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The Axe Files

David Axelrod's One-On-One With Cindy McCain. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired November 09, 2019 - 19:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight on THE AXE FILES, one-on-one with Cindy McCain.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: I think he would be disgusted with some of the stuff that's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On President Trump and the Republican Party.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST: You said recently that this is not the part of Ronald Reagan time. He came to visit the party of Cindy McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The advocacy and activism.

MCCAIN: I take to heart when people say, well, no they may be not the finest people you find (ph). I disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the fight to protect her late husband's legacy.

MCCAIN: I wish he were here. We need him more than ever. We really do.



AXELROD: Mrs. McCain, it's great to be with you here in your home.

MCCAIN: Call me Cindy, please.

AXELROD: Okay it's been a little more than a year since your husband's passing. How are you doing and how is your family doing?

MCCAIN: We are doing fine. My job right now is to make sure that our family is everyone's in good shape and you know there are various stages of grief and of processing and everything else but we're doing fine. We're doing okay.

AXELROD: People used to say that the larger than life even in your family. MCCAIN: He was what we rallied around. He was our guiding light and our savior and our warrior, so when you lose someone of such magnitude in any family, it doesn't mean John, I mean in any family it is devastating and you kind of lose your radar for a while.

AXELROD: And how do you think the country is - I can't tell you how many times well lately I run into people saying I wonder what John McCain would be saying right now? What would be John McCain would be saying right now?

MCCAIN: Well, God. I think we would disgust with some of the stuff that's going on. I really do. I think what he would be saying is that he would be railing against what's going on, and I think John provided a lot of cover for other members, and when he would do it and they can get behind in kind of thing and I'm not seeing that a real writer in the Senate right now in all this.

AXELROD: What do you think that is, it seems like there's this sort of reign of terror about talking on the President and criticizing him?

MCCAIN: Yes I think it's has to do with re-elections and keeping our heads down. I'm not being critical because I understand what needs to get re-elected, but at point you have to do what you are elected to do and those represent the country as well as your local people. But I think John would be terribly upset by this whole thing. He was upset before he died. He saw what was going on.


MCCAIN: So I just wish he were here like all of us. We needed more than ever. We really do.

AXELROD: He embodied certain values, country over self, country over party, fidelity, the allies a commitment to human rights. Are these values that you see being represented right now?

MCCAIN: Well I see you in numbers, yes, and in certain areas but remember too, John went above and beyond. John was - he took the time to go to these countries not terrible countries - the countries that were having - troubled countries, so they knew him. They didn't always agree with him, but they knew he was telling them the truth and I think that's what's missing in all of this is people miss his candor and his ability to help represent them, fight for them, fight for human rights and dignity.

AXELROD: When you read the story about the President's decision overnight to withdraw from Syria and essentially leave the Kurds to themselves that must have been one of those. I can only imagine what John would have said about that.

MCCAIN: Yes, I know John was a huge fighter for the Kurds and they spent time up there he has been up there with them during fighting. I know he would have been very upset. I was, too, and I was just upset that we would leave some people behind. I'm not war expert. I'm not a military person but I understand what helping the little guy needs. I don't think many people understand that when the Americans arrive, a lot of countries view this as, my God, they're here. We're going be okay, and so to break your word with anybody no matter how large or small that affects the entire country, not just the one that we're trying to help, but our country. It's important.

I mean in every round as a United States citizen and as a country that is the beacon of hope around the world that we our word and that we stay true our own values.

AXELROD: He also was a deeply committed to Ukraine and a free Ukraine.



AXELROD: And supporting Ukraine in its battle with the Russians so now you have a lot of people sort of justifying holding up military aid in exchange for political favors.

MCCAIN: I mean everyone knew where John stood on that when he was alive. I mean the Russians are here. I mean, these people are trying to be overtaken by an aggressive country that bullies countries, among other things and John - I can almost hear him in my own ear when that happened that day because it just we again, these people need our help. We offered our help. We promised our help. We need to remember that.

