCAIN: A BIOGRAPHY": I think the first

thing that I think of is that part of this he would have hated. I can just hear him make something wisecrack about, you know, why are we doing four different ceremonies? I mean, really, one is enough.

But I think part of him also would have not enjoyed exactly but understood what his presence in the pantheon of American politics meant and why he deserves such a lengthy, drawn out and poignant, if I can say, series of events around his life.

BLITZER: John Kirby, like you, veteran of the United States Navy. You have special thoughts about this unique individual?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I do. Nothing I did in the Navy even comes close to John McCain.

BLITZER: You achieved a higher ranking than he did.

KIRBY: But nowhere near the courage and the bravery.

No, I think of two things here. One is the impact that he had as a senator on the United States Navy and the United States military through the legislation that he sponsored. Of course, the culmination of that is the last defense bill named for him which funds the Pentagon at higher levels than ever in history. And he always made it a point, Wolf, in every hearing that I sat, you know, in the front row behind my boss, who was testifying for him -- first of all, always really tough questions, but always getting at the root of what the troops needed and their families. He never forgot the military families.

The second thing that I think about when I watch this motorcade is just the span of history that the McCain family has marked on, on our Navy and on our world. His grandfather graduated from the academy in 1906. First went to sea with Teddy Roosevelt's great white fleet, rose to four star command, got the Navy Cross, which is the second highest award in the military only to the Medal of Honor, for saving two cruisers that had been attacked by the Japanese in the Pacific. Of course his father, also a four-star admiral. And then, of course, what Senator McCain has done, you know, in uniform and out of uniform for the United States Navy.

And now Senator McCain's son is a serving naval aviator. Four generations of Naval officers. You just -- you just can't -- you just can't put a price on that.

[12:55:07] BLITZER: We're told, Charlie Dent, the motorcade is only a couple minutes away from the state capitol in Phoenix, Arizona.

You got to know him as a civilian. As a -- he was a politician. He was a congressman. You got to know him as a legislator.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I really had two -- I had several interactions with him over the last 15 years, but two in particular stuck out. October 8, 2008, just after the Troubled Asset Relief Bill was signed, we were at a rally in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He and I and Cindy and my wife Pam, we were behind stage just talking for about 10 minutes. And it was such a tense time because we had both supported the program. It seemed like the world was coming apart. His campaign, at that moment, was in trouble. But he was just so calm, so peaceful. And it's like he's about ready to go on the stage and he was -- he was just -- it was almost a surreal experience for me. So I'll never forget that conversation.

Also, just a couple of years ago I had dinner with him and Senator Reed and Durbin (INAUDIBLE). He just talked with General Miller at the Marine Corps barracks just to talk about defense funding. And just to see him operate, you could just understand his commitment to the troops, to the service members. But, more importantly, you could see that -- how he interacted with his Democratic colleagues. And it was very similar, very constructive. Just wonderful to be part of that.

BLITZER: S.E. Cupp is with us as well, S.E., the host of "S.E. CUPP Unfiltered" here on CNN.

S.E., you got to know him over the years. You got to watch him over the years. And I wonder what you're thinking right now.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if I can -- if I can be personal, I'm thinking that my very good friend is in one of those cars. And Meghan, his daughter, has had a really tough year with all of this and this must be -- this is sort of the culmination of all of that.

And, you know, this family has -- has had -- has had a lot of ups and downs through this -- through this awful illness, this awful disease. And I hope that as they're approaching this first of a number of incredible ceremonies honoring Senator McCain, that there's a sense of peace. That there's a sense of gratitude. That there's a sense that, you know, this is -- this is over. And as Meghan said, it is mourning now. The dream is over. It is mourning. And so, you know, I'm just -- I'm just watching, hoping that my friend and her family is feeling OK today.

BLITZER: We are all hoping for Meghan McCain, Cindy McCain, all of the McCains. This is a very, very difficult moment. Certainly this will just be the start, though, over these next few days.

Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House correspondent, is watching this.

Jeff, you got to know Senator McCain, covered him for several years as well. And I wonder what you think as you watch all of this unfold.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's no question that Senator McCain has been ill for, as we know, about a year. A little over a year or so. But he actually, I'm told by friends of his we've been talking to over the last several days, that his illness actually escalated fairly quickly. Today on his 82nd birthday, a small group of his loyal friends I'm told were planning on being in Sedona with him around him to say a bit of a farewell. Of course, he died just a few days shy of his birthday. So that is a sense, talking to friends, how quickly this moved at the end of his life here. But, Wolf, I think, more than that, I think that Senator McCain would

probably have a joke in this moment. He would, you know, wonder what all the fuss was about, but also he choreographed this specifically right down to, he's sending a message through everything we are going to see over the coming days here, through the speakers, the pallbearers, others and particularly the two former presidents, the 43rd and 44th presidents of the United States, who will eulogize him. He was rivals to both of them, but I am told he called both of them earlier this spring and asked them to be at his funeral, which we know now will be on Saturday after this service here in Arizona.


BLITZER: Yes, he will be buried Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy. There will be a service here in Washington at the National Cathedral Saturday morning.

The motorcade has now arrived at the state capitol. The Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, the first lady, Angela Ducey. There's Cindy McCain. They will greet the -- Cindy McCain, the rest of the familiarly. She's being escorted by the U.S. military, which is, of course, totally, totally understandable given Senator McCain's amazing role as a U.S. military officer.

[12:59:57] There's the governor and the first lady of Arizona greeting Cindy McCain. Let's just listen in briefly.