Full transcript: "Face the Nation" on August 26, 2018

Who will fill McCain's role in Senate?
Who will fill McCain's role in Senate? 13:36

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MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, August twenty-sixth. I am Margaret Brennan and this is FACE THE NATION.

American loses a towering figure in politics. Republican war hero John McCain dies after a thirteen-month battle with brain cancer, surrounded by friends and family. As the eighty-one-year-old decorated Vietnam veteran, torture survivor, two-time presidential candidate, and maverick politician left his Arizona ranch for the last time condolences poured in. "Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended..." President George W. Bush wrote. From President Obama, "Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did." We'll hear remembrances from McCain's friends and Senate colleagues--Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. McCain set a record on our broadcast with one hundred and twelve appearances on FACE THE NATION.

JOHN DICKERSON (September 17, 2017): I'm sorry. Thank you, Senator. We've run out of time.

JOHN MCCAIN (September 17, 2017): I have more to say.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Our Bob Schieffer and John Dickerson reflect on a political giant. Plus, thoughts from Secretary John Kerry, a Democrat, who once considered asking McCain to be his running mate.

JOHN KERRY: You know, we kind of flirted but didn't go on a date.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All of that, and stories from some of the journalists who knew him best, coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION.

There has been an outpouring of emotion following the death of John McCain. CBS News chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes is in Sedona, Arizona, near the McCain family home. Nancy, what are the plans to honor the Senator's life?

NANCY CORDES: Good morning, Margaret. Well, as you can see, constituents and neighbors have already come by with flowers and flags as a farewell gesture and the entire state will have a chance to say goodbye when McCain lies in state at the Arizona Capitol building later this week. He'll be eulogized by former vice president Joe Biden and other close friends at a service in Phoenix and then his body will be taken to Washington where he will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol where he served for thirty-six years. There will also be a service at the National Cathedral. McCain never got tired of joking with that trademark self-deprecation that he finished fifth from the bottom of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy, and he has asked to be buried there in Annapolis, Maryland, near the grave of a close friend. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nancy, thank you.

In the more than six-decade history of FACE THE NATION, John McCain was our most frequent guest. And Bob Schieffer conducted most of those interviews. Bob offers us this appreciation of the life of John McCain.

(Begin VT)

BOB SCHIEFFER: Americans first came to know John McCain as a Navy pilot shot down in 1967 over North Vietnam. As a prisoner of war his captors tortured him for five and a half years. When they learned he was a famous admiral's son, they tried to release him for propaganda purposes, but he refused to go until the other prisoners were freed. It was such courage that marked his long political life. Through two presidential campaigns and decades in the Senate, he became one of the best known politicians in America and was never afraid to cross party lines.

JOHN MCCAIN: Independents, Democrats, libertarians, vegetarians, come on over, vote for me.

BOB SCHIEFFER: In 1985 he made his first appearance on FACE THE NATION.

WOMAN (April 21, 1985): Joining us are Arizona congressman John McCain.

BOB SCHIEFFER: By 2008 he had set a record for the most appearances on the broadcast.

(September 7, 2008): Welcome, John McCain to his sixty-fifth appearance--

JOHN MCCAIN (September 7, 2008): Oh, my God.


McCain set the record on the Sunday after winning the Republican presidential nomination with what may have been the most unusual strategy in political history.

JOHN MCCAIN: We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave into the temptations of corruption.

BOB SCHIEFFER: He told the nominating convention his party had lost its way and was part of the country's problem.

JOHN MCCAIN (September 7, 2008): We came to power to change Washington and Washington changed us.

BOB SCHIEFFER: The general election campaign proved to be as unusual as his fight for the Republican nomination. At one point he found himself defending his opponent, Barack Obama's honor.

JOHN MCCAIN: He is a decent person.

BOB SCHIEFFER: After a supporter called Obama Arab.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: No, Ma'am. No, Ma'am. He's a-- he's a-- he's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on-- on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about.

