Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Special: President Gerald R. Ford Funeral

Aired December 30, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: While we're waiting for the casket to be removed and for the formal ceremony to begin up on Capitol Hill, tell us that story -- it's a really good story about the former president and another late president John F. Kennedy, they had a unique relationship.
BOB GREENE, AUTHOR: Well, when Gerald Ford first came to congress, across the hallway from him in their office building was another young congressman who was John F. Kennedy. And they would walk over -- at that point, people walked from their offices, congressman walked from their offices to the chambers. And they would walk over. And they became very good friends, he said.

And I think Gerald -- one of the reasons I think Gerald Ford has always been so self confident, so comfortable in his own skin, is he was a great athlete as a kid. He didn't, you know from the time he was young enough to compete with people, he was the top guy. And so he showed -- in talking about John Kennedy, he showed none of the envy that some people -- some politicians had when they talk about President Kennedy.

He admitted he said there was something about the way John Kennedy walked, something about the way he talked. There was just something about the guy the rest of us didn't have. And they were very friendly, as young men. And then of course, he had to serve on the commission -- it's upper case history when you think of the Warren Commission, but here was a man, Gerald Ford, who was having to look into the you know, most graphic details of the murder of a man who had been his very good friend when they were both so young.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It really is amazing how these quirks of history unfold and just to point out to the obvious to our viewers, there is the casket, flag-draped casket, of the former president. It's in the hearse with all of the complete military honors, it will be taken from that hearse and taken up the east steps of the Capitol for this ceremony, this funeral, to continue in the Rotunda where eventually the eulogies will be presented. Barbara Starr, talk a little bit about the military aspects of this moment.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, once again the very, very solemn moment, what you are seeing are the eight body bearers who will begin to remove the casket with great reverence from the hearse. There is also the officer in charge who will direct all of their movements with great precision.

And then these eight body bearers representing all of the military services on behalf of their former commander in chief, will begin very carefully, very slowly, of course to move up the 45 steps of the entrance of the House of Representatives, past the 50-man honor cordon of other military members as well as the honorary pallbearers. This will be a very difficult task for them. Of course, this casket weighing hundreds of pounds. They will move very carefully, very slowly, with great precision.

We do expect, in the moments ahead, that Mrs. Ford, again, accompanied by General Swan, will at some point appear at some upon on the steps of the Capitol. Mrs. Ford will be in the position of honor at this funeral to General Swan's right. Mrs. Ford of course now a good deal of concern, a lady that is on in years; she may not be able to manage the steps. It is not expected that she will walk up them. They will take her out of public view and arrange for her to be at the top of the steps to appear at the top of the steps. It is said that it would be too difficult for her at this point to walk them. And she is an elderly woman who obviously will tire easily. So she at this moment we are not seeing her, but she is being looked after with her family and she will appear at the top of the steps. Again, we expect to see --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you for a second. What we're seeing are family members of the Fords that are arriving right now. There are four Ford children, seven grandchildren. They are coming up to the Capitol right now, as well. And they are, of course, a huge source of comfort to Betty Ford, during these very, very difficult moments. These are children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well of the Fords. A large, loving family by all accounts. I interrupted you, Barbara, but go ahead.

STARR: Let me go on with that, Wolf. I think we were all very moved a few moments ago to see Mrs. Ford waving to the crowd down at the World War II Memorial. We can only, I think, imagine perhaps for this woman, now in her 80s so many years out of Washington, perhaps the comfort that came to her driving through the suburbs of Virginia, suburbs, driving into Washington, seeing so many thousands of people turning out on the streets tonight to pay their respects.

But again, she is on in years and at this moment, this is not just an occasion of state, and an occasion to remember President Ford's political career in Washington. This is, as we see right now, a family funeral. People of this family paying their great respects to their father, their grandfather, their great-grandfather, concerned that Mrs. Ford is okay.

We will see, as the casket begins to move up the steps in a few minutes, we will see some of the military ceremony, some of the military tradition. We expect, of course, "Hail to the Chief." We expect another 21-gun volley. We see the eight-man body bearer team and the other military people standing now silent, ready to move with that great precision that they practiced so much that we know as we have said throughout this, that they, the precision, discipline, honor that they give not just to former commander in chief but again the lowest-ranking soldier that may fall on the battlefield. It is that same military tradition, of course small, less pomp and circumstance, but basically it is the same military tradition that underlies the honors we see tonight being paid to a former commander in chief. I believe here we're probably seeing the great-grandchildren of President Ford and Mrs. Ford. And we'll just continue to watch.