AXELROD: The McCain Institute sort of got mentioned in the midst of the story because Kurt Volker who was the I guess Founding Executive Director of the McCain Institute was also a Special Envoy to Ukraine, and was a witness in the impeachment hearings and was carrying messages back and forth apparently between various players in this saga and he resigned as Chair of the McCain Institute. Where the two related did you ask him to resign?

MCCAIN: Yes. Kurt is a good man. But this was overshadowing the institute. It was over shadowing what we stand for and what we work for, and so it was time. Kurt needs to concentrate on what's going on now. He's a good man. You know I'm sorry all this happened. I really am, but my first goal is to look out for the institute.

AXELROD: You have known Joe Biden as long as you knew John McCain.

MCCAIN: He was the first U.S. Senator I ever met.

AXELROD: And he was there that night in fact it was Jill Biden who said that John McCain they want to go over and talk to them?

MCCAIN: That's very true.

AXELROD: He wrote in his last, wonderful book, the "Restless Way", Joe and I have argued a lot over the years and it's a first-class human being and it's a lucky thing to be his friend. So how did you react when the President now has torn after him, called him corrupt, and called his son corrupt? MCCAIN: He is my friend. I react - I had the same reaction that any friend would have. I was very disappointed in all of this. Again, John always worked across the aisle and he did that in both friendship and in his service and there's no reason in my opinion to disparage anyone that's running just because you disagree with him and that's kind of where we're at right now. If you disagree with me then you're wrong I'm right, but you're wrong and that's not the case.

AXELROD: Would you vote for a Biden's integrity?

MCCAIN: I would, yes. I think he's a lovely man. I really do. I differ with him on his politics all too often, but that's okay. Our friendship goes way beyond that. Joe Biden has kept his family together in many ways. He came out several times to see John and me. My daughter Megan I mean he's really taken an interest in trying to guide her a bit through this. It's very hard for her and so this is our friend.

AXELROD: Another really dear friend of yours is Lindsey Graham. He is almost a member of your family traveled the globe with Senator McCain. I was with Harry Reid recently and Harry Reid said that he admired Lindsey Graham as a John McCain Republican but that nap now he's become a running for re-election in South Carolina are trying to get re-elected Republican it is that fair?

MCCAIN: You know I can't gauge alive this because I don't know what's going on in South Carolina I haven't really politically kept up on a lot of this step. Listen when Lindsay is a member of our family and I love him regardless and he will always be me. He and I are the same age but I feel like sometimes he's my fifth child in many ways. I love him to death.

AXELROD: Presumably occasionally you have some guidance to offer your children do you offer your fifth child?

MCCAIN: I have offered advice.

AXELROD: Okay so I'm sure you will. It isn't just the living that the President's going after it's also the dead he's continued to go after Senator McCain including this bizarre thing where he was in Asia and the White House ordered the military to cover that the name of the USS John McCain because if they thought it would disturb the President how did you react when you heard that news?


MCCAIN: Well here's how exactly what I felt I thought how sad for the crew members one of the finest ships in the navy did to be treated in that fashion that somehow the name of the ship is disparaging. These men and women serve they gave their lives in many cases there's no room for it and I know there's been different stories about what happened but I hadn't think USS McCain's a pretty good chip.

AXELROD: What do you think I mean right back to the campaign when he's said I don't think of John McCain as a hero he may be the only person in the country who believes that. Why do you think that he is so intent on making these points?

MCCAIN: I cannot answer that I do not know. I've been baffled by this I really don't know what's going on. I do know this that John was a hero and will continue to be a hero and I think most Americans would agree with me on that whether you are agreeing with his politics or not he was a good man.