BOB SCHIEFFER: McCain hoped to win the presidency by attracting independent swing voters. To do that he toyed with making independent Democrat Joe Lieberman, his running mate. Advisors talked him out of it.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: The next vice president of the United States.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Instead, they recommended a little known Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

SARAH PALIN: You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Her gaffe-prone campaign ended whatever chance he had to win independents. Add on to that a bad economy and he lost in a landslide. McCain got over it by plunging into his work in the Senate where he championed causes large and small. Sometimes causes his own party wanted no part of. It was former prisoner of war McCain, who took on many Republican to declare America could never condone torture, even against our worst enemies.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (December 14, 2014): It's not about them. It's about us. It's about us. What we were, what we are and what we-- and what we should be, and that's a nation that does not engage in these kinds of violations of the fundamental basic human rights that we guaranteed when we declared our independence.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's not a war hero.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Americans were shocked during the 2016 campaign when Republican candidate Donald Trump attacked McCain, saying--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.

BOB SCHIEFFER: McCain stayed above the fray during the controversy that ensued, but his relationship with Trump was never warm. And he was the deciding vote that killed the new President's plan to repeal Obamacare. For McCain it was always about the issues seldom about who sided with him. He could be the Senate's fiercest critic.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: We are getting nothing done my friends. We are getting nothing done.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But he loved the place, respected its rules, and maintained friendships with his toughest opponents, like the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (March 29, 2015): We had some of the great bouts and, yet, I remember one time we had a huge fight, that two freshmen had begun and we drove them from the floor and afterwards we were walking off the floor and he put his arm around me and he said we really did a good that-- one that time, didn't we, John?

BOB SCHIEFFER: When he and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer were working to find a compromise on immigration I remarked it was the first time they had appeared on the FACE THE NATION's set together. What I didn't say was that it was McCain who had convinced Schumer to cancel travel plans and stay in Washington to show solidarity. When Hillary Clinton called him her favorite Republican as she was preparing to run for President I asked McCain the obvious question.

Is she your favorite Democrat?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (July 6, 2014): Actually I hope this program is blacked out in Arizona. Please cut. Look, I-- I respect Secretary Senator Clinton. I respect her views. We have had disagreements on a number of issues but I think it's my job to work with every president if she is regrettably if she attains the presidency.

BOB SCHIEFFER: As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, McCain flew to battlefields and trouble spots around the world. When Ukraine became dangerous I questioned his decision to go to Kiev.

I know you think you're bulletproof, but do you feel safe there, Senator?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (December 15, 2013): I always feel safe, Bob. I told you understand in the past I know that I'm going to die, but it's only going to be in bed.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I always felt John McCain had no more fear of death than he had of taking on an uphill political fight. And to the end, he fought every fight with every ounce of energy that time allowed. And he was still fighting when time ran out.

JOHN DICKERSON (September 17, 2017): I'm sorry. Thank you, Senator. We--

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (September 17, 2017): I have more to say.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So, John McCain's voice is still but how he lived his life will always speak volumes about service to our country, our obligation to others, and most of all about having the courage no matter consequences to stand up for what we believe is right. John McCain appeared on FACE THE NATION one hundred and twelve times.

This is Bob Schieffer.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: A fitting tribute from Bob Schieffer.