BLITZER: Barbara, stand by. But as you stand by there are 20 honorary pallbearers, Barbara, and I think I've seen them all with the exception of Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary. He's listed as an honorary pallbearer. He was President Ford's White House Chief of Staff before he became President Ford's Defense Secretary. I haven't seen him. I don't think you have seen him either. If you have a chance to find out what happened to Donald Rumsfeld I'm sure our viewers will be interested in that as well. I'll get back to you momentarily on that, Barbara.

But Bob Franken is up on the hill as well. Bob there are official greeters, there are official greeters who will be welcoming Betty Ford as she arrives and other family members. That will be happening, we're told, momentarily. Congressman John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, former Congressman William Broomfield, former House minority leader Bob Michael, Bill Brock former U.S. Senator from Tennessee. The former House Speaker Tom Foley. Former Congressman Guy Vanderjack. And former Congressman Bill Frenzell, Republican of Minnesota. They are gathered there as well to receive the family and friends.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are former colleagues in the House of Representatives of Gerald Ford. We're seeing the official party come out. Presumably in a second we're going to see the former first lady, Betty Ford. She came in and was driven under a portico here and then brought up as so many people have been here. Brought up to the second floor to the House chambers in an elevator that's there. A little bit too fragile to try and maneuver these steps.

Tom was talking a while ago about the fact that Gerald Ford was decidedly not a man of the senate. There is actually quite a bit of competition between the two houses of Congress. And as a matter of face, in the rules of the House, you're not supposed to use the term "the Senate." What the members will say when they're referring to the Senate is they'll call it the other body.

Right now we see the former first lady, Betty Ford, making it to the head of the steps here. The steps that lead into the House of Representatives. There she is going. The official greeters, the former members of the House of Representatives, when Gerald Ford was a member. They are there, too. It won't be very long now, before the casket is taken out by this honor guard and is carried up those 45 steps where the former president, former House member, will go past the House chambers where he spent so much time.

And by those chambers, also the famous cloakrooms each party had them. But in that era, people would go back and forth and sit there and have a drink or do things that were out of the public eye. That's where they would do these things. And of course they became famous sometimes infamous. Gerald Ford spent quite a bit of time there as a member of Congress.

One of the people who is one of the honorary pallbearers, of course, Bob Dole. And I remember when I first came to town, my first experience with him when he was out just greeting people, letting them meet him. We are seeing right now that the casket is being removed from the hearse by the military group of pallbearers. Let's listen.

[ Hail to the Chief being played]

[21-gun salute]

[America the Beautiful being played]

BLITZER: In case you were counting, there are 45 House steps that had to be climbed with the casket, 50-man honor cordon that was there to help escort the casket of the late president to the House side of the U.S. Capitol. Eventually make its way to the Rotunda. Bob Franken is our man on the scene. Bob, as you're watching this, give our viewers a sense of the history of this moment.

FRANKEN: Quite remarkable. Presidents since Abraham Lincoln have laid in state in the Rotunda. But what is happening now, following wishes of Gerald Ford, they are going past the House chambers, which are right, not just a few feet from the top of these steps.

There's going to be a period of time where they have a quiet time in the Rayburn room, one of the very ornate rooms off of the House chambers. It was named after Sam Rayburn, the very powerful former speaker of the house from Texas. There will be some quiet time there, which we will not see.

Then they're going to go into Statuary Hall. It's such an interesting history there. Statuary Hall at one time was the House of Representatives. Then they added this wing with the new House. But Statuary Hall during the Civil War became a field hospital. Afterwards they decided to name it National Museum for Statues. Each state was allowed to contribute two statues to the Capitol. One of my favorites in there was always the Will Rogers statue. Will Rogers who famously said he never met a man he didn't like. And I think it's fair to say you could describe Gerald Ford is somebody who disliked very few people, somebody who really enjoyed people. His colleague Bob Dole over in the Senate, as I was mentioning before, used to just stand outside his office so he could just meet people, just be around them. He enjoyed that so much. And Gerald Ford was one of those. He's come back home, back to the House of Representatives, where he will lay in state in the Rotunda in the tradition of presidents but also in his case the tradition of a man who served 25 years in Congress.

BLITZER: And there you see the guests who are in the Rotunda area, that platform in the middle, the catafalque is where the casket will eventually lie. People will walk by and pay their respects to the late President of the United States.

