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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Renaming NAFTA; White House Flag at Full-Staff; Biden to Speak at Funeral; McCain Put Country Before Party; McCain's Dedication to Soldier's Memory; McCain Across the Aisle. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Canada.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, those are the two major questions, what will Congress do and will Canada also sign on, which is also very important.

Look, this news conference, or this conference, whatever it was, it was a lot of congratulations, light on details so far. The administration needed a win on a trade deal. Essentially this administration and Trump promised American workers that they would get better trade deals and so far the only thing the administration has done is impose tariffs.

And that's done two things. One, created a lot of uncertainty for a lot of American businesses and workers and in the worst-case scenario some layoffs. Two, American farmers have been dealing with retaliatory tariffs. So on those two fronts, the tariffs are really tough. So the administration needed a win and this they can tout as a win.

Again, we don't have all the details, but I can tell you that Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, essentially wanted to force more domestic car production. And we still don't know if that's what they got at the end of the day. We know that this was a deal to modernize NAFTA. It's a 24-year-old trade agreement. I don't think anybody disagrees with the fact that it needed to be modernized, brought up to speed for the digital age.

But what did the U.S. really get out of this? The president, I found it interesting, did focus on farmers and the fact that Mexico's going to buy more agricultural product from the United States. But again, how much? What does that look like? And will it offset all of the pain they're feeling from those other tariffs that I mentioned from other countries.

BASH: Cristina, thanks.

Stephen, put this into context for us as well. What are your thoughts on what this really is and what the impact is.

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Well, it's fairly extraordinary, actually. You know, during the campaign, as you know, Dana, Trump used to say that NAFTA is the worst trade deal in the history of mankind and that we're going to have a new trade deal that benefits American workers and so on. And it's very interesting to me, and it seems so improbable, that we would be on the cusp of having a major trade agreement with Mexico and not with Canada because you would think our differences with Canada would be much more minor than they are with Mexico.

BASH: That's right.

MOORE: And, you know, Americans have been concerned for years about losing jobs and factories to Mexico. I don't think a lot of people are too worried about losing factories to Canada. So I think that's an very interesting development.

Second of all, Trump has talked a lot about changing the kind of regime by which trade deals are made, Dana. And this is a reflection of that. That Donald Trump does not like these big multi-lateral trade deals. He likes to have these one-on-one bilateral deals as was just apparently negotiated with Mexico. And I think that's a harbinger of things to come. That it will be a one-on-one situation with Japan, with China, with Korea and now with Canada.

The other thing I think is sort of interesting about this, Dana, is this does tighten the screws on Canada, doesn't it, because Canada right now is kind of the country left out and we'll see now whether there can be a deal done quickly with Canada. I'd like to see that done. I think NAFTA has been a good thing.

One other, quick point. He said sort of -- Trump said in the speech that this is sort of the end of NAFTA and that this is a kind of new trading regime that we're under and that NAFTA is gone now. And so we'll see how that all plays out.

BASH: Yes. Well, it could be wishful thinking because, of course, for its -- for NAFTA to end, I guess the president could do it unilaterally, but to have an actual new treaty, the Congress would have to approve it. It's hard to imagine that would happen with a bilateral agreement not with Canada as well.

Thank you both.

MOORE: That's true. That's true. And by the way, can I mention one other --

BASH: Please.

MOORE: One -- just one quick thing. You know, it is true, the devil really is in the details here and the auto import tariffs is a big issue that I think is still unresolved. And another issue is whether there will be a -- you know, this will be like a five-year deal that could be -- that could, you know, end after a certain length of time. That's something that has been a flash point in these negotiations both with Mexico and Canada.

BASH: Very good point, Stephen. Thank you so much for your insight. Cristina, your expertise as well, appreciate it.

Remembrances are rolling in from around the country and the world honoring a life fully lived and the legacy of Senator John McCain who died Saturday after a year-long battle with brain cancer. A legend in the Senate, a force on the world stage, a champion of those oppressed and a proud enemy of their oppressors.

On the Senate floor he could spar with someone and still laugh with them, often within the span of five minutes. The void he leaves is immeasurable. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are struggling to imagine Washington or the country without him, but most they're just saying it was a privilege to know him, work with him and learn from him. Nearly every single significant political figure has highlighted the senator's public service, his status as a war hero, and bipartisanship and his character. Nearly everyone.