AXELROD: I was honored to be part of your retreat the McCain Institute in Sedona this year you found of that institute in 2012 to fight for she for human rights against human trafficking promote democracy and freedom around the world and I know one of your focus is has been your concern about the global refugee crisis. The U. S. has ratcheted it down its quota for refugees accepting refugees the lowest level as since the refugee resettlement program began in 1980. What is the message that sends?

MCCAIN: Well, I of course disagree with ratcheting it down. I think that our country welcomes the grand fiber of refugees and what they bring to this country. I've lived on the border I was born and raised in the state of lives on the border my entire life and I see nothing but richness, integrity and great contributions to the community that the Hispanic Community has offered this state and this country.

So I take to heart when people say well no they maybe not the finance people you conflated I disagree and I think that especially on unaccompanied children. It's our duty to help those less fortunate and those who were running for their lives and I just disagree with that I wish we could allow more to come now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up on "Axe Files".

MCCAIN: They have an interesting collection of people running. I think this kind of under watched.

AXELROD: You're watching with Ingraham?

MCCAIN: Ingraham, yes. It is interesting.



AXELROD: You actually talked about when your husband passed as potentially succeeding him in the Senate how serious was that?

MCCAIN: I was talked too seriously I didn't think about it by the time it was just moments after my husband died and I had to weigh what was more important in my family, this is a blow to us and so I didn't feel like I could do any job except the one about my family and that's exactly what I did.

AXELROD: You said recently that this isn't the party of Ronald Reagan John McCain anymore and it prompts the question is if the party of Cindy McCain do you consider yourself a Republican still? MCCAIN: Yes I do. I'm not leading Republican Party. I love the Republican Party I mean that's our home. For me I want my party to do well and I want my party to succeed because that's what democracy is in this country. But I will hope that the younger people who are moderate warm you know more moderate than the party represents will have a place at the same Republican table that I was afforded.

AXELROD: You've been through a lot of elections in the state of Arizona. You have to qualify as an expert on this stage. There's been a lot to talk about Arizona potentially turning blue in 2020 is that a real possibility?

MCCAIN: I think it is. I think it's a real possibility. We've seen a lot of new people, a lot of in flux from various parts of the country younger people are more moderate and things so I think you may see may possibly see a blue state coming up.

AXELROD: Could you see yourself voting for the President?

MCCAIN: I don't know. I vote my husband in last time. So I didn't have a choice on either side with that said I believe in the presidency. I believe in what stands for and what we as Americans stand for. So you know it's a decision on make it this at the time.

AXELROD: I want to talk to you about the two presidential races that you were involved. I remember the 2000 campaign and John McCain got to run as the maverick that he is. He was - you know challenging conventional thinking of both parties. And he seems to have a ball is on that straight talk express you were on the bus as well a lot of time and it seems like a lot of fun.

MCCAIN: It was.

AXELROD: Senator McCain won this spectacular victory in the New Hampshire primary by seventeen points over George W. Bush who was you know this is the sort of presumed front runner in the campaign. The race then turned to South Carolina and it became really nasty you adopted a daughter from Bangladesh Bridget and thousands of call started being made to voters in South Carolina saying John McCain has a black child then I know that you were infuriated by that. You try to keep it away from Bridget.

MCCAIN: I did.

AXELROD: And were you able to?

MCCAIN: No. It was several years later and she got on the internet it never occurred to me that she would go Google our self and I don't know why is it seems a normal thing to do now that she Google herself and this whole thing came up.


MCCAIN: She came in I was happy to be home at the time when she came in to where I was sitting in the den she was weeping. And her - words out of her mouth where exactly this mommy why does the President hate me?

I mean it broke my heart it just broke my heard. It's hard to explain to a child look this is just tough politics now.

AXELROD: Now not a good enough reason?

MCCAIN: No, not a good enough reason at all and it affected her throughout her adulthood so far.

AXELROD: You walked away say never again.

MCCAIN: I did.

AXELROD: How that worked for you?

