Transcript: Sen. Jeff Flake on "Face the Nation," August 26, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, that aired Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, on "Face the Nation." 


MARGARET BRENNAN: 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 17 years and called him both a friend and a mentor. Senator McCain spent some 40 years in the U.S. Congress.

Senator Flake, how would you describe his impact on American politics?
 
SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Oh it's nothing short of huge. He had an outsized impact on Congress his entire time there particularly in the last several years. He was the conscience of the Senate. He really was. And so 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?
 
SEN. FLAKE: Well to be there with the family as they were with him right near the end was just a privilege and to thank him.
 
I don't know how much 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 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?
 
SEN. FLAKE: Oh I think that there will be people who are there and 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 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 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?
 
SEN. 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 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 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 you talk about McCain having? His ability to reach across the aisle coming to the fore now? 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.
 
SEN. FLAKE: 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 make it a partisan body. So it has to change. There's no other way. 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: Top Democrat Chuck Schumer says he's going to introduce a 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 is the tribute you would look for?
 
SEN. FLAKE: Well 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: You know John McCain's longtime aide--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?
 
SEN. FLAKE: Well I mean 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 lived that right till the end. 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.
 
SEN. FLAKE: Thank you for having me on.