[12:05:26] Let's get straight to CNN's Athena Jones at the White House where the American flag is flying right now at full staff.

Athena, explain what's going on there and what that means.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dana.

Well, we have asked the White House, we've been asking since early this morning when we noticed that the flag had been raised. We asked why was the flag raised? It had been lowered to half-staff over the weekend after the death of Senator McCain. And we know that it was raised just a couple of minutes after midnight, 12:02, early this morning that flag was raised, even though the flag at the U.S. Capitol remains at half-staff. We've asked, as I said, the White House. We're still waiting on an answer as to why they made that decision.

And this comes after we're also learning from a source familiar that White House aides had prepared what is being described as a fulsome statement for President Trump on the death of Senator McCain. A statement that mentioned his accomplishments, his lifetime of service. We understand that statement had gone through the White House approval process and that several staffers believed that it would be released on Saturday after McCain's death was announced.

That's not what happened. "The Washington Post" says that Chief of Staff John Kelly, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and others urged the president to put out a statement calling McCain a hero and praising his extensive service. Well, the president said instead he wanted to put out a brief tweet. That tweet offering condolences to the McCain family, offered his deepest sympathies and respect to the family of Senator McCain, saying our hearts and prayers are with you. He issued the same statement on his Instagram page with a picture of himself.

But I should mention that others in and around the White House, First Lady Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have issued fuller statements praising McCain's service.

And one more thing I want to note here, Dana. At the end of that pool spray we call it, when the reporters were allowed into the Oval Office to hear the president's announcement about this preliminary agreement with Mexico, he was asked several times by ABC reporter Jonathan Karl about -- to remark on McCain. He asked, any thoughts on the legacy of John McCain? These were shouted questions clearly within earshot of the president. He declined to use that opportunity to talk about McCain and his service.

Dana.

BASH: Athena, thank you.

Look, I wanted to get this news in because it's important. He's the commander in chief. He is the president. The flag issue could be fixed with the stroke of a pen, a presidential proclamation, which is standard operating procedure when a sitting U.S. senator, never mind somebody with the patriotic and heroic background of John McCain, and he hasn't done it. So we'll see how that plays out.

But I also want to note that from now on we're going to talk about John McCain and his legacy and not about this pettiness, frankly, that we're seeing from the White House.

And on that note, we're going to go more -- learn more about the funeral, memorial services planned for Senator McCain. An aide for McCain tells CNN that former Vice President Joe Biden will speak at the funeral service for the late senator in Arizona on Thursday. The two were very close friends for almost half a century. Biden's son, Beau, suffered from the same type of brain cancer as McCain.

I want to go straight to CNN's Stephanie Elam in Phoenix.

Stephanie, what else do we know about plans to honor and mourn the senator?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, you've spoken so much about how Senator McCain really believed that at the end of the day all of the politicians, they're all Americans and that they should reach across the aisle more so. And we know that he planned what he wanted to have happen for his funeral, for how he is memorialized. And you can see that playing out in what's going to happen over the next five days.

Starting here in Phoenix, in the State Capitol, where he will lie in state beginning on Wednesday, which would have been the senator's 82nd birthday. Then, on Thursday, what you're talking about, how he will be memorialized at the North Phoenix Baptist Church where former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to speak. And then on Friday, the senator's body will make its way to D.C., where he will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, followed up by Saturday where he will have a funeral at the National Cathedral. This is where we expect to hear from former Presidents George W. Bush and former President Barack Obama, where they are expected to eulogize the senator there before there is a private memorial at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. That's where the family and that's where he will be laid to rest.

BASH: Stephanie, thank you so much and thank you for all of your amazing reporting out there literally around the clock. Appreciate it.

[12:10:04] Joining me here at the table to share their insights and reporting, CNN's Phil Mattingly, Molly Ball from "Time" magazine, "Bloomberg's" Toluse Olorunnipa-- I'm going to get that right one day -- and Michael Shear from "The New York Times." As somebody who's called Dana all the time, I apologize.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": No problem.

BASH: It has been a long few days.