MCCAIN: Well I was the last one on board in a way. I might, in fact they were dragging my toes in the sand to get me out there. I just you know I certainly wanted John to do it and I wanted him to not have to look back and say I could at what a show that kind of thing I knew I was going to get on board but I really. It pained me again.

AXELROD: Because of what you've been--

MCCAIN: Yes to put the kids through that again.

AXELROD: And in the midst of this - your son enlisted in the marines.


AXELROD: Seventeen years old and he was deployed in the midst of this.

MCCAIN: He went right in with the served, he was in Alomar Province the worst of the worst and he saw heavy combat.

AXELROD: And this was going on while you were involved in the campaign. Were you worried that he would that his identity would make him more of a target?

MCCAIN: I was petrified that they're going to find out who he was. All mom wants to do when a child like that if you want to talk about it as if somehow if you talk about them is how to keep them safe you know that's ridiculous I know and I couldn't say a word.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Fight for the idea or some character of a free people.


MCCAIN: He always raised was certainly a different race who he had - he had the 24 hour news cycle that kind of as you kind of dominates the whole thing. It was much different and that the tone was different. Although and I know you know this, I thought that our two guys ran the best race they could and it was an honorable race that was the most important part about that they both ran honorable campaigns about the issues and that's what it should be about. And I think we've seen the last of that for awhile.

AXELROD: He came back to Arizona after that race he had a tough race in 2010. Right wing candidate ran against him in the primary in that election year you were kind of involved in your own campaign in California over the issue of same sex marriage.

MCCAIN: Right.

AXELROD: Was that problematical for him back here?

MCCAIN: I think a little bit sure but with that said let me say why I did it too because I felt it was important. Gays have been allowed to adopt. I didn't think that it was very fair to a child to say will you they're allowed to adopt that they can't get married what does that say to the child? So I went about it because I met with doctored parent. So I came about it in a different light and I just thought it was wrong. I thought it was time you know to do this. A lot of members of the party were fine with that a lot weren't.

AXELROD: What do you think about the trajectory of the issue? We've come a long way on.

MCCAIN: We've come a long on it. Again its human rights, it's technical for all, it's equality it's every - it's what wear as Americans.

AXELROD: We had a day candidate running for President United States now the Pete Buttigieg. Do you think that's a barrier to him or will be?

MCCAIN: I think in some parts the country probably will be a barrier for him I hope not. They have an interesting collection of people running I think it's kind of fun to watch.

AXELROD: Well, there are plausible Presidents among them?

MCCAIN: Sure. I mean they're all good people, they're wonderful it in different backgrounds I just like the diversity of you know from almost every walk of life is on that stage at the debates et cetera and running. It's fun to watch in the CV involvement. I do think it's probably time to start paring down a bit--

AXELROD: Are you watching with interest?

MCCAIN: Yes, it's interesting. I have won debates in political races. It's fun to watch.

AXELROD: As long as your family members are not involved in that.

MCCAIN: Exactly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ahead on the "Axe Files".

MCCAIN: As far as the addiction goes, I could see myself spiral. I knew by the end of that I was in big trouble.




AXELROD: You are in Arizona through and through in fact we're sitting at your place you're a block from where are you grew up.

MCCAIN: Well, I did, I grew up a block from here as our children did too. We lived in a home that I was raised in for a long time. My parent were my dad was the American dream. He went away to grow at very poor here. Went away to World War II came back he became a pilot and came home and he was able to - he married my mother and of course they sold everything they had to get $5000 so my dad could --.

AXELROD: Yes, not a bad branch.

MCCAIN: Because no one wanted in those days as if that was a bad brand.

AXELROD: And he became quite successful.

MCCAIN: It's a perfect American dream.

AXELROD: But you described him not so much as a businessman but sort of cow boy.


AXELROD: The bureau versus business but he loved horses and adventure and so on.