Barbara Starr is watching all of this. You see the outgoing and some of the incoming leadership of the U.S. Senate right there led by Senator Bill Frist, the outgoing majority leader. Barbara Starr, talk a little about what you're hearing as we see more of guests including the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the bottom part of your screen and John Roberts the Chief Justice there as well.

STARR: Wolf you asked me a couple of minutes ago why we have not seen the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a close, personal friend of President Fords, for more than 40 years. Of course, someone who Mrs. Cheney we now see, an honorary pallbearer somebody who will deliver a eulogy. What we now have been told, by an associate of Secretary Rumsfeld, is that he has been delayed by a snowstorm in the part of the country he was in. He will be making his way to Washington as soon as he can.

BLITZER: Well that explains why he's not there. Let's listen to this part of the ceremony, Carl Levin who is there, the Democratic Senator from Michigan, the home state of the late president. And there we see members of the diplomatic corps among others who have gathered here in Washington to pay their respects.

The leaders from around the world will be coming into the Nation's Capitol as well. Friends, family members, and average people rank and file will have a chance, Jeff Greenfield to simply walk by the casket. Once it's there in the Rotunda and there's a lot of history in this room.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As just mentioned, starting when Lincoln was lying in state, before that incredible two-week train trip that took him up to New York and all the way back to Springfield, Illinois, this is where we have seen presidents and key officials lie in state.

Again I have this vivid memory after John Kennedy's assassination of the diplomatic core and world leaders in that funeral walking behind the Kennedy family. I think President De Gaulle was one of them. This is a very different experience, obviously. As I said before, Gerald Ford died in the fullness of his years but it's still an occasion when the world comes together and honors a former, not just head of government, but head of state of what's arguably the most powerful country on earth.

BLITZER: Tom De Frank a lot of people don't necessarily - and here we see the casket being moved into the U.S. Capitol itself and it will make its way eventually to the Rotunda -- but a lot of people, Tom De Frank, as we review the Ford presidency don't necessarily recall the tumultuousness of the U.S. foreign policy crises that were still unfolding then.

TOM DE FRANK, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: That's exactly right, Wolf. You had huge problems with the Soviet Union. There was the Mayaguez crisis in 1975 where U.S. Merchant ship was captured by some Cambodian rebels as I recall. The Helsinki Accords; there were a lot of things going on in the Ford presidency. And he had to deal with all of them. And I think he did a reasonably good job with it.

BLITZER: What a somber moment, indeed as we see what's going on. This casket will remain here in the Statuary Hall. Eventually will be moved to the Rotunda where the former president will lie in state over the next couple of days before the memorial service Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning at the National Cathedral here in Washington.

DE FRANK: Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead Tom. DE FRANK: Statuary Hall is really an interesting piece of symbolism. Because for 25 years President Ford and Mrs. Ford would come back to Washington and have an alumni reunion dinner usually on Capitol Hill. But two years ago which was the 30th anniversary of his becoming president, this dinner was in Statuary Hall. It was one of President Ford's favorite rooms and chambers in the House because it was the old house chamber and that was the last time he came.

In 2005 he was too frail to come so everybody went out to Palm Springs for the dinner. This year 2006, he was too frail to come to Washington. So there is a certain symbolism of him back in a place that he really liked, statuary hall, for the last time.

BLITZER: Bob Franken, there's an interesting little side story that's unfolding with Gerald Ford's bust; the statue there on Capitol Hill.

FRANKEN: Well, it's going to be removed from its spot and it's going to be brought with a wreath accompanying it. One of the interesting things is, is when you go on the Senate side of the Capitol you will see these busts. There's one of Richard Nixon. There is one -- there was one there of Gerald Ford. These are not of them as presidents, these are them when they were the president of the senate. That is to say, the Vice President of the United States. It's one of the constitutional duties of the vice president is to preside over the senate. When they leave that, a bust is brought there. So that has been put to work to be part of the ceremonies here.

It is quite interesting, it is a departure from tradition but what is not a departure from tradition is the use of the catafalque which was originally very hastily put together for the body of Abraham Lincoln. It's made out of pine. And many other famous Americans have rested there while honor has been paid to them. Among them, for instance, is Pierre-Charles La Font, the man credited with designing Washington, D.C. So, it's been a variety of people who have used that, Wolf.

