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INSIDE POLITICS

A Celebration of John McCain's Life. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 30, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:31:37] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching our CNN special coverage, a celebration of John McCain's life. We just heard from the Sarah Palin family. Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential running mate of Senator McCain back in 2008, will not be attending this ceremony or indeed any of the ceremonies in the coming days.

By the way, you're looking still at the live pictures of the motorcade carrying Senator McCain's casket to family -- to the North Phoenix Baptist Church where this ceremony is about to begin.

CNN's Jamie Gangel is joining us. You're getting some new information on the absence of Sarah Palin.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So Wolf, what we do know was that Senator McCain did not want Sarah Palin to come to the service. And we've just heard from a source close to the Palin family, quote, out of respect for Senator McCain and his family, we have nothing to add at this point. The Palin family will always cherish their friendship with the McCains and hold those memories dear.

The reality is that when John McCain felt he made a mistake, he said it. And he said recently that he felt he made a mistake picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, that he wished he had picked Joe Lieberman. And as we were saying earlier, there is nothing hypocritical about this funeral. He planned it. The people he wants are there. The people he didn't want weren't invited.

BLITZER: And that's very significant. Becky Tallent, you're a former McCain chief of staff and you know this story well.

BECKY TALLENT, FORMER MCCAIN CHIEF OF STAFF: You know, I'm pleased with the Palin statement. I think that it shows -- I think it's respectful in this time that is very complicated. I spent a lot of time with Governor Palin and her family during the '08 campaign, and this statement rings true from my interactions with her.

I do think that there is a genuinely mutual respect between them. I think the years since have gotten a little complicated. And I think that we can all agree that our politics have gotten a whole little complicated since '08. But I do think that there always -- between the governor and the senator, there was a mutual respect. And I think it seems to me like this statement reflects that. BLITZER: So Why wouldn't he or the family, for that matter, have wanted her and her family to at least participate in some of these memorials?

TALLENT: I can't really speak to that. You know, the senator had such an incredible life. I think today would be great if we could focus on his legacy and all the great things that he did and maybe put some of these other stories to the side. Because I think that's really what's important today.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It seems like this is a microcosm of the larger issue here, which is when he -- he wanted Joe Lieberman, as you said, he said that. He wanted him as a symbol that he was about country first and not party first, and that he wanted to bring the country together.

He could not get Joe Lieberman through the Republican convention. He accepted Sarah Palin, really to try and energize the base, the emerging base of the Republican Party and came to regret that. And that struggle went on throughout the rest of his life between the kind of politics that John McCain believed in and the emerging majority within the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Congressman Charlie Dent, former Congressman Charlie Dent is with us as well.

[12:35:01] You lived through that era as all of us did.

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes. I remember specifically in 2008 at a campaign rally in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where both John McCain and Sarah Palin arrived. And Sarah Palin was late and I was talking to John McCain for a while. You could tell there was a certain tension.

But having run it that year, I got to tell you when he selected Sarah Palin, it did bring a certain energy to his campaign. I'll be very honest about that. I saw that people showing up at the call centers were much more energized. So I think he was conflicted. She was a very polarizing figure on the one hand, but on the other, she brought a certain energy to his campaign that it lacked at that moment.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: She was also sort of, I think, safe to say without spilling too much tea, a divisive figure within the family as well. And in the moment I think she was the pick. And maybe if this service were just John McCain, she would have been invited, but there's a circle, a web of networking people around her that became complicated for this family. And I think the senator, you're right, always respected her but came to not appreciate the direction she decided to go in politically.

BLITZER: Any second now, Senator McCain's casket, the motorcade will arrive at the North Phoenix Baptist Church where the former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, NFL all-pro Larry Fitzgerald, among others, will honor their friend. Our special coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:40:41] BLITZER: The motorcade continuing, about to get to the North Phoenix Baptist Church. The hearse carrying the coffin of Senator John McCain, his family in the motorcade as well. All of this unfolding very, very dramatically.