MCCAIN: Yes, he did. He was a cow boy. He was a cow boy in the best; I mean that in the best way because he was buried down to earth. He never met anyone he didn't like and everyone loved him and he knew everyone's name. And he spent as much time as you could on horseback and meet me with him a lot of times which was great fun ways to ride horses around the world.


AXELROD: And you want to drag races when you're in high school you're a scuba diver you got yourself trained as a pilot so you could fly. I guess then Congressman McCain around Arizona and so you're sort of an adventurer yourself?

MCCAIN: I'm sure I get that from my dad. A little influence from John too.

AXELROD: They were with you when you first met John McCain talk about that when you were in vacation on Hawaii.

MCCAIN: I was a school teacher at the time I taught special Ed and we were invited to a reception and it was in honor of those flying through from Washington to China it was a Senate delegation and John was the escort officer.

AXELROD: Yes he was still in the military in the time.

MCCAIN: He was. And he - it's the kind of thing I would have a mutual friend than trying to set us up and I would have none of that I wasn't going to do that and then I went at meeting him anyway so.

AXELROD: And he described it as love at first sight. I don't know if he were speaking for you. As well--

MCCAIN: I think both of us.

AXELROD: You lie to each other as you. One of your first--

MCCAIN: We did - obliges now. We both lied to each other about our age. He made himself through four years younger and I made myself about three or four years older and Arizona in those days when you applied for a marriage license they publish that in the newspaper but we're I was delighted that in to the judge or anybody else trying to get this thing. So that's how we found out how we work.

AXELROD: You came back here and he worked for and with your dad and but very quickly there was a congressional seat that opened up but when he won and he won handily you choose not to stay in Washington which was more common back in that day?

MCCAIN: Well I'm an only child and you know at that time my dad was trying to get me involved in the company and I want to be involved in the company and so I felt like it was I needed to take that time and be here for my parents a little bit too we had no children at that point. When we started having children there was no choice we're going to raise them out here because that Washington is no place in my opinion to raise a family doing what we were doing.

It was harder for John later on because he made the commitment to come home every weekend because we had kids and that's a big - we didn't have nonstop flights in those days it well none of that.

AXELROD: It's hard though, it's hard for him and hard for you. You had ultimately a house full of kids. You grew up in privilege but you've dealt with some really tough challenges one was drug addiction and you became addicted in a way that is now become familiar to me sadly the millions of Americans tell me about that.

MCCAIN: Well I became addicted to prescription drugs because I'd had a terrible back problem as we rolled into this it was complicated by the fact that the Keating Five issue was.

AXELROD: Yes, this was probably the only ethical issue that John McCain ever faced in his life.

MCCAIN: And as you know he was--

AXELROD: Savings and loan crisis.

MCCAIN: Right. They declared it you know to him may he made a mistake - as far as the addiction goes, it was - I could see myself it's weird. I could see myself spiraling because I went and sat every day in the hearings and that's hard to do. I mean that the world cameras are on you and I had to be there and I was would not have wanted I had to be there. And it just was this pendulum that started swinging down and down and down. I knew by the end of that I was in big trouble.

AXELROD: You were dealing with not just physical pain but.

MCCAIN: Yes, the emotional pain or what was going on. I - it's very hard to describe anyone who's been through something I understand that but for me it was it just. You know I found out a great deal that myself obviously I had a weakness and more importantly though I'm in recovery and I have been in recovery now for thirty some years and it made be a better parent you know to understand that. There are not only problems you may - to look closer at the problems because I had really well from John.

AXELROD: Yes this went on for quite a long. 99 MCCAIN: It went on for a couple of years. It was all about honestly it was pressure that I put on myself. And it was becoming being the perfect wife when we got home. I want the perfect one to kids you know it just I put undue stress on myself as a result of that I just couldn't handle it all.

AXELROD: So now you've watched this Opioids crisis really overtake the country what are your feelings about that? You must have a great sense of identification people who are going through.