BLITZER: And eventually when the casket, Bob, makes its way to the Rotunda, it will be placed on this platform which is rich in history as well.

FRANKEN: It is. The history going back to Abraham Lincoln. He was the first person who used it. There's also people like Thaddeus Stevens, Henry Wilson, several other presidents. It just about anybody that the congress decides, and has to be a joint resolution. Anybody decides that they want them to lay in repose there, can be. There was an unknown soldier of the Vietnam era, Ronald Reagan, the president, of course did. Everett Dirksen did. He was the leader of the senate; the Republican leader of the senate when Gerald Ford was the Republican leader of the House.

And they used to have on radio and I believe television, the two of them would get together and Everett Dirksen who was this incredibly articulate, very, very elegant man would oftentimes outshine Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford was not quite as articulate, at least compared to Everett Dirksen. BLITZER: You know it's interesting as Bob Franken made the point, Jeff, that this platform, this catafalque as it's called, goes back to Abraham Lincoln, that Gerald Ford when president, always used to use a standard line, I'm a ford, not a Lincoln.

GREENFIELD: That was a line I think that served him quite well. I just want to pick up on one Tom Franken point. We do tend to think of Ford's presidency as an (inaudible) because it was so short. But that was a period when he was actively pursuing detente (ph) with the Soviet Union, with Resnib (ph) signed the Helsinki accords which was supposed to protect human rights. But some people felt also gave too much to the Soviet Union. He was pursuing transfer of the Panama Canal to Panama which enraged many conservatives. One of the key issues that gave Ronald Reagan a victory in a eight key primary in 76 in North Carolina, the feel that we were giving away the Panama Canal. So Ford's foreign policy was one that did not sit well with a lot of the more conservative members of the Republican Party. It was one of the key reasons why Ronald Reagan almost unseated him in 1976 for the nomination. He came closer to any other president than being denied re-nomination.

BLITZER: We are seeing Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington D.C. recently retired I hear, in Washington D.C., paying his respects as well. And there's Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic senator from Minnesota and other members of the senate as well from Michigan, excuse me, from Michigan, Chuck Hagel behind him.

Of course. You know, Bob Greene, you write about the first time Gerald Ford came to Washington. It might be appropriate to hear that right now.

GREENE: These will be last days Gerald Ford is ever in the Capitol. The first time it happened there was a contest in Grand Rapids. People went to a movie house and voted for the most popular kid in town. Gerald Ford was elected, the most popular boy in Grand Rapids.

They had these contests all over the Midwest and they took a special train out of Chicago to Washington. And Gerald Ford, on that trip, saw Washington, saw the Capitol, fell in love with it, and sensed this is where he wanted to spend his life. He won the contest of the movie theater and it brought him here.

He never expected to meet a president. The first president he met was after he had been elected to Congress and in a routine meeting met Harry Truman. And he said when I shook President Truman's hand, it just had this almost electrical feeling like I was shaking a hand of a President of the United States. And I asked President Ford, I said, do you think, you know, now that you have been a president of the United States, do people feel that way about you? And he laughed as he would and said I'm not the one to ask yourself, I'm not shaking my hand.

But this was a boy who came to Washington almost on a fluke and decided he'd like to end up here. You know you talk about accidental presidency and all of those cliches. I don't know if there's such a thing as an accident. He was president when he was needed and he made it from Grand Rapids to here. And maybe there are no accidents.

BLITZER: You know, it's a good point. The fact that he became a politician, in and of itself, based on everything I have heard and read, bob, they went after him. They really thought he had a potential as a congressman, as a politician as opposed to something that he was burning to do.

GREENE: And as we were saying before, Wolf, this was not a guy who had to get his sense of affirmation, sense of self-worth from being elected to something. He was the guy in town when he was young. So I think a lot of the reason that people -- you know you mentioned earlier how people sensed that he's a friend rather than a towering figure; he had that sense of ease. People would come up to him and call him Gerry. It wasn't always Mr. President, from strangers. And he wasn't offended by it. He didn't correct them. I don't think he felt he had to stand on ceremony. He liked the idea people would call him Gerry because he had such confidence in himself because he didn't have all of the trappings.

BLITZER: And there is the outgoing speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert who will be delivering one of three eulogies at this ceremony within the next hour or so.

And then you see the first lady, Betty Ford, she's accompanied by Major General Guy Swan, the commanding general Joint Task Force/National Capital Region. The family, the friends, the official party moving into the Rotunda area where this service will begin. And there you see the majestic scene there. This is Statuary Hall, Jeff Greenfield, appropriately named. Take a look at all of the statues.

GREENFIELD: Right. There's a story I once heard where a guy who worked in the Capitol said people will come, visitors and they'll say to him, we're confused. We've seen the House and we've seen the Senate. When do we see the Congress? Not realizing that the Congress is the Senate and House. Statuary Hall occupies that middle ground and it's where a lot of people come thinking this must be ground zero of the Capitol.

BLITZER: And then you see Senator Ted Stevens, representing the Senate, speaker Dennis Hastert representing the House of Representatives. They will be delivering eulogies as will the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney.

All very, very close to the late president. Betty Ford, her arm draped by the commanding general of the U.S. Military District -- in the District of Columbia. They are going to wait here as the casket will move past them through Statuary Hall toward the Rotunda where it will be placed on the platform and the body will lie in state over the next couple days until Tuesday morning when it will be moved to the National Cathedral for a memorial service there. The president of the United States among others will speak at that event.

GREENFIELD: One thing that's striking AS we see all of this history and remember those tumultuous times that you mentioned. I have always thought it true that if Jerry Ford had not been picked as vice president, Richard Nixon might never been forced out. Would a Democratic Congress really have tried to remove Richard Nixon if Vice President Spiro Agnew, a rather polarizing figure, to say the least, would have moved into the presidency?

And Agnew's resignation had nothing to do with Watergate. It was a pretty straightforward bribery and tax evasion charge and because of that, Jerry Ford, a well-liked person, easily confirmable by both houses of Congress, became the first 25th Amendment president. That I think, opened the door to Democrats who control the Congress to say if we remove Nixon we don't get Agnew, we get Jerry Ford and we can live with that.

BLITZER: Tom DeFrank, what about that? You want to pick up on that thought?

DEFRANK: I've always said that Jerry Ford was considered impeachment insurance by Richard Nixon. Nixon calculated that he -- if the alternative was Gerald Ford, good old Jerry, he would be able to stay on. And I think that was obviously a lethal political miscalculation on Nixon's part.

BLITZER: You see the current and former members of the Congress walking past looking at Mrs. Ford who is standing stoically there herself. This must be such a difficult moment. It must be made a little bit easier by the vision of all of these important people who really loved her husband coming forth to pay their last respects.

There is this myth about the relationship, Tom, between Jerry Ford, the former president of the United States and Richard Nixon. That they weren't necessarily close, they were close. You've studied this.

DEFRANK: Well, I've -- I've studied it, wolf, but I've also talked to President Ford about it. It is true that Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were good friends in their early political careers in Washington. They were both charter members of the Chowder and Marching Society, a celebrated Republican social group.

Gerald Ford, I think was the last surviving member of this Chowder and Marching Society, just as he was last surviving member of the Warren Commission. But Nixon and Ford went back to those days. They were friends, they were friendly but I just do not believe that they were intimate, that they were close friends.

And I know that to the extent that there was a friendship there, it was very strained during Watergate, especially as Vice President Ford began to discover that some of the assurances he had gotten from President Nixon and some of his staff members weren't quite truthful, to put it mildly.

BLITZER: These are, by the way - let me interrupt for a second, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who are walking by. There you see the honorary pallbearers including the vice president, to left of the screen, Alan Greenspan, Henry Kissinger, Paul O'Neill to the right of your screen, among others walking past this coffin. Some people touching the American flag as they walk by. Others not, depending on their tradition and their custom. I interrupted you, Tom. But go ahead.

DEFRANK: Not much else to say, Wolf. But I know that President Ford was very friendly with President Nixon. But after Nixon left the White House, they almost never saw each other, basically their friendship consisted of exchanging phone calls on their birthdays. But I think the notion that they were very close and that had a significant thing to do with the pardon is not substantiated by a lot of evidence.

BLITZER: And you see the honorary pallbearers now walking into Statuary Hall paying their respects to Betty Ford, as she stand there's, as well. Bob Greene, you know, it's hard to believe that, for a lot of members of Congress, Statuary Hall is where they work. There is a story that the Ford children used to play in statuary hall amid all of the statues.

GREENE: I heard that story. I don't know it firsthand.

What struck me, is when Tom DeFrank was talking about Mr. Nixon and Mr. Ford, the relationship. In their retirement, the personalities were such you could see it in their office space. Mr. Ford's retirement, as we have talked about, he had this light golf course setting. Mr. Nixon's office was curtained off and dark on a high floor of a high rise. It was - their personalities were almost seen in the way they lived after leaving the presidency.

BLITZER: And we'll see shortly this casket moved through the Statuary Hall towards the Rotunda where it will lie in state over the next couple of days or so. Betty Ford, standing there, clearly an emotional, powerful moment for this former first lady of the United States. She's 88 years old. And I have to say, Jeff, as we look at her, she really looks great, given the fact of what she's gone through. These not only these last few days, but last few years.

And given the fact of what she's going through right now.

GREENFIELD: It is astonishing. Just think of trying to be composed and appropriate in public in honor of your late husband, you're 88, you're undergoing an enormous emotional stress, you're in the public eye. But it's one of the signs that this is one of most impressive first ladies we've had, not on a grandiose way but as somebody who you really thought was quite a special woman.

BLITZER: It's now the casket coming into the Statuary Hall itself and it will be - it will go past the former first lady, among others. And then eventually it will make its way to the Rotunda. There you see the family and friends, you see Betty Ford there. Let's just listen for a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Casket down.

Ready, step. Forward, march. REV. DANIEL COUGHLIN, HOUSE CHAPLAIN: With fond memory, and great gratitude, let us pray.

How mighty is the hand that can turn a page of history, Lord God. You call each of us by name and you alone know each of us through and through.

You have called Gerald R. Ford unto yourself and again he has responded to you with hope and has confirmed by America's prayers, just as he sought them, when called to serve as president of this great nation.

As we welcome Mrs. Ford and President Ford's family and friends to this Rotunda, the nation is called to surround them with their prayers, their sympathy for their loss, and their gratitude for sharing his love and his loyalty with all of us for so many years in military and government service.

Again, at this moment, Lord, we humbly ask you to grant peace and reconciliation, healing, and gentle civility to this nation, as this man so nobly tried to do in life's singular moments by is efforts to close chapter upon chapter on America's sadness. May the brightness of hope and the promise of eternal life reward this modest man, the honorable Gerald Ford, and may the story of the 38th president of the United States inspire others in this nation and around the world to respond to your providential call as he did.

Lord, make many, call many, to seize your moment to make a difference by serving the peoples' urgent needs, then empower them to make bold steps in searching for ways of peace and reconciliation, just as he did, for mighty is the hand that can turn a page of history. Amen.

(MUSIC, "GOD BLESS AMERICA")

BLITZER: Looks like someone has collapsed, look likes someone may have feinted that is why you see this delay that's going on. We don't know who that is. But there among those who have gathered someone seems to have fall friend the ground not very far way from Betty Ford and the vice president. They are both seated right now.

But to her right, one of the guests seems to have fallen. You see some emergency medical personnel there on the scene. We're told that Senator Bill Frist, himself a physician, is treating this individual together with local emergency personnel who have been brought to help out, as well.

We're going to see what's going on and give you some more information. That's why this ceremony, this memorial, has been paused for the time being as they deal with this -- this situation.

It goes to show you that people are standing, probably it's a little uncomfortable inside and that's what has happened right now. We don't know who this individual is. But a wheelchair, as you see in front of your screen, has been brought to remove and hopefully treat this person and let this service continue. The next thing on the agenda is the eulogies that we expect to hear from the Senate president pro tem, Ted Stevens of Alaska, a eulogy from the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, followed by the eulogy from the vice president Dick Cheney who is sitting there right next to Betty Ford. You saw Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, there as well.

They're going to deal with this situation and then they will move on. Let's hope whoever did collapse is in -- is OK and it's just s small incident, just a fainting incident or whatever and that they can move on. But you see the wheelchair in your screen from this shot and you see individuals treating this person who has collapse.

We don't have more information on who this individual is, as soon as we do get some more information we'll let you know. Our Bob Franken is up on Capitol Hill. He is watching this as well, checking with his sources and we'll get that to you as soon as we -- as soon as we get it.

Betty Ford is fine. She's sitting there with the vice president. They are waiting for this situation to be resolved so that this service can continue. The ceremony in the Rotunda. It's scheduled to last for between 30 and 40 minutes. The eulogies by the three individuals, some musical interludes, wreaths that will be placed on the casket which lies right in the center of that Rotunda and eventually the family members, the guests, the honorary pallbearers, they will all leave, the ceremony will end and the body will then lie in state over the next couple of days until another memorial service takes place Tuesday morning at the National Cathedral here in Washington.