We're joined now by John McCain's fellow senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake who joins us from Phoenix. Senator Flake served with McCain in Congress for seventeen years and called him both a friend and a mentor. Senator McCain spent some forty years in the U.S. Congress. Senator Flake, how would you describe his impact on American politics?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE (R-Arizona/@JeffFlake): Oh it's nothing short of huge. He had an outsized impact on Congress entire-- his entire time there particularly in the last several years. He was the conscience of the Senate. He really was. And so I-- I don't think you can overstate the importance or impact of his impact on the body.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you saw him just a day or so ago. What was that like for you?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Well, to be there with the family as they were-- were with him right near the end was just a privilege and to-- to thank him. I don't know how much he-- he could appreciate at that point but to thank him for especially speaking out in this last year when we needed his voice the most. And I thanked his family for such good care and allowing him and helping him to speak out when we needed to hear his voice.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've called McCain the conscious-- conscience of the Senate and in many ways you've taken up some of his mantle of being a straight talker but you're retiring. Who becomes that voice for America now?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Oh, I think that there will be people who are there and who-- others who will rise up. And one of the last long conversations I had with John was a few months ago sitting there watching Oak Creek roll by. And he expressed such admiration for Arizona leaders in the past who stood up. These iconoclastic, you know Arizona figures like Goldwater and Mo Udall and others. And-- and he expressed at that time his optimism that others would come to the fore that at some point the voters would value people who can govern and who reach across the aisle and see good in their opponents. And so I think that that's certainly his legacy. And I do believe that others will stand up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, along with that idea I mean the senator has-- had asked two of the men who defeated him in his bids for the presidency Barack Obama and George W. Bush to speak at his funeral. President Trump, notably, will not be participating. What does that signify to you?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Well, as it says all you need to know about John McCain. That the two-- you know these were bitter contests-- both of them--and to ask them to speak at your funeral and for them to be honored at the-- at the opportunity. That tells you all you need to know. He was quick to forgive-- certainly put the good of the country above himself and the fact that his-- his former opponents will be there speaking says all we need to know.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you see any glimpse of the kind of bipartisan spirit that-- that you talked about McCain having his ability to reach across the aisle coming to the fore now? I mean, one of the things that Senator McCain wrote about in his most recent memoir was his frustration-- his regret-- that things like immigration reform were just not possible.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Right. Yes. I mean we're going to have to put it that way. The Senate is structured in a way that you have to reach across the aisle. I think that's why John McCain enjoyed the Senate so much. It forced that kind of compromise. But, lately, you know we've- we've done our best, frankly, to-- to make it a partisan body. So it has to change. There's no other way. We-- we need to govern. There are some big issues that we need to solve that can only be solved if we reach across the aisle. I hope that we do it in the tradition of John McCain. He never shied away from the tough issues. Let me tell you coming from Arizona immigration is something that is polarizing and difficult. But he dug right in. And I participated with him in the so-called Gang of Eight. Those negotiations in 2013-- he led those negotiations, he knew that it was something that needed to be done and it could only be done on a bipartisan basis. That's going to apply to a number of issues going forward. So I don't think we have a choice but to go that direction.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know top Democrat Chuck Schumer says he is going to introduce the resolution to rename the Russell office building--a building named after a senator who often opposed civil rights and rename it for John McCain. Do you think that that is a fitting tribute? What-- what is the tribute you would look for?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Well, that I want to be the first Republican co-sponsor for that resolution. I think that that would be a fitting tribute. There are many other things that we need to do but that's a good one. John McCain had his office just right near mine in the Russell building that's where he was his entire time. I think that that's a fitting tribute.