MCCAIN: Completely. Listen, you didn't have to go to step two before you could have a doctor prescribe anything you wanted in those days and what doctors would do and it's not just me it's like honey you're not - you just go hand go home and have a drink or go home - let me give you these pills. It was way too easy to get this stuff.

I mean I'm totally at fault I did this but it's way too easy to get it and I'm glad that people are beginning now to take action and making sure that that's not the case and that only those who truly need it.

AXELROD: You know we talk about all those people going through Opioids addiction but very few have to go through it in the public eye. I mean it's a struggle enough to go through these things but to have to do them in the bright lights.

MCCAIN: What I learned - one thing I learned was is that the worst thing that you can do to an addict or someone trying to get into recovery is to make fun of them or to publicize them or to beat them up because you're at your most vulnerable point. And so what they did to me and what the press did to me it was to just skating like beat the crap out of me.

And so it you know yes I made a mistake and I sure you know we're in the public so I certainly deserve to be talked about that - not that way but talked about the issue and instead they cartoons and things it's just that's the worst thing you can do to an addict because it's hard to hard enough.

AXELROD: We are kids old enough to know?

MCCAIN: They were - I talked to Paul than they were old enough to know yes. And but also you know what John and I both told them is everyone makes mistakes and this is a horrible mistake on my part but it was also an addiction. It's an illness and so to be able to teach them that addiction is it's an illness. Yes there are mistakes made all too often in it but if you're sick you need to get help.

AXELROD: You also while you were still in your forties you had a stroke what happened?

MCCAIN: I had just returned from Asia down spring break with my kids and we went to Japan drag drift racing. The next morning I got up, went to lunch with some friends and I was mid-sentence and all of the stuff that was coming out of my mouth was - they couldn't understand what I was saying. And then I kind of just went fuzzy. It was a full bleed yes it was - I had high blood pressure and of course I thought well if I eat right if I exercise and I don't need to take this step and became the MD. I kind of screwed up that day because I really needed to be taking my blood pressure medicine I do now religiously.

AXELROD: So your son Jack decided that the best thing for your recovery was to go out drifting six months in or something and you were reluctant, right?

MCCAIN: I was reluctant because I had you know I haven't been that long and I was feeling okay that you know you don't trust yourself after that and we went drifting that day we did not win but we had a hell the time we were the only mother son team out there on the tracks so that was fun.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up next on the "Axe Files".

MCCAIN: He said where are going to go. And I said well, I felt you to come to our house. So I thought so, that's how we met his daughter.




AXELROD: You are a world class philanthropist and a lot of the things that you've done have flowed from your experience. You would start this organization to bring up medical units to places that didn't have. That was the result you were scuba diving with a friend and she got injured in micro nations.

MCCAIN: She wound up at the clinic and this isn't a National Health Service hospitals and it was despicable. I mean it was wrapped their rap through running water on the floor there are no bad. I mean I've never seen anything like that before so I just started this the girl fashion when I got my friends together and we put some supplies together and then put a team of doctor's nurses together.

AXELROD: You're also very well known for your work on human trafficking and that also started as a result of a journey that you took.

MCCAIN: Our daughter came - our youngest child came from Mother Teresa's orphanage in Bangladesh. I had met her before but I went to go see her grave. So it we were in Calcutta and we were obviously paying our respects to her and when I came out I remind myself I want to get some sorry material for my daughter bringing home to her and I went shopping. I'm in this small Kiosk in Calcutta its busyness noisiest dusty and there were smells and all that kinds of things.

And when I'm shopping I kind of hear this kind of rumbling kind of movement from underneath the floor boards and I asked the owner - and he said that is just my family. They live down there that's a very plausible thing. When I went to go pay they were slats you little narrow slats in it and I can look down and I could see all these little sets of eyes looking up at me. And I asked him again about what's going on he became very kind of you know we're not going to talk about this it was very clear there had been fifty little girls down there.