Well, first of all, thank you one and all for coming here.

I want to start with a really great interview that our colleague, John Berman, did this morning with Patrick Kennedy, former member of Congress, of course son of Ted Kennedy. And he talked really eloquently about the relationship, but also about what John McCain and his late father symbolized when it comes to what's right and what should be done in the U.S. Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK KENNEDY, SON OF FORMER SENATOR TED KENNEDY: And my father genuinely loved and respected John McCain. It's an example of what we need today, again, and that is that even though they disagreed, they were always searching for ways to put their country ahead of their party. And it sounds so trite, but, no, not at all. In these days that we're living in, we really need people to have that as their goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: It's not trite, it's reality. And you see it in the halls every single day, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's really interesting, as you kind of watch the old guard or the old bulls, or however you want to refer to them, kind of leave the United States Senate, as we've seen, too frequently over the course of the last 10 or 15 years, it's this reality of, it's different now than it used to be. And obviously nostalgia is a wonderful drug and we can all say it is better back when, but now if you look at the legislative priorities, or even the legislative schedule, it's about scoring points. It's about making sure your party is going to do better in the midterms. It's about making sure the president's agenda is going to move through. I'm not saying that wasn't always the case, but there's a difference in the way -- and you can attribute it to campaigning or fundraising or anything of those things and we've all talked about ad nauseam over the course of the last couple of years -- there's a difference in the way senators interact with one another. There's a difference in the way that they have relations with one another. And I think there's a major difference in the way in which they take up legislation and work with one another. It's a very top down approach now. It's the idea that rank and file or committee chairs aren't necessarily working behind the scenes to try and figure out the path forward.

And I think what's most interesting is, is McCain was very complex. Your documentary laid this out extraordinarily well. He was not a perfect man. He acknowledged that openly. He was infuriating to people on the opposite party and his party. Senator Mitch McConnell -- you were at the HBO showing in the U.S. Congress where McConnell said that he once told his wife about McCain, that he believed that his captors in Vietnam were still going through grief therapy, that's how frustrating that he could. But at the same time, McCain, unlike a lot of lawmakers now, was still able to make deals, still negotiate, still talk to the people that he could frustrate and enrage at times. And I feel like that, more than anything else, has been something we haven't seen as much of in recent years.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Yes, I mean, when people -- that, to me, is what's so important about the example of McCain and what we don't see in the Senate now. It's not just about bipartisanship. You don't have to cross party lines if it's not what you believe in. But McCain -- when you talk about McCain or Kennedy being a lion, it's a sense of bigness. A sense that being only one of only 100 senators in the entire country, you have a real job to do. You can do big things. You can accomplish major things.

If you're Joe Biden, you know, you can actually create and pass big pieces of legislation that change the way the country functions. Instead, a lot of the senators now seem like drones who just vote the way the party leadership tells them and don't feel like it's their job to actually start stuff and have ideas of their own and be independent. And you see this with, you know, a lot of them seem to be looking around, either putting their finger in the political wind or just waiting for someone else to start -- to start the ball rolling, instead of really taking that upon themselves.

BASH: And -- right. And putting their finger in the political wind because, look, to be fair to the people who are in office now, Kennedy and McCain in particular, they were giants and they had a lot of running room because they had a lot of support back home. And look -- just look at what happened to the junior senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake. It's not that he is not a conservative, but the big reason why he decided not to run again is because he was probably going to lose the Republican primary because he didn't have that running room and he had the same sensibilities as McCain.

So that begs the question, can there be -- I mean there will never be a John McCain, but can there -- the people who he took under his wing, Chris Coons of Delaware, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and others, and this is on the Democratic side, never mind the Republican side, can they live up to that standard even remotely?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, it's going to be incredibly difficult for them to live up to that standard, in part because we do live in this tribalized moment in history where people realize that if you do go against a member of your own party, if you do speak out against the president, then you're likely to get a tweet attacking you or have a primary opponent who could end your political career.

[12:15:09] BASH: And McCain had tweets and attacks all the time and he just --

OLORUNNIPA: Right, and he stood --

BASH: You have to have, you know, armor.

OLORUNNIPA: He -- he stood up to that.

BASH: Right.