S.E., let's talk a little bit about your friend Meghan McCain. We saw her sobbing yesterday at her dad's coffin. You know her well. I assume there's going to be more of that.

CUPP: Yes. I can't imagine getting through the next three days. You know, this was a man who certainly deserves all of this pomp and circumstance and honor and celebration. But as a member of his family, I can't imagine how they will get through because it is so emotional. And as much time as Meghan and the family had to prepare for this and as much time as they spent together, and it was really good, quality time, clearly as we've seen from Meghan and the family's reactions, it wasn't enough. They were not ready. She is not ready to let this man go.

Their relationship was incredibly close. They spoke multiple times a day. He leaned on her not just as a daughter, as almost another adviser. He would call her to ask what she thought of what he had just said or what, you know, the president had just done. Or do you think Republicans are getting the strategy right.

So -- I mean, she was a confidant, someone he relied on personally, politically, in all senses of the word. And it was mutual. And she is, I am sure, devastated. And we are heartbroken for his family.

But she will get through this. She is as strong as he was, and it doesn't get said enough, her strength comes as much genetically from Cindy as it does from John. And o her mom and her family will get through this.

BLITZER: They certainly will. Becky Tallent, you worked with Senator McCain for a long time. Talk a little bit about Senator McCain the family man.

TALLENT: Oh, it's hard to imagine a man who is more proud of his family. And he has seven children. He has this incredible wife, like S.E. was saying. You look at the things that Cindy has accomplished in her life and her work on human trafficking and her work on eliminating landmines, and he just -- he loved to talk about what they were doing. He loved to elevate what they were doing. Obviously both Jack and Jimmy and their military service, he was very private about that, but it was something that he could not have been prouder of.

Meghan has accomplished so much. You know, I remember her still as one of the blogettes (ph) on the presidential campaign. And she's done so much in the media since then and so much personally. And the family is always focused on giving back.

And you see that, the concept of service and giving back to the country and serving something greater than themselves. Yes, while John McCain personified that, he clearly taught his children that. And we are going to -- I have complete faith we're going to continue to see this in the years to come.

CUPP: Can I just add, in addition to all of Meghan's incredible personal accomplishments, professional compliments, he was so proud to hand her off to her husband-to-be just last year. It was a wedding that was moved up because of this family event, and it made him so happy to know that she was going to be taken care of by someone as wonderful and loving as Ben is.

BLITZER: David Gergen, the motorcade is about to arrive at the North Phoenix Baptist Church. You can see our live pictures coming in. The moment will be powerful, especially when the former Vice President Joe Biden speaks.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly will be, Wolf, because I think -- I cannot remember, maybe Axelrod can correct me, I cannot remember a senator other than Ted Kennedy who went out with almost a state funeral.

BLITZER: Yes.

GERGEN: I mean, this is remarkable. This is about what a president gets. And I think it speaks to the outpouring not just a respect but the nostalgia or a politics that once was. Where the kind of people like John McCain lived.

[12:45:02] BLITZER: David, hold on one moment. Dana is out there at the church. And I know the motorcade is arriving right behind you, Dana. Give our viewers a sense of what we're seeing right now.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Solemnity, respect, a sense frankly of awe that you can feel. It's palpable here as you can see behind me the motorcade is arriving. Forgive me as I just look over here, I can see these cars that are clearly carrying the family. And as I look to my left here, I see the hearse carrying John McCain which is going to stop behind me.

And forgive me as I turn around. I will look because what I'm looking at here and obviously what our viewers can see as well is the hearse about to stop, and it will be brought in by members of the armed forces body bearer team. Very quintessential John McCain. Clearly representatives of all the armed forces who are going to physically but also symbolically bring John McCain in.

Maeve Reston is here with me.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: And you can also see the Honor Guard that is here to meet the casket of John McCain. They will keep watch over John McCain's casket as Cindy and the family head inside to greet the mourners and friends.

And of course one really important thing here, Wolf, is that the family wanted about a thousand -- they made tickets available for about a thousand members of the public. They really wanted just ordinary Arizonians to be part of this service.

BASH: And we are watching McCain -- John McCain's children also get out of the cars here. His seven children are here, their spouses as well. You see Sidney McCain. They will probably be coming into the view of the camera momentarily.

RESTON: Bridget and also Meghan McCain.

BASH: Bridget is doing a reading today along with another one of John McCain's adopted children, Andrew, which I think is really noteworthy. You see his children there embracing and of course Cindy McCain walking in. And as you said, Maeve, she has been a beacon of strength, of grace.

RESTON: She has been, you know, many of his friends have said she was by his side 20 hours a day, you know, for many months, ensuring that he got the best care that he could, ensuring that he could stay at the cabin that he loved between Sedona and Cottonwood, and she, you know, has just been going for days now. And it was so interesting because, you know, at the very end, friends said that John and Cindy McCain had so much fun together. They spent all this time together watching movies, laughing, telling stories, and just really had a great final year together.

BASH: Yes. I mean, the irony of the bond that they got. And I just wanted to mention as I toss it back to Wolf, I started to say two of his three adopted children are going to give readings today, Bridget and Andrew. Andrew and Doug he adopted when he married his first wife. They were her children and they were always his children.

Bridget, of course, was born in Bangladesh. Cindy McCain brought her home, without even telling her husband and said this is our new daughter. But I think it's really telling that his adopted children are speaking at the service in his adopted home state of Arizona.

RESTON: And doing readings that really mean a great deal to him.

BASH: Yes. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, it's a moment that is both sad, but it's certainly, S.E., a tribute to this unique man, this celebration that we're about to see as well.

CUPP: Well, and just on the family, in so many ways his was a unique family. And others, it was a typical American blended family. And -- so you have these, you know, these family elements blending together to create this really incredible, strong family unit with such a rich background and diverse interests and ideas. And it was really cool, frankly, to get to see that in person. Just kind of a typical family. Hard to believe a typical family with adopted and steps and all of that. But you wouldn't know it if you didn't know the biography because they were all just the McCain family.

[12:50:08] BLITZER: And his son actually served, Charlie Dent, in the U.S. Military, but specifically went to the war in Iraq while his father was a U.S. senator. Obviously working very closely on that whole Iraq war policy and strategy.

DENT: There's no question about it. Senator McCain was proud of his sons, and particularly when he was serving in Iraq. I think he was a lance corporal in the Marine Corps. And of course John McCain was in the middle of all of those discussions at the time of the surge, probably one of the most difficult votes I had to cast at that time.

And so John McCain was at the center of the policy. And he had a lot invested in this with his own family, and so we can never thank him enough for his leadership.

I just want to mention about this ceremony, I'm having flashbacks to Arlen Specter's funeral in 2012 when Joe Biden gave the eulogy. And we wheeled Arlen Specter out at the end of the service to my way, same way and I keep thinking how the two of them were similar in ways that they both could infuriate members of their own party, both parties, and could -- they have these love/hate relationships with their own party.

And -- but there's a lot more love than anger with both of them. But it just reminds me so much of that experience in October of 2012 just before the re-election of Barack Obama.

AXELROD: You know, I want to just pick up on something that David said. As a young reporter, I covered the death of Hubert Humphrey and that was another occasion like this, someone who is a larger-than-life figure who represented politics at his best, who was beloved by people on both sides.

GERGEN: Somebody gave a really inspiring eulogy there.

AXELROD: Well, Walter Mondale did, but I remember Richard Nixon returned to Washington for the first time since he left office to be at that ceremony, and Republicans and Democrats stood together under the capital dome, arms locked, singing "America the Beautiful".

Again, something I think that the Humphrey family had planned. And for maybe just the same reason, to try and remind us that we have more that binds us together as Americans than our tribal differences as parties.

BLITZER: That's one thing, David, that's going to be so special over today, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. Democrats and Republicans coming together to praise Senator McCain.

GERGEN: Absolutely. And if you start with the proposition that he ran twice, presidential campaigns that got pretty nasty, but he's got both of his opponents coming. He has George W. Bush coming and he has Barack Obama coming to give farewells.

And you mentioned earlier, Wolf, if you look at the senators who are here, there are 26, 22 current and four formers. I counted that there are 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans, dead even. But when you include Joe Biden, it's 14. There are more Democratic senators here than Republicans.

BLITZER: The family is now coming out. They're going to be waiting for the casket to be taken from the hearse into the North Phoenix Baptist Church for the ceremony. You see all the military color guards, they have gathered as well. We will watch all of this unfold.

Jamie Gangel, this is a somber moment but it's a great tribute, as I like to say, to a great man.

GANGEL: It is. And just also, to go back to something David Gergen said, there is a nostalgia in all of this for another time. I covered the Senate when Ted Kennedy and John McCain were both there. They were friends, they respected each other. Ted Kennedy used to say we listen to each other. Not a lot of listening that goes on today.

And I think that, you know, from Joe Biden to Barack Obama, one of the things that we're seeing here is a very important nostalgia throwback to another time that we're celebrating.

AXELROD: In that same vein, Tom Udall the nephew of Mo Udall --

BLITZER: I just want to point out that the Arizona National Guard casket team is now going towards the hearse to take this casket. Dana, you're right there, you're right across the street.

BASH: I'm just a few feet away and I'm watching from behind Cindy McCain, the seven McCain children, watching something that, again, they knew was coming. They knew it was imminent in recent weeks and months. They planned this meticulously, but I can't imagine watching them watching this, how they're feeling right now. To send off this man that the whole world is paying tribute to. But to them, he was just a father and a husband.

[12:55:04] And it's really remarkable to be able to witness this poignant, poignant scene.

The casket has now gone into the North Phoenix Baptist Church where the ceremony will begin shortly And again, as this was happening, we saw the scene of Meghan McCain, his daughter, so emotional yesterday. Well, understandably so today. And she's clinging to one of her younger brothers, Jimmy, who of course I'm sure is as emotional but ever stoic in uniform along with another one of her brothers, Jack, walking in.

Maeve Reston?

RESTON: And we also saw there many of the honorary pallbearers that John McCain wanted to accompany his body into the church. Some of his fellow POWs, his close friends, some of his longtime donors and friends and campaign strategists. Each of them taking a part in all of these services that will unfold over three days.

BASH: And again, it is very noteworthy that he wanted this kind of send-off here in his home state, adopted home state of Arizona. We're starting to hear the music begin inside. But first yesterday with the remarkable scene at the capitol, people waiting in the 100-plus degree Arizona August heat to go pay their respects, and then, of course, the ceremony. Which I should say not only have they invited his friends and family, but they left about 1,000 seats that were open to the public, to his constituents, who were able to get tickets online and will be sitting there and will be able to see this beautiful ceremony that the senator and his family planned.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Dana, there will be tributes that we will see and hear during the course of the ceremony, including from the former Vice President Joe Biden. There will be a prelude, a processional, hymn "Amazing Grace" and then they will read from Ecclesiastes and other hymns will be shown to -- will be played for those who have gathered. More than 1,000 people including regular folks in Arizona have gathered.

S.E., this will be emotional and will be so powerful.

CUPP: Undoubtedly. Undoubtedly for everyone there. It's impossible to overstate how much this man meant to this state and how much this state meant to this man. And so there will be a lot of emotion, especially on the part of his children, I'm sure.

You have to remember, John McCain had children over a long time and late into his life. Some of his children have yet to start their own families. And so you can imagine all of the thoughts that they are having right now as they say goodbye to their dad. There's a lot going on emotionally for all of them, I'm sure.

BLITZER: And Becky, we see the former vice president is there. We also see Larry Fitzgerald, the great NFL star there. They will be paying their tribute among others including family members.