I thought I knew what that was but I had to go home and educate myself made me angry as hell number one. But number two I thought like so many other people that we this only happened outside our country.


MCCAIN: So I started and focus on foreign governments and foreign countries et cetera only to realize later on as we get further into the city it is epidemic in the United States. It's a huge problem here.

AXELROD: You've been active here in Arizona and in other states to try and actually get state laws to focus on this are we doing enough?

MCCAIN: No we're not. I spend each time I go to these regions I always spend time in a refugee camp wherever it is because what you're seeing is the world's most vulnerable who've been pushed out of where they were for me the war of famine whatever it may be this time drought and of course their - women and children.

And these traffickers I think it's more prevalent now because number one the internet we keep we hear more about it but number two the ability to check for these traffickers to contact each other and they keep their network stronger and not more mobile and more sleek in terms of moving people around. It's the same people that run guns, drugs and animals they want people to only people can be sold over and over again.

AXELROD: Another issue that you were and have been involved with this issue of land mines and there's a story associated with this as well about your travels to Kuwait in 1991.

MCCAIN: They had put land mines in the playgrounds. The Iraqis have planted land mines in the Kuwaiti playgrounds and so these kids are coming outside the first time in seven eight months to play on playgrounds who were being blown up. I couldn't believe it so I became very involved in Halo Trust because of that.

AXELROD: You mentioned your daughter Bridget before. That was also result of the work that you were doing. You were in Bangladesh, you are at Mother Teresa's Orphanage and you came across this child and it was another case of love at first sight.

MCCAIN: Why should pick me and of course Bridget had very serious facial deformity cleft palate cleft lip all that kind of stuff and they prevailed I mean you've got to take them back and get help for them. And indeed I was able to do that. I was in a situation my husband was who he was I was able to get medical leases for them very quickly get passports all those things.

And I realized on the flight home I could give this child up. I become so attached to her because I have been seeing over weeks you know and so when we didn't Phoenix my husband met us at the airplane and then we're facing cameras and all kinds of stuff with these kids. And he's so aware she under his breath kind of us where she is going to go and I said well I thought you come to our house he saw thought so that's how we met his daughter.



MCCAIN: You, I'm in charge of his legacy now and that's a big job.




AXELROD: I spoke with the Senators team when you got the diagnosis and they said that they were devastated and he was like suck it up we've got work to do here what about you?

MCCAIN: I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I'll be honest with you. I also knew that I had to keep myself together and show him that I was going to I could be okay. I'm going to - that I would stick with him. I mean I think a lot of people and he was no different you wonder on my God you know I'm here and this pill now what going to happen and now what am I going to do?

And yes he did tell the staff to suck it up and he joked with them and made cancer jokes that's just as who he was and what he stood for. He went out his own way, I don't know if you've heard the story?

AXELROD: I have heard it but I would love you to tell it again.

MCCAIN: We just finished lunch and it was close well, I knew it was closest - I single handedly took as bad question on the patio is overlooking a creek and you can see all those trees and all the flowers that he had initiated on the play list all of a sudden it becomes out Frank Sinatra my way.

AXELROD: Just on it is own?

MCCAIN: I mean on it is own and then that one of the hawks that he loves so much that nested up there. He was sitting on the corner of the roof and then he took me flew across the yard and landed in a low tree just looking at us and stayed right there and that was about the moment on past I mean it was--

AXELROD: Could that - I mean that's a novel.

MCCAIN: I know I know he did it his way, that's what he was all about.

AXELROD: In the midst of this in the summer of 2017. He announced that he was going to come back to Washington to participate in the debate over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He was apparently doctors weren't that thrilled.

MCCAIN: No one was thrilled with it now the doctors everyone.

AXELROD: But he insisted.

MCCAIN: He insisted and he said it's this is what I need to do. This is where I have to do. This is too important to the country. And he's put his foot down and Meghan was asking not to go we all worry and he just put his foot down said I'm going. And he took that oath that night and I'm so proud of him--

AXELROD: That was one of the most historic thumbs down.