That is the casket, former President Gerald Ford lying in state in the Rotunda on Capitol Hill. A delay, Jeff Greenfield, caused by this sudden collapse of one of the guests.

GREENFIELD: I guess our viewers should understand what we are picking up here I think pool coverage. It is not as though there are correspondents with live microphones inside the Rotunda, there never are. We are simply unable to explain who has collapsed, what the condition of that person is. No doubt, we'll find out in the fullness of time. But if you're Betty Ford right now, you're probably thinking, you know, I hope everybody's OK.

BLITZER: Yeah. It looks like they're removing that individual right now. They'll be able to resume this ceremony and let this individual get the proper medical treatment he or she would require under these kinds of circumstances.

First of all, it's an emotional -- it's an emotional ceremony to begin with. There are a lot of older people in that Rotunda right now. It's a closed room. I guess probably a little hot inside there right now although it's a cool night in the Nation's Capital, a beautiful night in Washington, but it's chilly outside. I suspect it's not very chilly inside.

If you've been in the Rotunda it can get a little tough to breathe in there. And I guess if you're emotional and in the circumstances combined, that's what happens.

GREENFIELD: It's not a room that's normally used for gatherings except as we pointed out for the occasional state funeral and as Tom DeFrank pointed out for an occasional commemorative dinner. So it may just be we simply don't know what happened. And we will wait to find out what happened rather than even speculating.

BLITZER: And there is Betty Ford, the wife of late president. She's accompanied by her family and her friends. Seated to her left is the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. He's a longtime family friend. They go way back. He was the White House chief of staff when he was president of the United States in the '70s.

Only later did Dick Cheney become a United States congressman from Wyoming and eventually become defense secretary during the first Bush presidency and now he's the vice president of the United States. The music is resuming. So let's listen in.

(MUSIC)

SEN. TED STEVENS, (R) PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE: Mrs. Ford, Michael, Jack, Steven and Susan, distinguished guests, members of the Ford family, friends of Gerald Ford in America, and throughout the world, tonight we say good-bye to a true gentleman, an exceptional leader and our good friend, President Gerald Ford.

In our nation's history, only nine men have been called upon to assume the mantel of the presidency by succession. Even among those chosen few, Gerald Ford stands out as exceptional as the only man who has assumed both the vice presidency and the presidency.

When he took his oath as office as president, we were a people shaken by disbelief, racked with cynicism and paralyzed by doubt. Then President Ford's voice, gentle but firm, told us and I quote, "We must go forward now together. In our nation's darkest hour, Gerald Ford lived his finest moment, guided by his conscience, informed by our history, supported by the love and friendship of his wife Betty. He was the man the hour required.

He knew the road towards national healing began with courage to forgive. He reminded us, while the presidency may be a human institution, there is a great nobility in its humanity. While his path to office was unlikely, history will know Gerald Ford's presidency was no accident.

By the time he took the oath of office, he had achieved everything he set his mind to do. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout and became the University of Michigan's football team's most valuable player.

During World War II, he served our country with distinction and was one of the men who inspired the title, the Greatest Generation. He honorably served the people of Michigan in the House of Representatives. A man of the House, Jerry Ford stepped proudly in his role as vice president and the Senate welcomed him as the president of our chamber. While he never voted to break a tie in the Senate, he was known to all of us as a person full of friendship, willing to sit and discuss issues at the request of any senator.

President Ford achieved the goals he sought but history will remember him most -- will remember most how in its hour of need our nation sought him as our 38th president, Gerald Ford stood ready to faithfully execute his office. In doing so, he woke us and he told us and I quote his words, he woke us from "our long national nightmare."

That's not -- His real words are "Our long national nightmare is over." He was the steady hand of the storm and an honest broker of compromise. He became a great leader and example for others to follow.

President Ford understood the unique circumstances of his moment in history. He strove not to placate some but to serve all. In doing so he showed us there were still things that were good and honest and true.

He restored our faith in our leaders and ensured the office of the presidency was worthy of the people it serves.

We here honor a leader for America and for the world. President Ford fought high inflation and unemployment and completed the process of bringing our troops home from Vietnam, set the framework for the Middle East peace accords and began a new era of cooperation and friendship with Japan.

He was deeply beloved by the people of my state for signing legislation to protect the marine resources within 200 miles from our shore.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

Search
© 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 CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines