December 20, 2019

Cindy & Meghan McCain

Sen. John McCain’s widow Cindy and daughter Meghan join Firing Line to reflect on the Senator’s legacy and bipartisan accomplishments just over a year after his passing. Cindy and Meghan address President Trump’s attacks on John McCain, the deep polarization in American politics, Meghan’s role as the conservative voice on The View, and their relationship with 2020 Presidential candidate Joe Biden.

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They lived alongside one of America’s most beloved senators and mavericks.
Now they are the keepers of his legacy.
This week on ‘Firing Line’…
Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans, and please believe me when I say — no association has ever meant more to me than that.

To the country, Senator John McCain was an American hero, a man who spent more than five years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, and then 3 1/2 decades in the United States Congress.

We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.
We are getting nothing done, my friends.
We’re getting nothing done!

Well, to this week’s guest, widow Cindy and daughter Meghan, he was so much more.

I love you so much.
[ Applause ]
His daughter Meghan is now a public figure in her right, a conservative voice of ‘The View,’ defending her politics, even as the president attacks her father’s legacy.

I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be.

With Senator McCain’s brand of statesmanship increasingly feeling like something from a bygone era, what do the McCains say now?

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Meghan McCain and Cindy McCain, welcome to the ‘Firing Line.’

Thank you.

Thank you.
But, you know, candidly, I always want to say, like, we are personal friends, as well, and I’m a huge fan of ‘Firing Line’ and grew up watching it, so I think it’s important to, you know…
To disclose the fact that —
That we’re friends and come on this show, but, um, you know, it’s such an iconic brand.

Well, I’m grateful to have both of you here because it has now been slightly more than a year since the country lost Senator McCain.
And he was a stalwart defender of democratic values around the world, in the United States Senate, a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and a war hero.
And I think about John McCain’s legacy every day, and I wonder just in the year since his passing, Mrs. McCain, what you feel the public has gotten right about your husband’s legacy.

I think they’ve gotten most of it right.
I mean, people tell me every day — There’s not a day that passes that someone doesn’t say to me, ‘We miss him.
We missed his dignity, his respect.
We missed his ability to bring people together.’
There’s a wide divide right now, and he really — he was the one that really kept a lot of this together during the years he was in the Senate.

For me, I miss humor and bipartisanship, as well, which is I know not something everyone always brings to it, but he was really funny, and he didn’t take himself seriously.
There’s a picture of him giving Manu Raju, who’s a Capitol Hill reporter, the devil ears behind his head.
He always found levity and friendship in politics.
Ted Kennedy was one of his closest friends, obviously Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and I miss — I miss that it was collegial, that politics was collegial when he was still there.

So, I mean, I’m glad you mentioned Ted Kennedy because, you know, he had many pieces of legislation, but two of his trademark pieces of legislation were these really historic moments where he reached across the aisle, one with Russ Feingold, and then the other with Ted Kennedy — one on Immigration Reform, the other on Campaign Finance Reform.
And it feels like a bygone era when that kind of legislative collaboration and cooperation can happen.
I remember seeing the pictures of them, and, clearly, these lines of very different world views, sitting together intently trying to find a way forward.

And I truly believe we’ve seen the last of that.
It’s so divisive now, and I know for a fact, even though he’s not here, my husband would be very disappointed in what it is now, what it’s descended into.

What’s happened, structurally or systemically, that you think that has made it impossible to go back to?

Well, in my opinion, the social media has made it very difficult for members of Congress or members of the Senate to work in an efficient manner.
In my opinion, I think that when people are so divisive on Twitter towards you or with you or whatever it may be, it doesn’t help anything, and I think all too often our members are responding to Twitter rather than doing what’s right.

So, another thing that John McCain was known for is being a maverick.
I’d like you to take a look at one of those maverick moments, perhaps his last, where he turned his thumbs down and voted against overturning the Affordable Care Act.
[ Gasping, applause ] Now, there’s a backstory to that moment.
He risked his life to come back to the capitol to take that vote.

Mm-hmm, biggest fight I ever got in with him in our life, ever, and I was — As you remember, I was screaming at him in the hospital because he had just had surgery on his tumor for his brain cancer, and it was dangerous to fly, and I just remember that flight from Phoenix to D.C. is one of the worst moments and experiences of my entire life because I was watching him the entire time worried something was gonna happen, yeah.

Did you know how he would vote?

I didn’t.
I knew that they were a lot of people pressuring him.
I also knew that he never agreed with the bill if the bill was not written correctly.

He stated very clearly he had problems with the process and the way the system had broken down, that it had been done behind closed doors, that Republicans had campaigned on it for years and years…
Right.

…and they weren’t able to deliver what they had promised the American people.
I want you to also listen to what he said about what was going on in Congress in that time.

Let’s trust each.
Let’s return to regular order.
We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.
We are getting nothing done, my friends.
We’re getting nothing done!

Do you think regular order can never return, or is it also about leadership?

Well, it is about — It’s a great deal about leadership, but I also know because I’ve been around a long time that Washington’s a pendulum.
You see it swing one way, and then you see it swing another way.
I think we’re probably gonna have to get through 2020, to be honest with you, in my opinion.
It’s just we’re too separated right now, not only as parties, but as a country.

Why 2020?

Well, I think that that’s — It’s either make-it-or-break-it.
Either Trump wins or doesn’t, or Biden wins or doesn’t, and — That’s a hurdle that I think a lot of people see we have to jump over before we can fix this, one way or another.

One of the things the McCain Institute focuses on is character-driven leadership.

Yes.

What is character-driven leadership mean to you?

Well, what it means and what he wanted it, you know, with regards to the Institute, is about teaching young professionals, mid-career professionals from around the world, bringing them here to the United States and spending a year — We’re not talking party politics, we’re talking about making really good decisions for your country or for your community, whatever it may be.
Making decisions that maybe aren’t always the easiest to make.
You know, some of the hardest things John ever did were making the right decisions on things.

Mrs. McCain, you said that you have never been prouder of him than when you heard his concession speech after the election on November 4th in 2008.
I want to watch a moment of what he said.

A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.
America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time.
There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.
Let there be no reason now — [ Cheers and applause ] Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.
[ Cheers and applause ]
He then went on to say he would do everything he could to help the incoming president, Barack Obama.
And he even, you know, had the privilege of having Barack Obama eulogize him at his passing.

Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

How was that relationship?

You know, it was — It had its moments, you know, because they disagreed on things, but John believed in the spirit of the debate and believed in the righteousness of the debate.
That speech to me, when I read it, because he previewed it for me, I’ve never heard in probably — I will never hear a speech as good as that ever again because it was the right thing to say, and it was the thing that the country needed to hear.

Mm-hmm.

Especially with that election.
So I was very proud of him.
I was always proud of him, but I was very proud of him that night.

You may not know this, but in 1998, John McCain appeared on the original ‘Firing Line’ with William F. Buckley Jr., and he was speaking about teen smoking, and he brought Meghan up.
Let’s take a look.

I — I read somewhere that, in the last two or three years, the number of leading men who are seen smoking has increased by 400% or 500% over against seven or eight years ago.
Is there something we can do about it?

Leonardo DiCaprio is an object of my 13-year-old daughter’s affection to the degree which I have never experienced.

So he smokes, she’ll smoke.
Yeah.

Yeah, I mean, this young man has captured the hearts of every 13-year-old girl in America, and what does he do throughout the movie?
They’re continuously smoking.
Bruce Willis in the ‘Die Hard’ movies — He smokes continuously through those, and I’m not picking on him or Leonardo.
I have other problems with Leonardo, but… [ Laughter ] The fact is…
He seduced your daughter.

Yes.
To distraction.
You know, he has a website?
Anyway, well, that’s not surprising.

I didn’t know that.
He has a website?

They have a chat room website, my daughter and her friends, so that they can chat about…
About Leonardo.

About Leonardo.
It’s remarkable.

That’s what he talked about with William F. Buckley?
[ Laughter ] Okay, everyone.
By the way, I do not smoke cigarettes and never have, so just — I was more scared of my dad… But I did have a huge crush on him.

Which means it starts in the home.
[ Laughter ]
Listen to how seriously he took you.
He was super tapped in to where you are and what you thought and what you were taking seriously.

Yeah, I mean, almost — Like, sometimes I wish he would have pulled me back a little bit, but…
[ Chuckles ]
Been a little bit more involved?

He, you know, he was wild when he was younger, and he — We’re so much alike in so many ways, and — to the point that sometimes it — it’s the good and the bad.
Like, I think people see me on ‘The View’ sometimes and my Executive Producer’s like, ‘You’re always shooting from the hip, and you just react, and you’re intense, and you believe what you believe,’ and I’m like, ‘Where do you think I got that one from?’

So John McCain seems to have a new fan base today, and it’s in the Democratic Party.

Mm-hmm.

There’s a campaign going on, and what’s really interesting to me is how many Democrats are invoking his name and his memory
Mrs. McCain, what do you think about all these candidates invoking your husband’s memory?

I think my husband would have a real chuckle over it, I really do.

Yeah.

You know, I respect them, and that’s very nice that they would use him, you know, and relay their experiences that they had with him.

But you haven’t always loved it, Meghan.

I remember when he was George Wallace, when he was accused of being racist for even attempting to run against the first African-American candidate, and, again, my mom is much more forgiving than I am, and I remember people taking real low blows and low shots at him, and I also appreciate people respecting and bringing him up, but I also think that maybe if you hadn’t demonized him so much and demonized Mitt Romney so much, maybe it wouldn’t have bred the feeding ground for Trump because Trump didn’t just come.
It took a long time to get there, so people now show these clips, and he was always looking to reach across the aisle, to work alongside — He was a truly decent, wonderful man.
I’m not just saying that because he’s my father.
And now we have someone who has, I believe, no character, no discipline, has no interest in working with the other side, and I think that it was the beginning of it, if we look back now in the past 10 years.

Donald Trump has raised your dad’s legacy negatively seven times since his passing.
What is it that experience personally, when the president —
I go crazy.
I turn into the She-Hulk.
It makes me — I get very emotional and very angry, and normally have to call you.

[ Chuckles
Or my husband.

For me, I just — It make me sad.
It makes me sad for the president in that way because he never really knew John.

Yeah.

He never really knew the kind of man that he is and was.
And so that makes me sad because I think he would have learned and probably liked him a great deal.
But I also think that, you know, politics is politics.

You know, as John says, ‘We’re fair game, the kids aren’t,’ kind of thing.

I’m fair game now.

Yeah. [ Chuckles ] So, I understand.
He taught me great lessons about how to be controlled and not let them get to you.

I always called my dad President Trump’s kryptonite ’cause he’s like the one man he can — that will always be loved and revered in history and looked upon by so many politicians as an icon.
And I can sit here with 100% certainty President Trump will be an extremely polarizing, controversial figure who I believe has pulled us into darkness in our country, and I think my dad was attempting to pull us into the light.

Ms. McCain, you just said, you know, you guys are fair game, the kids aren’t.
Meghan said, ‘Well, now I am fair game.’
You know, you’re fair game now because you’re a co-host of ‘The View,’ a daily political television show that has been called ‘the most important political television show in America.’
What is your experience?
‘Cause you really are the only Republican on that set —
I say ‘conservative,’ because there are other women that define themselves as Republican, and —
And you’re a conservative.
And you defend conservative credentials and values every day from that seat.

I do.

I want to look at one thing you’ve also said about it.

Okay.
And I was trying to explain — Because one of my producers this morning was saying, ‘Why do people love him so much?’
And I was like, ‘Sometimes it’s not just that they love Trump so much, it’s that they hate the same things Trump hates.’
That’s what’s going on?

Who, black people, you mean and immigrants?

No, I mean —
Who do they hate?
Who do they hate?

You know what, Joy?
I really come here every day open-minded, just trying to explain it, and it’s not a fun job for me every day.

But who do they hate?

I know you’re angry.

You bet I’m angry.

I get that you’re angry that Trump’s president, like a lot of people are, but I don’t think yelling at me is gonna fix the problem.
But being the sacrificial Republican every day, I’m just trying to —
Here’s the thing —
Don’t feel bad for me.
I’m paid to do this, okay?
Don’t feel bad for me.
[ Laughter ] My finest moment on all of TV.

I mean, I think it must feel like you’re a sacrificial conservative every day, right?
I mean, you have to — The country is evenly divided, pretty evenly divided ideologically, right?
But you’re the only one of those four or five that are espousing a view that a much larger percentage of the country holds.

Well, I think it’s why you and I became friends originally is there just aren’t that many conservative women — real ones — in mainstream media.
For me, it’s interesting that the media always will allow one conservative on a giant panel across all networks, unless you’re at Fox.
You’re allowed one.
And then, there’s a sea of one myopic opinion.
And I think that’s disingenuous to what’s going on, and I think — For me, I can’t stand President Trump, personally.
I will not be voting for him.
I did not vote for him.
And even for me, I’m sort of, like, not socially acceptable enough, and I do have times where —
You have to defend that you’re explaining why Trump voters support him.

I take great pride in the fact that I sort of — I did not want to join ‘The View’ at all.
I was not interested, and my dad told me to do it.
And anything he told me to do, I would do.
And so now I take pride in the fact that I’ve lasted longer than any conservative since Elisabeth.
And I was called a mushy RINO for most of my career.
All of a sudden, I’m like the queen conservative, and no one’s more surprised about it than I am.

Do you worry about the future of the party in a post-Trump world?

100%.
Do you think the party is going to resonate with young people, people your age and younger?

I really worry about it, because — And the numbers show this, by the way.
Whatever you want to say about the left or people like AOC, they do a really good job of speaking to young people.
And I think, for us — And I always laugh — like, Young Republican groups start at 40.
And I think post-Trump America, for the party, is gonna be a very, very dark place to rebuild.

I mean, I don’t know how we rebuild, but, Cindy, you shook your head.
As you think about your children, your grandchildren, and having a Republican Party appeal, this concerns you?

It concerns me very much, and I’ll speak for my own home state, where the party has simply left ‘normal’ — what we would consider normal — Republicans behind.
Until our party goes back to what we were best at, and that was an open system, an open tent, we invited everybody in, those are the days that I grew up in Republican politics, and it was — those were good years.
President Trump has done some things that all of us, as Meghan said, it’s been — they’ve been controversial, they’ve been different from what any other president has done and not in good ways.
And yet nobody says anything.
Nobody scolds him for what really was bad manners — or whatever you want to call it, whatever issue it was of the day.

I mean, we know Senator McCain would have if he were alive, but why — why not anybody else?

I don’t know.
I don’t understand.

I think fear of not being in office or in power.

Well, they’re terrified of him, politically, I believe.

Do you think if your husband were alive and he were standing up to the President, it would give courage to others to do the same?

It did before.
Yeah, he gave cover to a lot of people.

Mm-hmm.

I want to ask you about another thing that the McCain Institute focuses on, and that’s sex trafficking.

Oh, yeah.

I mean, this is one of the pillars and priorities of the McCain Institute, which is associated with Arizona State University and is a think tank.
What ignited your passion for this issue?

Well, really, a very long time ago, when I brought Meghan’s sister home from Bangladesh, she was from Mother Teresa’s orphanage.
And so, several years later, I had an opportunity to go meet Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and I did just that.
And after I met her and had — You know, we had pictures taken and all that kind of stuff.
I was on my way out to leave the country, but I stopped to buy some sari material for my daughter Bridget.
And while I was buying it, there was this kind of rumbling through the floor of the kiosk I was in, and so I asked the guy behind the counter, and he said, ‘Oh, no, it’s just my family.
They live down there.’
And I looked down, and you could kind of see between the slats, and I could see all these little eyes looking up at me.
They were clearly children being kept down there.
And it wasn’t — You know, they weren’t his.
It was just — It was one of those things — It was the moment I didn’t know what I was looking at, I had no idea what this was or whether or not anyone could fix it, kind of is where I was coming from.
So it took me years to really figure out not only what it was but what I could do.

How big a deal is this?

It’s epidemic.
It’s absolutely epidemic.

What’s it gonna take to really make a difference, to really make an impact in this fight?

A change of attitude, number one.
Certainly more awareness, which is what we’re doing.
But more importantly, the understanding that this is a simple human-rights issue.
It’s not simple, but it — This is a basic human-rights issue.
These people are being deprived of their freedom.

John McCain was a ardent defender of human rights and democratic values.
And you started, on the one-year anniversary of his passing, a movement online called Acts of Civility.

Mm-hmm. We did.

What was that?

That was about just what we’ve been talking about here — moving back to civil behavior between not just our government officials but between people — your neighbors, your friends.

Want to ask you one more question about Joe Biden, who was a longtime friend of your dad’s and your husband.
He, of course, is running.
You earlier said we have to get past 2020 because it’ll either be President Trump or Joe Biden.

And I get a little, like — When you said that, I was like — [ Knocks ] — ‘Joe Biden.’

I did the same thing.

Because it could be — I mean, not to be super cynical, but Elizabeth Warren’s coming up fast and hard right now.

Right. So, what’s it gonna take?
I mean, do you — In the way that you say it’s a bygone era, in some ways, to sort of reach across the aisle and to do the kind of jockeying that Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold did with John McCain, Joe Biden was part of that era.

He was.

Has the era bypassed Joe Biden?

I don’t think so.

I hope not.

It’s still in there.
I mean, Joe’s a lovely — not only a lovely person, but he was always a good legislator, in terms of how he worked across the aisle, how he — You have to remember, Joe was there before John was, and John learned a great deal from Joe.

If you could be helpful to Joe Biden, would you?
In the race?

I’m trying to — I’m gonna try to stay out of it just because it — it’s — I — I’m not — I’m not the politician in the family.
It’s really Meghan and her father that were.
But — So I’m gonna try to stay out of it, but I do — I do like Joe Biden.
He’s a very good friend.
He helped us through a very dark time.

So, if you could be helpful, would you, at the right time?

It depends.
I mean, I struggle with — It will turn out what kind of candidate he ends up being.
You know, I still hope for the moderate, bipartisan Joe.
I think the question he will have to answer is, will he be pulled to the hard progressive left.
I have my limitations with this, as well, and I can’t vote for — I mean, I would never vote — I’m not voting for a Democrat.
I’ll probably end up writing in Paul Ryan or something.

You wouldn’t vote for Joe Biden if he were running against Trump?

It depends how he runs.
You know, it depends who he chooses.
It depends what his policies are.
I want to, like, get there when I get there, but —
You don’t rule it out, though.

I always tell people one man is actively on television berating my beloved father who has passed and another man eulogized him.
What would you do?

[ Laughs ]
Vote for him.

I don’t know.
Again, I have to see, but my love for him and his family and my heart always beats out my brain, for better or for worse, in politics.
Always.

It was Joe’s wife that introduced John and I.

Yes.

Jill?
I didn’t know that.

Yeah, and it’s just — they’re so intertwined in our life, and — That sometimes what makes me a bad analyst right now, I think, because I’m so emotionally involved.
The pain of grief is — You can’t explain it until you’ve experienced it.
I never could’ve understood it.
Joe Biden is the most incredible — I call him the Grief Whisperer.
The way he interprets pain and grief and loss, I’ve never — I’ve met no therapist, analyst, guidance counselor, nothing, that possibly compares to him on it.
And I think the country’s in a lot of pain.
Honestly, I don’t know what I would be like without him.
I think I would be in an even darker place.

Do you — Has it gotten easier after the year mark?

I thought so, but you just — I just miss him so much.
I miss his sense of humor.
I miss watching you guys together in Sedona.
I’m not trying to make you cry.

Oh, you’re okay.

But it’s just — it never — it doesn’t get easier, and I don’t want people to think it gets easier.
Because I think there’s a lot of stigma about ‘Well, you’ve been through a year, so it should stop being so painful,’ and it’s not true — for me.
For me, it’s not true.

You just learn how to live with it.

Yes.

It is an honor to have both of you in my life, to have both of you here at ‘Firing Line,’ and to have you carry the torch and to continue to carry the torch forward for your father’s legacy and for your husband’s legacy.
Thank you for being on ‘Firing Line.’

Thank you.

Thank you, Margaret.

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