MCCAIN: Thumbs down.

AXELROD: Thumbs down ever. Did you know that he was going to do that?

MCCAIN: I mean you know something when he walked in that I thought I knew that he would do the thumbs down.


MCCAIN: But you know people were waiting in the back rooms and Governor's were calling and I mean there was a heavy push on him that night.

AXELROD: Vice President Pence took him aside several times to talk to him and put the President on the phone with him.

MCCAIN: Right. Well you know he always tried to do what was right he felt was right for the country and I think in that case he was right there was no other presentation of a hearing was better or different or anything else and he didn't make us right thing to do.

AXELROD: He did pledge holy hell from--

MCCAIN: From everybody.

AXELROD: Did it bother him? MCCAIN: No, not at all. He knows he did the right thing.

AXELROD: In the midst of that same debate he stood up and he gave what was really his last big oration to the Senate.


SEN. MCCAIN: Stop listening to the bombastic loud mounts on the radio and television and the internet to hell with them. We've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.


MCCAIN: The kinds of relationships and friendships that John made not just for our own party but with as members from across the aisle were indelible to what was going on in the country. I mean, that's how you get things done the one thing that he knew was, is that we were never going to move forward unless we work together ever.

AXELROD: You and the Senator invited Presidents Bush and Obama. Two former opponents to speak at his service at the National Cathedral in Washington.


SEN. MCCAIN: And we will remember him as he was unwavering on damn unequal. After all what better way to get a last lap and to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience.


AXELROD: Why was this it's so important to both of you?

MCCAIN: Well I think number one he respected both men you know having had challenges by both of them I think he respected both of them leadership, their honesty to a great degree. And I think also in his mind we never talked about this by the way but in his mind I believe was a coming together it was a respect for both sides well fought races I don't mean if that they are enemies. They had a lot of messages in that.

AXELROD: So you had two Presidents speaking there was one President who wasn't there obviously and that was President Trump why?

MCCAIN: Well I had to - I had to worry about my family and my family was somewhat better about things have been said about their dad and so it was - would've been very disruptive to my children. And so I took their lead on this whole thing. It was ultimately my choice and my decision but it just didn't want any disruption. I didn't want anything to over shadow John McCain that day because that's why we were there.

AXELROD: Now words matter.

MCCAIN: Words matter especially to a dying man. AXELROD: You've launched a whole campaign to promote civility. In the public-square--

MCCAIN: It's Acts of Civility.

AXELROD: #Acts of Civility. Explain what is?

MCCAIN: It's just the simple words Acts of Civility and I challenged people to post an active civility whatever that may be. I was asking people to take a breath look around must be kind to each other, must be generous to each other let's take a step back and remember you know kindness goes much further than anger yes.

AXELROD: How was the response has been?

MCCAIN: It's been overwhelming. I wasn't sure what to expect to be honest with you in this time spending it's been incredible.

AXELROD: Your husband said in his book as the end was approaching. So I'd like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations. I'd like to recover the sense that we are more alike than different even in times of political turmoil such as these we share that awesome heritage and the responsibility to embrace it. I'm thinking now about you and how you see your role moving forward?

MCCAIN: You know I'm in charge of his legacy now and that's a big job. And part of his legacy is just exactly what he wrote in that book. And so I feel now I compelled to continue that but more encouraged and much stronger about where we should take this is part of him and I think we need to teach our children these lessons and our grand children these lessons.

John admitted he had a temper. He always would think twice, go back and apologize. He tried to live the best he could. And so I think if we can just remind people of what is good about us and practice that, you practice this golden rule. Practice the golden rule.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, Cindy thank you for that. Thank you all the service. And thanks for your time today.

MCCAIN: Thank you, thank you.

AXELROD: To catch more of the conversation, you can hear the podcast at