Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Ceremonies for Former President Gerald R. Ford; Hanging of Saddam Hussein

Aired December 30, 2006 - 12:00   ET


DAN SIMON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Last night, thousands of people in the community filed into the church to have the opportunity to say goodbye to Mr. Ford. Many of those folks waited in line for several hours. You know, they don't have big parking lot here at the church so they had people go to the Indian Wells Tennis Center and the city chartered several buses and they were bringing people to the church all night. That concluded just a couple of hours ago and now you see people assembled at the church now as the casket's going to be loaded onto the hearse and Mr. Ford's body will be taken to the Palm Springs Airport -- T.J..
T.J. HOLMES, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Dan, thank you. And also standing by with us is former Congressman Guy Vander Jagt who served years in Congress with then Representative Ford.

Congressman Vander Jagt, thank you for being with us. You're in Washington now, you will be there, one of the official greeters when Ford's body does arrive there at the capitol. As we watch this ceremony and you've got a couple of more days, of course, of ceremonies and mourning to do. But what are your thoughts as you see this and watch these ceremonies now happen to a man you spent so much time with and a good friend of yours?

GUY VANDER JAGT, FMR. HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Well, the overwhelming feeling is a sense of personal loss. We were very dear friends, he was a very special person, but also there's a feeling that somehow god had to be looking after America when he ascended to the office because he was exactly the right person at the right time at the right place. His down to earth simplicity, his decency, his honesty, his integrity, his unpretentiousness was just exactly what a hurting nation needed in order to be healed again.

HOLMES: Did you think he always knew, because he certainly did not, as we all know, seek the office -- did he always know and have a feeling that, you know, I'm here to fill this role, I'm here to help the country heal and that's it? Even though he lost that election, he did run again, but -- and wanted to be elected, but did he always have a sense kind of that, you know what, I'm just here to fill this void and to help the country through this and that's my role here.

VANDER JAGT: T.J., I think you're exactly right. He was a man of the House, his highest political ambition was to be speaker of the House, which that opportunity never presented itself, but once in the office, I think he thought his primary mission, his biggest challenge, was to heal the nation. And he grew into the office. An illustration of that is right after he became vice president I saw him and I said, "Hi, Mr. Vice president," and he kind of shaking a finger at me, said "Guy, don't you ever call me Mr. Vice president, I'm Gerry to you."

After he became president, when I saw him, I said "Hi, Mr. President," he didn't correct me and for the three decades that followed, not because he needed the title but he revered and respected the office.

HOLMES: And our Bill Schneider is standing by with us, I believe, still, as well. And Bill, let me ask you, he had such a great reputation, everybody liked him. He's the guy next door, we talked about earlier, and he was a guy that brought people together. Was that good guy image, in a way, tarnished a bit when he got, I guess, wrapped up and got to working with Nixon who was going through so much controversy? And then he ended up pardoning Nixon. Did that kind of tarnish that great image and idea that everybody had of Gerald Ford?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly was a big shock. It came one month after he ascended to the office of president after Nixon resigned. And a lot of Americans were angry, some people suspected a deal, there's been some revelations recently that the idea of a deal had been brought before him, but he never entertained the idea of a deal with Richard Nixon, but he always believed that he would pardon Nixon, that this would be the way to heal the country and to put the Watergate era behind us. Of course, some would argue it extended the bitterness and it tarnished the Ford presidency, but he intended the pardon as a gesture, really, of reconciliation, a way of drawing the curtain on an era of bitter divisiveness when he actually carried out what became the most famous act of his presidency.

HOLMES: And we're taking a look, here, as well, as we talk to you two, we're watching the family's motorcade and we're seeing Betty Ford there being escorted.

Mr. Vander Jagt, Congressman Vander Jagt, let me ask you again here, while we're looking at Mrs. Ford, describe a little to us and help people understand, we see the pictures and seeing them kiss in public and how great their relationship was, but you saw it on a personal level that most folks did not get to see. Put that into terms for us, the relationship and the love between those two.