MARGARET BRENNAN: John McCain's long-time aide-- his-- his co-writer Mark Salter has a very touching eulogy to the Senator today. I want to read a line from it for you. He said, "McCain was a romantic about his causes. And a cynic about the world, but he thought it a moral failure to accept injustice as the inescapable tragedy of our fallen nature." What does that make you think?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: I think that's-- well, I mean that's-- that's John. He was passionate. He was passionate about American leadership. He wasn't willing to accept that people anywhere on the globe could live in a situation where they had no chance for freedom. That's why he was never apologetic about our values and our involvement in the world. So that says a lot about John and he-- he lived that right till the end. He-- he was always passionate about America and its leadership in the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, I know this is a difficult morning for you and you are feeling the loss. We thank you for joining us.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Thank you for having me on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in one minute with a lot more FACE THE NATION. So don't go away.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate and a long-time colleague of John McCain's. He joins us from Whitewater, Wisconsin, this morning. Senator, thank you for joining us. How would you describe John McCain's impact on American politics?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN (D-Illinois/@SenatorDurbin): Well, he always had a voice of clarity and vision and courage. But I remember those moments of uncommon decency, which is, unfortunately, in short supply on the American political scene. I can recall when he rose to the defense of Barack Obama at a moment in the campaign when very few expected him to. Contrast that with what we went through in the "lock her up" chants of the last election. I can remember when John spoke out, clearly, against the white supremacist in Virginia and made it clear that he considered them to be cowards. And I can remember when he stood up for the issue of immigration. Not an easy issue for anybody, certainly, not a conservative Republican from Arizona. We spent six months together negotiating a bipartisan comprehensive bill. Four Democrats-four Republicans. John was our leader and we knew with him in charge we were going to finish the job right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you heard Senator Flake also references efforts to get immigration done. We know Senator McCain says it was one of his great regrets that that effort failed and in his memoir I want to read you this because it-- it really kind of speaks to his maverick reputation. He says, "to get immigration reform done either Democrats need to retake the House or Republican leaders break and bring a bill to the floor for a vote that offends the Freedom Caucus." Is that what it would take to get immigration reform done?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, I hope not because John McCain used to say to me personally, and to Republicans especially look to the future. This is a very diverse nation. If the Republican Party is going to have a future in places like the southwest of our nation, we better be attentive to the needs of immigration. Sure we need border security and we don't want dangerous people in the United States but let's have a sensible, rational plan instead of this mess of laws that we have on immigration. John used to call the meetings of this Gang of Eight and you never knew quite what you'd run into in his office. There'd be that time when he'd blow his top and get that steely look in his eye and-- and you think to yourself I don't want to be around this Navy fighter pilot for a moment or two. Then he'd calm down and the next thing we know, we're moving into an area of agreement. He was widely respected but he knew what the goal was. The goal was to make this a better nation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But he also was very, very frustrated in that return he-- he made to the Senate floor right after his diagnosis. He-- he said this Congress is getting nothing done for the American people. Do you see any spark of bipartisanship that comes from his passing?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that there are possibilities, glimmers of hope, within the Senate now. I am just hoping that both sides of the aisle will take inspiration from John's life and message. I made a point of staying on the floor and heard him deliver that, and I will tell you, Margaret, I've seen a lot of votes in the House and the Senate, the one that sticks in my mind was after 2:00 AM in the morning when John McCain came through those doors into the Senate chamber just leaving a phone call from the President of the United States. He walked up to that table and he could barely move his arm because of the injuries he'd suffered during Vietnam and he pushed his thumb down and said no. And with that courageous no vote he saved the health insurance for millions of Americans. It was a kind of political courage that isn't displayed very often. I hope it's displayed more in his memory.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we know that moment certainly stuck in the mind of President Trump. We know that the President will not be part of the tribute to Senator McCain. What does that signify to you?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: The President has disrespected many people, but when he disrespected John McCain and the other prisoners of war, it was a moment I'll never forget. And John handled it with such class. He could have roared back at this President and turned the veterans of the United States against the President but he was very quiet about it. And I think he knew that the enduring legacy of his service to our country, along with so many other veterans was going to prevail over those harsh and nasty words by President Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you see anyone trying to block this effort that Senator Schumer says he wants to launch to rename the Russell Building after Senator McCain--any Republicans?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I certainly don't. I don't know. I can't speak for the Republican side of the aisle, but I heard Jeff Flake earlier and Jeff--another worthy representative of the state of Arizona--I am sure that he and I and many others can make this a bipartisan effort. But even more important than naming a building--and that is important and I agree with Senator Schumer--even more important is that we remember what John Cain me-- John McCain's message was to us. Do something for America. You're elected to solve problems--tackle the tough issues and be fair and decent when you do. That was what I heard on the floor of the Senate and that I hope is the enduring legacy of McCain's service.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you said there are sparks of hope. We'll wait and see what that actually results in. But I want to ask you the same question that I put to Senator Flake which was you know who is the voice--who is the conscience of the Senate now?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I don't know that it's any one person. You know John stood out from so many of us because of his extraordinary service to our country risking his life five and a half years in a POW camp service in the House and in the Senate and just the way he conducted himself. But each and every one of us have to play that role in his memory. I am not sure there's one person that's going to grab the banner and move forward.


SENATOR DICK DURBIN: But if we take a lesson from his life and his public life we can make a difference.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Durbin, thank you.

We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Let's take a moment to hear from John McCain in his own words from his recent book, The Restless Wave.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it," spoke my hero, Robert Jordan, in For Whom the Bell Tolls. And I do, too. I hate to leave it. But I don't have a complaint. Not one. It's been quite a ride. I've known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in the war, and helped make a peace. I've lived very well and I've been deprived of all comforts. I've been as lonely as a person can be and I've enjoyed the company of heroes. I've suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Ahead, former Secretary of State John Kerry, our own John Dickerson, and recollections from our political panel. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. Perhaps one of the most surprising enterprises for former prisoner of war in Vietnam was Senator John McCain's efforts to make peace there and his partnership with the fellow veteran and protester of that war, Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry. Kerry writes about it in his upcoming memoir, Every Day is Extra.

(Begin VT)

JOHN KERRY (Former Secretary of State/@johnkerry): I write a lot about John McCain and my journey in reaching back to Vietnam because that story is a story of keeping faith with soldiers. It's a story of keeping faith with the American people. But it's also a story of two guys who had a different point of view about a major event in American history who found a way to come together. So a POW and a protester found a way to be able to make the system work and to work together and find common ground. What's happening in the country and the notion that my journey I believe is relevant to how we try to fix our country. How, you know, you can't-- you don't just speak out, which I did quite forcefully, but you work to implement our democracy by reaching out across the aisle by building relationships, by believing in the better angels of American value system. And I think John McCain did that. It's the journey we all went through where Vietnam tore the country apart. John McCain and I had differences and how we found each other's common ground on an airplane flying to Kuwait.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said those one of the most consequential conversations of your entire career in--

JOHN KERRY: Absolutely.


JOHN KERRY: Well, because it resulted in this partnership which sometimes had tensions but which got things done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You say at one point you even considered played with the idea at least of--

JOHN KERRY: Well, we sat down--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --partnering with him as a running mate.

JOHN KERRY: We sat down and talked, but there were difficult issues to try to work out. You know, we kind of flirted but didn't go on a date. He's an incredibly courageous and strong individual. He's a very special--very special patriot.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll hear more from former Senator Kerry about his book, Every Day is Extra next Sunday on FACE THE NATION and CBS SUNDAY MORNING.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: My predecessor at this desk interviewed John McCain not just for this broadcast but he spent hours one-on-one with candidate McCain as a reporter when he was on the Straight Talk Express back in 2000. Joining us now from Chicago is, of course, John Dickerson. John, thank you for joining us this morning. I know you spent so many--

JOHN DICKERSON (CBS THIS MORNING Co-Host/@jdickerson): Great to be with you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --you spent so many hours with the Senator. What was it like to be part of that campaign?

JOHN DICKERSON: Well, you know, the campaign was the message of the McCain presidency. He started out as he said so low in the polls that with the margin of error he might actually have been in negative territory. And he's, you know, he's famous and being lauded now, but back then he was-- he didn't have a shot, he was running against the establishment of his party. He was running against George W. Bush who had all the money and all the endorsements. But what McCain, basically, said is, Washington is corrupt, there is too much money in Washington, and my campaign by taking on the establishment will show you what's possible in Washington, where we can break down the fact that money has influence on all pieces of legislation. And it's kind of extraordinary to think back about that. He was in the Senate and he was, essentially, saying that all of his colleagues were corrupt and that he himself had been corrupted by money. The fact that he then was able to take that long shot campaign through was evidence that his message could work and was paying off with-- with the voters.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, as you say, and I know you've written about this, the senator was upfront about his own flaws. It wasn't something he tried to hide.

JOHN DICKERSON: He was. And this was something that when, you know, I don't know, millions of interviews I must have done with, town hall, people who went to his town halls over a hundred and fourteen of them, I believe, in New Hampshire in 2000, and then again in-- he did the same thing in 2008. He would be very frank about his failings. The Keating Five being caught up in a campaign finance scandal was in part what motivated him to be so ferocious about trying to get money out of politics. And his-- this is why when-- when people talk about his character and his discipline and his honor, it is a durable kind of-- of character, in another words, it has scuff marks. It has been out in the real world. It's not encased in some glass case and unreal. He failed a lot. He talked about his failures. He beat him-- himself up about his failures and even when he was off course, he was often trying to get back on course which is why so many people looked at his life on the campaign trail and thought this is a model for the way politicians should behave, but also the way we should behave.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And reporters spent so many hours with candidates as I know you did, some of them off the record. I know you've said that you sometimes had to sort of guide the senator to go off the record because he was so colorful in some of his storytelling.

JOHN DICKERSON: Well, you know, one of the things-- and is-- and his candor got himself in-- got him in trouble in 2000, some of the days you'd be in conversation with him over nine hours. And so he-- this was, of course, is the pre sort of internet everything is covered, every second kind of way. And for-- in the service of trying to make a larger point, he would some time shorthand things in ways that wouldn't make-- that wouldn't look good if you spliced the comment. But, you know, what-- what got through to voters when they saw him, curious about this person, he was a celebrity candidate. A celebrity candidate not since Ronald Reagan that we'd seen in 2000. But it was celebrity that had behind it this durable thing. And the thing that was durable is what had sustained him for five and a half years in a dark box. It wasn't just running on his gaudy name. He was running on a set of values. And when he talked about it, he talked about the people he'd served with. He talked about the connection of their duty, honor and service in very difficult times and connected it to real-life Americans at the moment. And then he said this to his audience, he said there are still great causes. Whenever there's a person who's poor, that's a great cause. Whenever there's an old person who lacks insurance or lacks hope, that is a great cause. And he was trying, basically, to make this transaction to say the things that allowed me to get through those five and a half years of torture and giving up the right to be released early. What got me through that can still sustain you now. And that's what made people stand up and applaud for those ideas even if they disagreed with him, which they often did in those town halls.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, yet, at the end of his career, he-- he was still a maverick going toe-to-toe sometimes with President Trump, the head of his own party. Do you see any voice out there like McCain's right now who's willing to take the chances you described?

JOHN DICKERSON: In the conversations I have had since his passing, there are a lot of Republicans, a lot of people who think that this is not just the dying of a Senate icon but the dying of a set of principles. But I think McCain-- McCain would argue against that. And you argue, we should just note, the way he used to sometimes go after this legislation was the way he used to box at the naval academy. They would said he would just run into the middle of the ring and start throwing punches. And he, you know, sometimes that worked, and sometimes he got knocked on his behind. But the always getting up is the key thing in McCain. But in terms of whether that still exists, I think his argument would be, all he did was plug his life into a set of American values that have been with the country since its founding. The idea of self-sacrifice. When he got out of prison he didn't talk about his great deeds. He talked about the deeds of all around him. Not taking credit for yourself, recognizing the dignity in other people. Recognizing even if somebody is in another party, they're still human beings. All of those things are available to all Americans. And while John McCain had a life trying to follow those and sometimes falling them short, everybody can plug into that. That would be his message. So while there may not be one person, I think his argument would be there are a whole nation full of people who have all of those things, qualities, that they can grab hold of and live a life that might measure up at the end of it the way people are saying John McCain's did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The better angels still live. Thank you very much, John Dickerson.

We will be right back to hear more--

JOHN DICKERSON: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --from some journalists who also knew and covered John McCain throughout his Senate career.


MARGARET BRENNAN: For our political panel this morning we've gathered three writers from the hometown paper, so to speak, here in the nation's capital, the Washington Post to talk about Senator John McCain. Dan Balz is the chief correspondent covering national politics, the presidency and Congress. Michael Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist. And columnist Karen Tumulty wrote the paper's lead story this morning on the life of John McCain. And, Karen, I know you've been working on this for some time. You had amazing anecdotes in there. One that stood out to me was McCain as a child, you said. He had such stubbornness, he once held his breath until he almost passed out?

KAREN TUMULTY (The Washington Post/@ktumulty): He actually did pass out. I think his personality became clear very early and he would have these tantrums where he would hold his breath until he passed out and his mother went to a Navy doctor who said, next time that happens, just take him fully clothed and drop him in a tub of cold water. So that's how she would deal with it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I don't think it worked. I don't-- I don't think that-- that really changed the-- the character. You know, John Dickerson, our colleague, there was sharing what he had heard which was last night in Arizona as the senator's body was being taken from his home. There were people just gathered on the side of the road saluting him one last time, sort of an informal tribute to John McCain. Dan, you know, we talk a lot about the sparring he is doing with the current President--

DAN BALZ (The Washington Post/@danbalz): Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --but there is still that deep respect that is coming there and you saw last night in Arizona.

DAN BALZ: I think you're seeing it everywhere. I mean not-- and not just from politicians and the kinds of statements that we're hearing from-- from everyone who's had their life touched by John McCain. I got an e-mail from a friend this morning who is up in upstate New York who was at a diner for breakfast and people were talking about McCain there, and what a patriot he was. So, I mean, I think his impact goes way beyond just the pure political system. I think people look at him for what he was, which was a patriot and an American. And I think that that set of values is something that I think people find in short supply today and they look at McCain's life and his example and they think we-- we need more of that.

MICHAEL GERSON (The Washington Post/@MJGerson): Yeah. I think there's a little bit of desperation in some of this that we don't have it in as much as we need. This is a time when we need heroes and this is a hero passing from the scene. So I think there's a bittersweet element to this. He was the polar opposite to the President on many things, and really played that role.

KAREN TUMULTY: I also think that what we're seeing here is the passing of a generation when it was expected that our national leaders would have early in their lives served. And, you know, John McCain is-- is one of the last of that breed, too.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard John Dickerson say that some Republicans he had talked to refer to this as the dying of a principle not just the dying of a patriot. But that McCain would have rejected that description. What do you make of that?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think he would have rejected it. I think he-- he viewed America in a certain way through a certain lens as a place of ideals and principles, not just a land, not just a piece of property, but the carrier of human ideal. And this is what he talked about the reason he was critical of a lot of current foreign policy was, you know, he-- he was a voice for oppressed people around the world. He could have just been a hawk, you know, and a defense hawk as a senator. And he spoke up for the people of Vietnam. He spoke up for the people around Asia who knew his name from Radio Asia. This is someone who cares about me. And that was really a great role that he played about, you know, extending American values.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was certainly a role he put himself in in the past year since the election of President Trump, I am thinking of him going to the Munich security conference and standing up in front of European allies despite being, you know, not feeling well and saying, basically, don't-- don't forget us and I am going to stand up for Western values, America is still here. Who is that voice now?

DAN BALZ: I think it remains to be seen who that voice is. But I also think it is much more difficult to do what John McCain has done throughout his life in the current era we're in. I mean one of the things I think his passing represents is the passing of a certain era. I mean he operated at a time when not-- he had-- he had principles that he lived in ways that other politicians didn't and, yet, at the same time there was a greater acceptance of the kinds of ambitions and values that he was trying to represent, i.e., working across party lines to get things done, recognizing that compromise is a way to get progress and ability to have fights with people and move on and we're-- we're in a different time. It is a much more as we've talked a lot about. It's a much more poisonous time politically. I think that that Senator McCain's passing reminds us of how difficult it will be for someone to step into those shoes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, Karen, the President is not part of this tribute and that was a choice being made by the McCain family. What do you make of that?

KAREN TUMULTY: Um, I think that the-- this President and John McCain are just polar opposites in so many ways. And one thing is in the-- the sort of code of honor with which John McCain lived. It was both defined him and it haunted him. The lowest moments of his life were when he betrayed his own principles, when he in Vietnam, it wasn't being beaten and having his arms broken but it was signing a forced confession, vague that admitted to black crimes, to him that was the single low moment. And I think we don't see, you know, Donald Trump prides himself on never apologizing for anything, never looking back. That is the exact opposite of John McCain who was always sort of trying to perfect himself to the point where he could live up to his own code of honor.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You wrote about that saying it was-- he-- it pained him to think that that moment of breaking might have hurt his father and caused him great embarrassment and, yet, he used that to go on and fight his own party even at times on this issue of enhanced interrogation techniques and torture.

KAREN TUMULTY: He was. And it was again, I mean he was--John Sidney McCain III, he was named after his father and his grandfather, the first two men in the history of our country to go on to become Four-Star Admirals. And then the weight of that name and what it represented also was just part of who he was.

MICHAEL GERSON: I also think that the invitation to President George W. Bush to give the speech--


MICHAEL GERSON: --is an important one. You mentioned torture, they disagreed about that. This is one of the toughest rivalries in American politics.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was a pretty tough fight they have.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yeah. I was on the other side of that, you know, McCain expressed in 2000, we thought it was going to run us over and it was pretty--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were the speechwriter.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yeah. But over the years, McCain and George W. Bush have talked on the phone quite a bit. And even more in the period during his illness, and--


MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think about old times, you know, like, you know, former football players. You know, they talked about old rivalries but it became very warm, I think a genuine friendship and-- and Senator McCain asked President Bush to give the eulogy months ago as he was thinking about who he wanted at his own funeral. So I think it's a sign of reconciliation in a lot of ways. A good one.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He asked George W. Bush, he asked Barack Obama the two men who really defeated him in his bids for the presidency. What do you-- what is the message that the Senator was going for in choosing those two individuals?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think the message is, personally, he always moved on. I mean he didn't live in yesterday with all of its recriminations. Moved--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, yet, President Trump.

MICHAEL GERSON: You know, moved on to the next stage. And-- and I think that, you know, this represents that. I mean both of these were rivals but these were the kind of rivals where they believed the other side was going to serve the country. They had different views but similar goals and I think we're losing some of that.

DAN BALZ: The-- the-- the conflict with President Trump is interesting because from President Trump to John McCain is personal attack. He's not a hero just because he got shot down. That's the way he has gone at that. John McCain has opposed President Trump on principles.


DAN BALZ: President Trump says America first, John McCain is country first. There's a real difference in that. And I think that that's the way each of these politicians has approached the way they try to do their jobs and I think it says everything about the difference between the two.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And in that final memoir of John McCain he talks a lot about what President Trump has really represented some of those threats that he says to that country first principle. The nativism he talks about his frustration with the ability to get immigration reform through, his-- his frustration with the country in many ways, but he is still an optimist back in there.

DAN BALZ: He is an optimist, he's a realist, but I think that at his heart he is a fighter. And he is a fighter for the principles that he has believed in. I mean this notion of fighting for a cause larger than yourself can, you know, sound corny and clichéd.


DAN BALZ: He lived that. And I think that that's why the battles that he has been engaged in both before President Trump and currently with President Trump flow out of the same set of principles.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, Karen, one of the things that, perhaps, sticks in-- in the President's mind not only the vote on the health care but also and he writes about this in the rest of this wave is the decision to be-- to-- to receive the so-called steel dossier when he was in Europe and to be the one who brought that to the FBI and hand it to Jim Comey.

KAREN TUMULTY: But that really was Senator McCain doing the responsible thing. And, again, very much of a contrast with the meeting in Trump Tower, where-- where a foreign adversary is offering the-- the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton and they take the meeting. And Senator McCain's impulse was to turn it over to law enforcement.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he writes about that that was why he chose that, the justification for it. And, yet, in this environment, it is filtered as just a political choice not one of principle here.

DAN BALZ: Yeah. I mean but so much of it. Everything today is filtered through that political lens. And people will, you know, there are people who take issue with John McCain for a variety of reasons. And whenever there is a moment in which John McCain is in the news, those people come out to trash him, but, as I say, I think that the way McCain approached his life and-- and approached everything he did was to stand up for America, to stand up as-- as Mike said for oppressed people, for the underdog and to keep fighting and keep fighting and not-- and even when losing to get back up and keep going.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Flake of Arizona, when I asked him, you know, who takes up this mantle said, oh, there are many people who can. There is a very real question who takes Senator McCain's seat in Congress and who will in this upcoming primary race it's also being fought right now in Arizona, ultimately, take the seat that Jeff Flake is retiring from. Who, literally, takes the mantle?

DAN BALZ: Well, I don't-- I don't know that we can say that anybody can take the mantle. Someone can fill the seat but that's quite different from filling-- from taking the mantle. And I think that that has to be in the-- in the heart and soul of other people as they watch these last days in which we will be talking about John McCain day in and day out and thinking about the example that he had. It will be-- it will be up to others to try to summon up some of what McCain has represented and see if they can take it on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it overstating things to call it the death of romantic conservatism somehow?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I do think there is a generational element. I was with John McCain in the last days of the 1996 campaign. During ninety-six hours where we went straight, Bob Dole went straight. He personally-- he was going to lose, Dole was going to lose, but the person who rode on the plane with him was John McCain. And we were at a bowling alley at 2:00 AM where Dole lost his voice and McCain had to provide that voice. And the points he made about service and sacrifice in praising that generation brought everyone to tears. It was just extraordinary. Who has, you know, the ability, the standing to be that voice and I think that's an open question.

KAREN TUMULTY: And, yet, I think that you look at his concession speech in 2008--


KAREN TUMULTY: --where he was actually celebrating the moment that the country had reached even as he's conceding defeat, he was a remarkable man.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He was and I know we will all be watching as he is honored this week. Thank you for sharing your stories about him.

And thank all of you for joining us this morning. We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. There will be continuing coverage of the life and legacy of John McCain all this week here on CBS News and on our digital network, CBSN. Until next Sunday for FACE THE NATION I'm Margaret Brennan.