OLORUNNIPA: And he was -- he put out some of the most clear statements when the president did something that he was against, whereas you hear from other members of Congress, I didn't see that tweet or I'm not sure, I don't have a comment yet, and you sort of see them looking for political cover and looking for someone else to step out and speak out first. But McCain was always willing to sort of make -- put his stake in the ground and say, this is what I believe. This is what I stand for.

BASH: Michael, you and I covered the McCain 2008 presidential campaign together. The mother of a service member who was killed in Iraq, Matthew Stanley, you heard McCain talk about him over and over again. The mother's name is Lynn Savage. She was on CNN today. And I want you all to listen to what she said about McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNN SAVAGE, MOTHER OF FALLEN SOLDIER: He called me in the morning and he said that -- you know, good morning, Lynn, this is Senator John McCain and I'm just calling to see how you're doing today. That was it. Plain, simple. We chatted for a couple of minutes and that was it. How thoughtful. A man with a busy schedule taking a few minutes out to speak to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And we remember that Senator McCain wore Matthew Stanley's bracelet and he talked -- it was one of the lines that -- I mean we can make a joke out of it because I think McCain would want us to because we all memorized that part of his stump speech, but it was a real -- a real moment for him when he met Lynn Savage and learned about her son's -- her son's sacrifice.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. I mean he -- this was a politician, and he was a politician, but who sort of had something inside his core that a lot of politicians now seem to be missing, which is a real sense of duty and honor to something greater than just the next ballot. I will say, just as a little bit of a connote, that, you know, politics around John McCain changed too.

BASH: Yes.

SHEAR: And later in his career, when it -- when he did get primaried in 2010, and when it did look like some of these sort of forces around the party that were more conservative on issues like immigration were threatening to oust him, he did change. He did -- and there were lots of people who had known him over the years who sort of raised an eyebrow at some of the positions that he took to try to get through that -- that election cycle. Now, you know, you can say he sort of returned to prime McCain form

afterwards, but it -- to me, it was a testimony less about something that changed in him and more about what changed in the party around him, that they're -- that -- and, of course, that was --

BASH: Yes.

SHEAR: That was years ago. Now it's even gotten more --

BASH: A very important point.

SHEAR: You know, kind of more intense and so the politicians today are dealing with a very different environment that John McCain didn't largely have to deal with.

BASH: It's such an important point.

I want to go to break. As we go to break, I want to pull up an exchange that I had with John McCain's speechwriter, long-time collaborator, Mark Salter, on the idea of the words that he wrote for John McCain and what the words that he's written, and he's written probably millions over the past however many years, had the most meaning. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: You've written a lot of words for and with John McCain. What do you think the most important are?

MARK SALTER, JOHN MCCAIN'S SPEECHWRITER: We were born to love and we were born to have the courage for it. So be brave. The rest is easy. I thought that was the most McCain-esque thing he ever said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:23:13] BASH: Welcome back.

Our youngest viewers may be familiar with the word "bipartisan," but unless you're of a certain age, there's a chance you've never actually seen politicians act in such a way for the national interest. We mentioned a few moments ago how Senator John McCain embraced it, knowing how crucial it is to getting important bills through Congress, whether it was working with John Kerry on restoring diplomatic relations with Vietnam, Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform, Ted Kennedy on immigration, McCain knew the importance of bipartisan consensus.

Well, after he lost the 2000 presidential GOP primary, part of that drive was from his frustration with many in his own party. In fact, a little known story is that McCain even talked to then Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle about leaving the GOP. Here's part of my discussion with Senator Daschle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BASH: When did you first have a conversation with John McCain about potentially switching sides?

TOM DASCHLE (D), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It was early in 2001. It was after the election. Of course we went through a very tumultuous period when we weren't sure just how this was all going to sort out. And if you recall, we were -- it was the first 50-50 Senate. And so we were trying to figure out how you govern with a 50-50 Senate. And almost immediately there were overtures on both sides. Trent Lott was reaching out to the Republicans -- I mean to Democrats and I was reaching out to Republicans. And we had picked up that there was a lot of frustration that John was feeling. And so it was early on, I would say February or March, that the conversation started.

BASH: Did you invite him into your office? Did you talk on the floor? How did it happen?

DASCHLE: No, we primarily talked on the floor. The office would have been too transparent. And so we would, you know, just find places, hallways --

[12:25:08] BASH: So you were hiding in plain sight?

DASCHLE: Exactly. Yes, having those initial conversations.

BASH: And I guess the fact that he didn't say, are you kidding me, are you crazy --

DASCHLE: Right.

BASH: Made it clear there was an opening there?

DASCHLE: That's right. You know, there was an opening and we began talking about the possibility that -- not that he would switch parties, but that, as an independent, he would caucus with us. And we even got to a point where we had conversations about committee assignments and committee roles and then really couldn't resolve that initially because it was -- it had to do with chairmanships and everything else. And so -- and then Jim Jeffords (ph) made the jump. And when that happened, John decided that -- that there was really little value in his coming as well, because we were then in the majority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: It's like, remember that movie "Sliding Doors" where it's -- you just -- things happen and it changes the -- a person's future, never mind, in this case, you know, the future of many other people, never mind American history. Imagine if John McCain left the Republican Party. He wouldn't have been able to run for president, to be the nominee in 2008.

But not just that, it really is a reminder of the very turbulent relationship that John McCain has had historically with his own party.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question about it. Look, if you look at some of his biggest foils, if you will, it was Mitch McConnell on campaign finance. I mean they loathed one another for years. Now, that obviously changed over the course of the last decade or so. He became a very close adviser on national security.

But whether it was the base of the party, which it seemed like Senator McCain was battling with on a regular basis, you mentioned the primary issues that he had, but also senior Republicans, top Republican minds, he would often run headlong against them.

But I also think it's worth noting that he did the same with Democrats. I think he was, if you look through the Obama era, I don't know that there was a Republican lawmaker, particularly on national security issues, that fought with them with more vigor than Senator McCain throughout the process.

BASH: It's true.

But we saw it in 2008. There was -- there were the pre-Sarah Palin- McCain rallies, and then there were the post-Sarah Palin-McCain rallies. Pre-Palin were fine, but certainly lacked energy because of his complicated relationship with the base. Post-Palin, it was chhhhh (ph).

SHEAR: Right. And it was -- the size was incredibly different. I think I remember thinking back at the time that I don't think a McCain rally ever got more than about 1,000, 2,000 people.

BASH: Right.

SHEAR: And then -- and when Sarah Palin came on, there were regularly over 10,000 to 20,000. It was just a totally different thing.

But you also go back to a year before that, the summer of 2007, when, you know, McCain had come in as the -- as the front-runner and his campaign completely imploded. There's a -- people think it imploded over the Iraq War because he was one of the supporters, but it really imploded over the issue of immigration and the fact that at town hall after town hall after town hall that we were both at, he would get assailed by this sort of ascendant part of the Republican Party that was really upset that he was more moderate and working with Ted Kennedy and working with George W. Bush on immigration. And, you know, that's -- that really was kind of an example of the kind of tension between him and a certain part of the party that never went away.

BASH: That's right. And then -- and then later, when he was -- had the toughest re-election battle in the Senate, he did moderate. He did act like a regular politician in order to do what he needed to do to win that primary and, of course, later in his Senate primary. He certainly had that in him.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, he had the ability to moderate himself. But I think he saw the Senate as this grand place where you had to work across the aisle. There's a number of arcane rules that sort of require you to have more than just a normal 51-vote majority, through we're seeing ourselves sort of move back towards that. McCain saw the Senate as this grand place where you had to sometimes buck your own party, find a coalition, bring together people that normally wouldn't be together and get things done. And he said this in this very well regarded speech on the -- on the Senate floor last year where he said we are getting nothing done, my friends, we are getting nothing done, in part because everyone wanted to win with just a 50-vote majority. And he realized that sometimes you're going to have to go across your party, across the line and pick up votes on the other side of the aisle if you want to get something done.

BASH: We have a lot more to discuss. Before we go to break, the other senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, opens up about the legacy Senator McCain leaves behind.

[12:29:41] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It was tough. I'm going to miss him. I have admired him, like I said, my entire life and it's tough to imagine a Senate without him. It's tough to imagine politics without John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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