VANDER JAGT: It's one of the truly great love stories of all time. He was totally devoted to her. When you would travel with them, no matter how busy or pressing the schedule, he'd talk to her every morning, he'd talk to her every night by telephone. His whole attention, his whole being was directed toward her. When she had her alcohol problems and went into rehabilitation, he, himself gave up drinking, not just in front of her, but anything that would help her and reach out to her, he loved her very much. She was the love of his life.

HOLMES: All right. You all standby, I know you are going to stay with us here as we watch this ceremony.

MELISSA LONG, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: We also want to check in now with presidential historian Richard Shenkman who joins us now live this morning from Seattle.

Thanks so much for your time, Richard, we appreciate it.


LONG: Moments ago, we heard the congressman Vander Jagt talk about the fact that President Ford had just a down to earth simplicity, how will we see that reflected in the services over the next couple of days?

SHENKMAN: Well, unlike President Reagan, this president liked things plain and simple. He wasn't an actor, he wasn't a performer, his presidency was simple and he orchestrated his own funeral arrangements in advance so that they would reflect his personality and his style. So you're not going to see jets roaring overhead and you're not going to see thousands ling up as you did for President Reagan a few years ago...

LONG: Richard Shenkman, we're going to check back in with you in a moment. Let's listen to the music from the Marine Corps band.


LONG: You're looking at live pictures from Palm Desert, California. In a moment this Hearse will take away the casket carrying the 38th president of the United States, Gerald Ford. Before we listened to the Marine Corp Air Ground Combat Center Band, I was speaking with presidential historian Richard Shenkman who's in Seattle, joining this morning.

Mr. Shenkman, we were talking about President Ford's down to earth simplicity and how that will be reflected in the services we see today, and for the next couple of days.

SHENKMAN: Yes exactly. He, of course, scripted this in advance, consulting his family. This is what presidents do unless they're shot down in office or something untoward happens. And we will be seeing things as he wanted us to see them.

LONG: Julian Zelizer also joining us, a history professor from Watertown, Massachusetts. Thank you so much for your time as well, Professor Zelizer, we appreciate it. As we watch the pictures from Palm Desert, California. This is process and extreme precision and exactitude. Tell our viewers exactly how much planning goes into presidential state funerals?

Mr. Zelizer? Let's turn back to Richard Shenkman in Seattle. I'm not sure about our connection with Professor Zelizer right now.

Mr. Zelizer, you are with us?


LONG: Yes, yes. Are you able to hear me?

ZELIZER: Yes, I can hear you just fine.

LONG: OK, perfect. I was curious about the precision and the planning that goes into a state funeral. Can you share some of your thoughts with us?

ZELIZER: Yeah, these are very planned events, both from the security to the procession itself. And in this case, it's an event where the deceased president had made his intentions very clear. So, these are unique moments in American history, and I think that's part of why there's so much grandeur surrounding them.

LONG: When we received word that the president had passed away. We were informed by Betty Ford herself. How typical or atypical is that?

ZELIZER: Well, I think there's different ways in which we learn about how a president has passed away. I don't think there's a standard way, but the family is always, obviously, the first source for this kind of information.

LONG: Also on the line right now, we have other people who can weigh in and share their insight on the late president. We have Bill Schneider, as well, who is in South Carolina. A former congressman who served and was a dear friend of Mr. Ford, as well.

HOLMES: Yeah, Congressman Vander Jagt, I believe you're -- he's still with us here. Do I have it right that the former president actually wants to hear his alma mater's fight song played from the University of Michigan?

VANDER JAGT: You know, throughout his presidency, he really preferred the University of Michigan fight song to "Hail to the Chief."

HOLMES: Now can we expect to hear it here at some point in the next few days?

VANDER JAGT: At some point in these ceremonies, you can be absolutely sure that you'll hear "Hail to the Victors," especially with Michigan playing USC on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl.

HOLMES: AND Bill Schneider, still standing by with us as well.

Bill, are these events always -- and meant to be -- a reflection of a presidents personality? And we've been talking about that a little and then Ford's personality, but is that certainly what they give the former president and let them know this is your time, your moment, you make this how you want to be and can we always expect these to be a reflection of that president's personality?

SCHNEIDER: I think we can. And at least they're shaped to be the kind of recollection that the presidents want to have. It's the final view of a president, his passing. And they are really crafted in the way that the president would like to be remembered.

What's most important about Gerald Ford is that he was a response against the imperial presidency. The presidential style that was associated with Richard Nixon. When he came into office there was a tremendous backlash against Nixon's imperial presidency. Gerald Ford, himself, who was in a weak political position, he faced a very strongly Democratic Congress. He had never been elected, either vice president or president of the United States. So he didn't have a strong popular mandate. He really had to create that mandate himself. And he it with that simple graciousness, the simplicity, the down to earth quality we have been talking about.

He had to cope with very severe problems, the economy was in deep trouble during his presidency and that of his successor, Jimmy Carter, and an especially debilitated both presidents, but his simple way of grasping very big problems, I think, endear him to a lot of Americans. And the funeral ceremonies are meant to be a recollection of that simple, gracious style.

HOLMES: All right, and we're watching now as the motorcade has taken off and gone out of -- pretty much out of view there. And another look there at St. Margaret's Church there in Palm Desert, California. We're keeping an eye on the airport as well, his casket expected to arrive there shortly, there will be a ceremony there at the airport as well, at the Palm Springs Regional Airport and then from there he takes a journey back to Washington, really saying goodbye to California here for the last time.

And Bill, while we still have you here, I guess, should -- is he not given enough credit for other things? When people talk about Gerald Ford, of course the first thing out of the mouth is pretty much the pardon of Nixon. But were there any other stamps? What other things, historically, should we be talking about the Ford presidency?

SCHNEIDER: Well, one of the things he was associated, which was a very controversial policy, which was the policy of detente in foreign affairs. He supported the Nixon policy of detente with the Soviet Union and China. His secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, that was his signature policy. It was a controversial policy. A lot of Republicans opposed it. That is why he drew the opposition of Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries when he and Reagan ran for president in 1976.

A lot of Republicans, a lot of conservatives, opposed that policy of detente but a lot of Americans valued it and continue to admire it, they see Nixon and Ford as the architects of that signatures policy and in turn it gave way to a far more aggressive and militant foreign policy under Ronald Reagan which of course culminated in the end of the Cold War. But that is one of his signature policies less widely remembered these days than the presidential pardon.

LONG: Bill, thank you. If you happen to be just turning on the television, I want to tell you what you're watching. It's about 9:20 in the morning in California. This is a live picture from Palm Desert. We are watching the departure ceremony from St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California.

The late President Ford, his casket has just been brought from the church where he spent so much time over the years with his wife and family, has been lying in repose at that church. Thousands of people filed in for just a split second, ordered to pay their final respects in a community that has become such an integral part of the Ford family.

At the other side of your television screen, you see a live picture from the airport. That's Special Air Mission 29,000, that is the aircraft that will transport the wooden casket, flag-draped wooden casket to Washington, D.C. where, of course, the formal funeral services will continue in Washington. And the body of the late President Ford will lie in repose in the capitol rotunda.

HOLMES: All right. And we're keeping an eye on this. And this was just moments ago, if you missed it live. This is what we're watching. Really beautiful ceremonies, sad, somber, but really just gorgeous ceremonies, these funerals in the mourning for presidents who have passed, this is what we watched just moments ago as the -- and you know, what? We'll allow you, in case you missed it, to listen in again.


HOLMES: We're now going back to live pictures, now. Ceremony, I believe at the Palm Springs Airport. This is where the casket is expected to arrive any moment, in just a few minutes, another ceremony to take place there before the casket carrying the body of former President Gerald Ford will be loaded onto that plane and then flown back to Andrews Air Force Base and then make the trip, the drive to Washington, D.C. and the nation's capital, the capitol building where he will lie in state in the capitol rotunda. That casket will make stops at the U.S. House of Representatives where he spent so many years, also at the U.S. Senate where also he spent time, of course, as vice president; he was the president of the Senate to honor his service there as well.

But we will continue to watch these live pictures and bring you more of this ceremony as we see it throughout the next hour. And of course when Ford's body arrives in D.C. later, be sure to tune in right here for a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer. And then tonight, a very special LARRY KING LIVE. He'll be remembering Gerald Ford in his own words that begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.


HOLMES: Again, another live picture here of the departure ceremony happening for Gerald R. Ford. The casket carrying his body is set to arrive any minute at the Palm Springs Regional Airport. At that point, it will be loaded on one of the Air Force One fleet of airplanes -- jets, and then flown back to Washington, D.C. for the -- where he'll lie in state at the state capital -- or rather the nation's capital.

And of course, funeral services and ceremonies will take place over the next several days including the national memorial at the national cathedral there in D.C. on Tuesday. But again, we're keeping on eye on a live picture at the Palm Springs Regional Airport where just a short time ago, we actually saw the casket leave the church. It is on its way en route to that airport. When we see it arrive and the ceremony begin there, we will take you back to it.

LONG: It is an extraordinary day in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is dead. The brutal dictator hanged just before sunrise Baghdad time for crimes against his own people. We are now getting reaction from all over the world. Let's begin with a look at Hussein's long walk to the gallows. Ryan Chilcote has that part of the story.


RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The silent video begins as Iraqi prison guards lead Saddam Hussein to the gallows. The judge charged with super advising the execution was in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was very, very normal, totally oblivious to what was going on around him, I was very surprised, he was not afraid of death.

CHILCOTE: His arms handcuffed behind him, his walk hindered by shackles, Saddam appears disoriented and resigned to his fate as the camera panned the trap door that will send him to his death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was saying "god is greatest, the invaders an their enemies will go to hell and we will go to heaven."

CHILCOTE: Witnesses reported that moments later, an argument broke out between Saddam and his masked executioners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): One of the guards told him, "you destroyed Iraq." He said "No, I built Iraq and made it prosperous and destroyed its enemies."

CHILCOTE: Saddam's guards tried to put a hood over his head, but Saddam refused, the guards instead rapped it around his neck. In his final moments, the judge said some of the witnesses taunted Saddam by shouting out praise for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr whose family was persecuted under Saddam's rule.

The video freezes just before Saddam falls to his death. The judge said Saddam began, but failed to respond to the chants. The judge later showed us photos of himself and Saddam during the trial. He says they had a professional relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The moment he was hanged, I walked out of the room because I hate this sight, it is repulsive

CHILCOTE: Iraqi TV then showed video of Saddam's body covered in a white shroud, proof of death and last images of the once all powerful tyrant.

Ryan Chilcote, CNN, Baghdad.


HOLMES: It is of course a milestone, but it won't end the violence in the Iraq. That assessment of the execution from President Bush this morning from his Crawford ranch and Elaine Quijano is close by there.

Hello Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, T.J. That's right, President Bush reacting in the form of a written statement issued about 90 minutes after Saddam Hussein's execution and in that statement, the president said that Saddam Hussein received a fair trial, the kind of justice the president said, that he denied to the Iraqi people. Now the statement also praised the Iraqis saying: "It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial. This would not have been possible without the Iraqi people's determination to create a society governed by the rule of law."

That was around 7:15 last night, Eastern Time, that President Bush was briefed by his national security advisor, Stephen Hadley. And at that time, Hadley told the president that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki had told the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, that in fact Saddam Hussein's execution would take place within the next few hours.

President Bush then went to bed and it was this morning about 6:00 Eastern Time that the president spoke by phone, once more, to his national security advisor about the fact that the execution had in fact been carried out. We also understand in that 10 minute conversation the two talked about some of the world reaction to it.

Now as for today, we are not expecting to see President Bush talk about this on camera in any kind of public way before the cameras, but a White House spokesman, this morning, says that the president was quoted as saying he was pleased with the culmination of the Iraqi judicial process and that justice was done. Even there, T.J. an indication the United States very eager to paint this as a process and a decision that was carried out by the Iraqis -- T.J.

HOLMES: All right, our Elaine Quijano for us. Thank you so much Elaine.

And meanwhile, parts of the southeastern U.S. under the gun from severe storms this hour. Tornado warnings and watches have been in places all across southern Louisiana. There are reports of tornado touchdowns in Acadia Parish there.

Earlier near Waco, Texas -- this is pretty a terrifying sight -- a tornado, part of a string of twisters that swept across parts of the Lone Star State yesterday. The storms killed one person and injured at least a dozen others. In parts of the state, damage was extensive. Dozens of homes destroyed, trees blown down, power lines snapped.

Also the president and Mrs. Bush were among those on the run from the storms. They sought shelter in an armored vehicle at the family's Crawford ranch.

We want to turn now once again for more on these severe storms and more tornado watches and warnings popping up -- Bonnie Schneider has been on top of all of this for us.

You got more?


This just in moments ago. We have a new tornado warning. This is for St. Helena Parish in southeast Louisiana. It goes until noon Central Standard Time.

And you can see that a lot of the storms now, we're getting the tornado warnings a little bit further to the east. Here's Baton Rouge. We had a tornado warning earlier for East Baton Rouge Parish, no longer, that has expired.

But the big picture now will show you that we are looking at the threat for tornadoes not just here in parts of Louisiana in the center of the state, but also in the eastern half of the state, then further to the east, into Mississippi and Alabama. The tornado watch goes straight through 2:00 today Central Time.


BONNIE SCHNEIDER: So T.J., we are looking at a very serious storm that does bring the threat for tornadoes once again to Louisiana. And for St. Helena Parish, a tornado warning will just go on now for about another 23 minutes. We're watching this very closely throughout the day.

HOLMES: All right. Bonnie, thank you so much.


MALVEAUX: In addition to weather because -- worries because of weather, we've been following the execution of Saddam Hussein. And also we're remembering the late President Ford this morning.

You are looking at a live picture of Special Air Mission 29,000. This is the aircraft that will carry the wooden casket bearing the 38th president of the United States to the U.S. capital.

Continuing coverage in the NEWSROOM still to come.


HOLMES: Defiant in his final moment, Saddam Hussein refused to have a hood pulled over his head before he was hanged for crimes against humanity. The former Iraqi dictator went to the gallows before dawn clutching his Koran. MALVEAUX: Thousands are paying their final respects to former President Gerald Ford. This took place in Palm Desert, California. Now his body is being flown to Washington today, where it will lie in the state -- Capitol, in the rotunda.

You are looking at a live picture of Palm Springs International Airport. We are waiting for the departure ceremony to take place. Again, these are live pictures. There you see the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard troops involved in this important departure ceremony. When it gets underway, don't worry, we'll bring the live pictures from California.

Augusta, Georgia: the sight of another farewell, a final farewell to the Godfather of Soul. That going home ceremony honoring James Brown is scheduled to begin -- let's see -- about half an hour. Brown died of heart failure, as you know, on Christmas morning at the age of 73.

HOLMES: Tornadoes touching down from Texas to south central Louisiana. The sheriff of Acadia Parish telling CNN two twisters ripped the roofs from two houses. Barns, other buildings also damaged. Texas prairie country outside of Waco, hit hard as well. One person was killed by flying debris in rural Limestone County.

I want to get you up-to-date on the breaking news we've been watching this morning. And overnight, Saddam Hussein's execution. He was hanged for crimes against humanity just before sunrise today in Baghdad. And in some Shiite areas, we have been seeing people dancing in the streets, also firing their guns in the air to celebrate the former dictator's death. Meanwhile, in a statement President Bush said bringing Saddam Hussein to justice marked an important milestone in Iraq and for their course to democracy.

MALVEAUX: As many Shiites are celebrating the death of the dictator, Saddam Hussein's two older daughters are in mourning. They waited for the news of their father's death at their home in Amman, Jordan.

I spoke about Hussein's family this morning with CNN's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Raghad and Rana, have been living here since about 2003. They've been granted political asylum in Jordan. This country neighboring, of course, Iraq. And there are hundreds of thousands of other Iraqi citizens that have fled to this country over the past several years, as well, because of the appalling security situation, as we've been talking about, in Iraq itself.

Amongst them are Shiites, are Sunnis, are Kurds, people who support Saddam Hussein, people who are his opponents, as well.

What we haven't been seeing here in the streets of the Jordanian capital, Amman, since the execution, are any public displays either of celebrations, as Ryan was mentioning from Baghdad, that they're seeing across Shiite areas of Iraq at the moment. Nor have we seen any displays of particular public sadness, either.

It seems that certainly the expatriate Iraqi community that lives here in Amman has very much taken this in their stride. It was an expected development, of course, although I have spoken to a number of Iraqis living here in Jordan and all of them, whether they're Shiites or Sunnis, have expressed a degree of sadness because love him or hate him, the fact is that Saddam Hussein, for 24 years, was the ruler of Iraq.

He was a symbol to many Iraqis and his execution represents the sign that that era has well and truly come to an end -- Melissa.

LONG: Matthew, you mentioned the reaction, or lack thereof, apparently, on the streets of -- from people from Jordan.

What about leadership there?

CHANCE: There's been no comment from the Jordanian leadership so far. It's a holiday period here, of course. It's the start of Eid for Sunnis, Sunni Muslims. And so it's meant we've had a virtual sort of silence coming from the authorities here.

And, again, that's replicated amongst the Iraqi civilians, the Iraqi expatriates that are living here. Nobody is really talking about this much. In fact, we've had a lot of problems speaking to Iraqis, trying to get them even to appear on camera, because this is such a sensitive issue in Iraq and people who have fled Iraq, of course, to Jordan, are very sensitive about the possible threat to their lives.

They left Iraq for that reason, mainly. And so they're very reluctant to talk on camera, because they believe someone, somewhere will identify them and whatever their views may be, they may be targeted for them.

And so it's very difficult to get people's opinions on camera here.


HOLMES: Well, we do want to turn now to Augusta, Georgia and the funeral for James Brown, a music legend. We're seeing that live picture over there. I do believe that's M.C. Hammer we're looking at in the middle of the crowd, one of many musicians influenced by the music of James Brown.

Our Catherine Callaway is standing by there at James Brown Arena, where some 8,000 are expected today for a public funeral service for this legendary Godfather of Soul.

Catherine, how are things? Are thousands made their way in?

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they have. In fact, something -- I was getting some information when you were talking to me, T.J. They're having to shut the doors here because the arena, the James Brown Arena, is now full. A lot of unhappy fans, some who have been here since early this morning. They have lined the streets here, gone around the block. And while thousands have moved through the arena and moved out, many stayed in because they wanted to be there for this ceremony that Al Sharpton is going to hold at 1:00 p.m.

We want to show you now the crowds at the door. I don't know if we can pan over here and see these people waiting to get in, very disappointed. Many of these people, residents here in Augusta and they know James Brown not just from his music but from his involvement in this community, where he has owned many businesses, restaurants and radio stations and has been very philanthropic, holding a number of charities. In fact, he was just giving away toys here in Augusta at his annual toy giveaway just three days before he died.

Now the doors have been shut. No one else being allowed in. This ceremony that's supposed to take place at 1:00 headed by the Reverend Al Sharpton is really supposed to be more of a celebration. James Brown's band is expected to perform. And there could be some surprise musical guests as well performing.

Back to you, T.J.

HOLMES: And Catherine, do we -- I think we heard this earlier, that there was supposed to be speakers, loudspeakers set up outside so people who didn't get in would be able to gather outside and listen to the ceremony. Is that right?

CALLAWAY: Yes, you can hear a little bit of what's going on inside. It's a bit muffled. But to be frank with you, T.J., it's been a fluid situation, things changing every moment. And if you thought the crowds were massive in New York, I really -- I cannot convey just how many people have turned out here in Augusta, his hometown, to show their appreciation for him.

His casket is lying in front of the stage. He's actually -- today, he's in a black tuxedo with a red shirt. We were able to go in. And, as you know, when he was at the Apollo, he was in a blue sequin outfit with white gloves. People have been coming out. They're very solemn.

But now it's more of a celebration, a more jubilant crowd that's inside the arena now, waiting for this ceremony to begin in just a few moments.

And hopefully, we'll be able to hear some of what's going on, and we'll tell you who all performs and who shows up.

HOLMES: All right. Catherine, as we -- we're taking a look at some live pictures here. We're noticing M.C. Hammer there in the middle of the crowd who certainly had his great run of hits here and was certainly influenced by James Brown.

Go ahead, what were you about to say?

CALLAWAY: I was just going say M.C. Hammer has been very active. He's been out talking with the media and a lot of the fans. And we've seen Don King and Jesse Jackson is here. There are certainly a roomful of celebrities in there and some musical guests that may surprise us on who's going to perform.

I just talked with James Brown's manager, Frank Cassidis (ph), and he said that there's going to be a long afternoon and hopefully this will be a chance for some of his celebrity fans to come up and say their final farewells, as well.

HOLMES: All right. Catherine Callaway keeping an eye on things for us there in Augusta for the ceremony for the legendary Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Thank you so much, Catherine.

MALVEAUX: From Georgia, where it's 12:44 in the afternoon, to California -- it's 9:44 in the morning -- a live picture from the airport, from Palm Springs International Airport. We're about to witness the departure ceremony of the 39th president of the United States, his casket arriving there in that hearse at the airport.

I want to reintroduce some of the experts that are joining us this hour. Senior political analyst Bill Schneider, presidential historian Richard Schenkman and history professor Julian Zelizer.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for stopping by to share your insight. Let's talk about the Ford family. We have grown to know the Ford family and certainly Betty Ford and Mr. Ford himself as such a team.

Mr. Schenkman, tell you -- tell us about their deep love and their affection for each other.

RICHARD SHENKMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, of course, they were very, very closely knit family. And this was really interesting from historian's perspective because up until the 1970s, presidential families largely stayed in the background. You didn't hear that much about their children. Their wives were formally shunted off to the side; they didn't play a large political role. And in the 1970s, suddenly a president's family became front page news. Betty Ford was constantly overshadowing her husband the president by various things that were happening to her, either alcohol as a problem or breast cancer or her backing -- her vociferous backing of the equal rights amendment for women.

And what you had happen here was a lot of politicians being caught unawares. They didn't realize that all of sudden they had to deal with their family as a political issue. And the Fords were really the first presidential family to have to do this. Now it's commonplace to think of presidents' families as being the subject of news stories. It wasn't back then. This is all part of the fallout from the 60s, where the person was political.

Now what we had was a first lady whose politics suddenly and her personal lifestyle became political fodder for opponents. She was a very controversial first lady and in some ways that created a problem for her husband because what happened was she sometimes seemed to overshadow him. And back then, it was regarded as a strong woman meant that the husband had to be weak and ineffectual. Of course, it wasn't true in this family's case, but that was the perception. And Gerald Ford struggled with that.

At the same time, they were a very loving family. They were a very American family. You had four children, one of whom was a Park Ranger. Another was a divinity student, another a high school student. Americans could identify with the family at the same time that they were often troubled by some of the things they were learning about the family, about the fact this was, as Betty Ford said, while we're a regular, traditional American family, there were kind of the 60s themes that were seeping into the news accounts for the family, most famously in the "60 Minutes" interview with Betty Ford when she was asked by Morley Safer, what if her daughter came in and said that she wanted to have an affair with somebody. And Betty responds by saying, "Well, you know, there are normal -- she's a normal girl and what happens? I'll support her."

This is something that's worth remembering about this family. this was -- they were the first presidential family to have to deal with kind of the fallout from the 60s.

MALVEAUX: Richard Shenkman, thank you for your perspective.

HOLMES: And Bill Schneider, he will pick up on that aspect of presidential families.

Did they -- Bill Schneider, did they certainly set the tone, this family? Did they change it all? And we see presidential families certainly differently since the Ford family?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. Betty Ford was in fact politically influential because of her views on a lot of social issues, on women's issues, as well as her efforts to destigmatize problems like cancer, breast cancer, which she suffered from, and alcoholism addiction. She made a serious effort and I think made a big difference in this country in destigmatizing those problems. And that was a very forthright stand and something no one expected from a first lady. And it was one of the enduring legacies really of the Ford family on the country.

HOLMES: And Bill, do we know -- I'm sure maybe they may have given some of the president's staff fits, given the White House fits, but did that bother the president himself? Did that bother President Ford that much, that his wife was getting involved?

BILL SCHNEIDER: I don't think so. There was no evidence to that effect. He always was supportive of her, proud of her, proud of his family. And there was never any indication that, if it was a political problem, that it really hurt him. There were of course some of those who challenged him, who thought his wife was too outspoken. But on his part, he was always deeply supportive of his wife, as she was always of him.

MALVEAUX: Speaking of being outspoken, let's talk about the interview with Bob Woodward that became news recently, the interview that was granted to Bob Woodward in which Mr. Ford was very outspoken about his thoughts on the war in Iraq and the decision to go invade Iraq.

History professor Julian Zelizer, what are your thoughts on that interview and exactly the message he was trying to send the American public and the Republican Party?

JULIAN ZELIZER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: I don't think it was a very surprising interview. After all, when President Ford was president, his main policy -- foreign policy was detente, meaning easing relations with your adversaries, meaning avoiding excessively aggressive military action. So the fact that he would not probably support the war in Iraq, which represents the rightward drift of the Republican Party, is not surprising.

So I think it reflects his moderation. It reflects a lost style of Republican politics where he was really one of the last voices of moderation in the GOP.

HOLMES: We're keeping an eye here on the ceremony. We're listening in. We expect the Marine Corps Band to fire up again shortly. And when we do hear that, we will listen in.

But again, the hearse carrying the casket of the former President Gerald Ford arriving at the Palm Springs Regional Airport. From there it's going to make the trip over to Washington D.C.

And we have here with us as well, Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, who spent years, decades, I can say, Congressman Vander Jagt, with the former president in Congress.

And you talked earlier about when he was vice president, he told you, "Don't you dare call me Mr. Vice President." But did you see much of a change in your dear friend? After his spending 20 something years in Congress with him, and then when he got the White House, did you see his personality change or his priorities change or anything like that?

GUY VANDER JAGT, FMR. HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: He remained the same person who had brought those values of western Michigan with him. He changed the White House...

HOLMES: Here we go, Congressman Vander Jagt, we're going to listen in.


MALVEAUX: You are watching today's live departure ceremony from the Palm Springs International Airport. The Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and, of course, Navy represented. Of course, Mr. Ford served during World War II in the Navy.

And when the motorcade reaches Washington, D.C. later today, it will make a stop in front of the World War II Memorial in Washington.

HOLMES: And we were talking to Congressman Guy Vander Jagt. We had to stop there for a moment when we heard the music playing.

But you were talking about how he didn't change much when he went from the House of Congress to the White House. You said he changed the White House, the White House didn't change him.

VANDER JAGT: That's exactly the way it was. He changed the White House from that imperialism, that pomp and ceremony into something that was down to earth. But the White House did not change him. He remained the same decent, common, sincere person he was when he walked into the office.

HOLMES: All right. We are going to listen in once again as the casket is removed from the hearse.


MALVEAUX: After lying in repose at the church, St. Margaret's Episcopal Church for the last couple of days in California, the body of the 38th president of the United States is now being transported to Washington. The journey will, of course, take the president to Washington and then eventually to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the president will be interred.

Earlier we were talking to our political experts, who have joined us.

Thank you so much for joining us this hour.

Also wanted to talk to historian Richard Shenkman about the funeral itself and just about how important it is and how it affects the American psyche.

SHENKMAN: Well, it is important. You know, this is isn't a Republican funeral. It's not a Democratic funeral. It's an American funeral. And these funerals serve a function in a divided country like America. America is always divided by politics. It's been particularly divided over the last few years.

These funerals serve a vital, democratic function in giving us symbols that we can rally around. Whether you're a Democrat, whether you're a Republican, for the Iraq war or against the Iraq war, you watch this event, you can't help but feel patriotic feelings about your country and respect for the office of the presidency, respect for the symbols of America. And I think that's worth remembering.

HOLMES: And, again, we've been so happy to have with us here former Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, who spent really decades with Representative Ford in the U.S. House, and been watching this with us.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines