Return to Transcripts main page
George H.W. Bush Recounts Harrowing Plane Crash; Sen. Portman Reflects on George H.W. Bush. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 1, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: You're watching CNN's special coverage. The life and legacy of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Read my lips. No new taxes.
I, George Herbert Walker Bush, do solemnly swear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.
Kuwait is liberated. Iraq's army is defeated. Our military objectives are met.
Just because you run against someone, does not mean you have to be enemies. Politics does not have to be mean and ugly.
I love you, precious, with all my heart and to know that you love me means life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours someday.
Just because you're an old guy, you don't want to sit around drooling in the corner.
No regrets about one single thing in my life that I can think of.
TAPPER: And what a life it was. Bush passed away late last night in Houston after a lifetime of public service. He held many titles before winning the White House, Navy aviator, Congressman, diplomat, CIA director, vice president.
But he's also being remembered, particularly today, as a family man. Survived by five children, more than a dozen grandchildren, and even more great grandchildren. In fact, it was Bush, himself, who once wrote, quote "I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara's husband. CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Houston. And, Kaylee, we're learning more about the president's final words, as well as his final wishes, which included wanting to be with his wife of 73 years.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. At a home beyond the gates behind me, George H. W. Bush took his last breath. And a source familiar with his final hours tells us his final words were spoken in a phone call with his son, George W. Bush. His son told his dad that he was a wonderful father. And Bush Senior replied, "I love you, too."
We're also learning about those final hours preceding that phone call in which the friends and family who had gathered by his bedside asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital, to which he replied, no. He said he was ready to go and be with Barbara and their late daughter, Robin, who died when she was just three years old of leukemia.
Of course, we are also learning of how this man's life and legacy will be remembered and honored in the coming days. Invitations have gone out for a service at the National Cathedral in Washington and one here at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, the church George and Barbara attended here, just a few blocks from their home.
The White House has announced that President Trump and the first lady will be among those in attendance at the state funeral in Washington, which will happen on Wednesday. The president's body will leave Texas and go to Washington on Monday.
His casket will be greeted by a ceremony at the U.S. capital. He will, then, lie in state in the rotunda. The public will be able to view him, visit him from Monday evening until Wednesday morning.
He'll, then, return back home to Houston for that service at his local church. And, then, his casket will be taken by train to Texas A&M University. That is the home of his presidential library, and it will be his final resting place alongside Barbara and his daughter, Robin.
We've come to know those pictures of Barbara waiting on the steps of the White House for her husband to return home. Jake, undoubtedly, she was waiting for him last night.
TAPPER: Kaylee Hartung in Houston, Texas, thank you so much.
Read my lips, Iran-contra, voodoo economics, stigmas and slogans that will always be associated with President George H. W. Bush. But beneath the rhetoric was a fiercely loyal, and often complicated, politician. Sometimes perceived as being more comfortable tackling foreign affairs than domestic ones.
He's one who -- an individual who campaigned as a moderate in 1980, and then tried to claim the conservative mantle eight years later. Bush struggled sometimes with his public persona, which he acknowledged when he discussed what he called, the vision thing.
A 1987 "Newsweek" cover labelled Bush a wimp, despite his unquestioned World War II heroism. It's a cover that the magazine's editor later regretted. And an indication that even those who covered him couldn't always pinpoint exactly who George Herbert Walker Bush was.
CNN's Jamie Gangel has more.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: So help me god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George H. W. Bush may have sat in the Oval Office for just four years, but his legacy will last for generations. In foreign policy --
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: This will not stand, this aggression, against Kuwait.
GANGEL: Bush's coalition building during Desert Storm was unprecedented, uniting nearly 40 countries, and ending the conflict in a matter of weeks. A playbook for all presidents that followed.
JAMES BAKER, PRESIDENT BUSH'S SECRETARY OF STATE: If you want to know how to fight a war, take a look at the way George Bush fought the first Gulf War.
[17:05:00] GANGEL: The Cold War ended on his watch, without a shot taken or a bomb dropped.
COLIN POWELL, PRESIDENT BUSH'S JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: He didn't gloat because it would not be in his nature to gloat at someone else's misfortune.
GANGEL: That same diplomatic restraint also shown when the Iron Curtain collapsed.
CONDOLEEZZE RICE, PRESIDENT BUSH'S SOVIET SPECIALIST: On the day that the Berlin Wall came down, we all went over to the Oval Office to tell president Bush that he had to go to Berlin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You wanted him to go to Berlin.
RICE: I wanted him to go to Berlin. And he said, what would I do, dance on the wall? He said, this is a German moment. I thought, the president of the United States to step back, this is a German moment.
BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he deserves credit for getting the world off in the right direction at the end of the Cold War. The Cold War being over without an excuse to pack up and go home. It was an excuse to build a new world of cooperation. Time will prove that he was right in wanting an integrated cooperative world of strong security, but lots of freedom, lots of democracy, lots of interaction between people.
GANGEL: On the domestic front, Bush is credited for making improvements to the Clean Air Act and signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, critical legislation that revolutionized access for millions, including Bush himself when he suffered from Parkinson's in his final years.
PIERCE BUSH: Back in unity, I think, holds my grandfather up as a hero. He wasn't their likely hero. You know, they have all these big, kind of, liberal advocates that advocated for their movement. But my grandfather is the guy that got it done. It's not just through things like wheelchair access, but it's changing the culture of how people with disabilities, you know, can shine and let their abilities shine, and have jobs in places where they might not have jobs. So, I think that's an awesome legacy.
GANGEL: Another legacy, many will remember Bush for this.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.
GANGEL: Bush did just that. Jumping over and over and over again even for his 90th birthday.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the reason he did it is because he's got a young heart. And that it's the thrill of the jump. And once he did it the first time, it became a natural for the next four or five times.
GANGEL: And while Bush 41 disliked the word, dynasty, no question he was thrilled.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear.
GANGEL: When his oldest son became the 43rd president of the United States.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He felt a sense of pride and I was grateful for that. I was happy that he was happy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he give you any advice?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. And he was very guarded about giving me advice, unless I asked for it.
GANGEL: But for many, Bush 41 will long be remembered for what he did after the White House.
NEIL BUSH: The family legacy isn't about who's president or first lady or governor. The family legacy is the legacy of service.
GANGEL: He turned a campaign vision into a post-presidential mission statement.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: The leaders --
I want a kinder and gentler nation. Like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.
GANGEL: That call prompted millions to volunteer. And Bush and wife, Barbara, did their part, too, hoping to raise an estimated $1 billion for charity.
GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: It does fit my dad's philosophy that the definition of a successful person is not just about how much money you make or the Ws on your -- in your column. It's about helping others. It's about acting on your heart.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there a phrase that you think embodies him?
JEB BUSH: I would say it is service above self.
GANGEL: A legacy that led him to see the highest civilian award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His life is a testament that public service is a noble calling. We honor George Herbert Walker Bush for service to America that spanned nearly 70 years.
TAPPER: I want to bring in one of the former president's longest serving aides, a close friend who served as White House counsel, Ambassador C. Boyden Gray. Mr. Ambassador, we're so sorry for your loss. And I know you visited him a few weeks ago. How was he?
AMBASSADOR C. BOYDEN GRAY, BOYDEN GRAY & ASSOCIATES: He was frail but alert. He said, hey, C.B., that's what he called me. So, it was great to see him. And -- but I did have a sense that I was saying good-bye.
TAPPER: Did you? Why?
GRAY: Just because he was so frail.
TAPPER: And -- go ahead.
GRAY: That's it.
TAPPER: He -- I mean, it seemed like there was a decision this time that he had made to not go back to the hospital, to not -- that he was ready, that we're hearing from the family. He was ready to go to see Barbara, to see their daughter.
[17:10:06] GRAY: I think that's correct. And, of course, he had had a similar episode, very close, and they made calls all around. And then, he pulled out. But this time, I think he said, no. This is -- this is done.
TAPPER: I just remembered -- I can't even imagine what it's like to be a friend of his. But I have all these memories of him. And I remember I was a pool reporter covering his son's run for presidency. And it was the night of the election, and I went to the governor's mansion. And there was Governor George W. Bush and his dad and his mom.
And I -- if memory serves, I asked, what is this like? Is this like what it was like when you ran for president and you ran for re- election. And George H. W. Bush said, oh, this is a heck of a lot worse. Because they were so worried about their son losing. But you almost sense like that that's really how he felt, that his son's presidency and success was more important than his own.
GRAY: Well, that's the way he would. That's the way he treated his children, as more important than him. He treated a lot of people more important than him.
TAPPER: What do you think he would want his legacy to be? There's the -- a thousand points of light, the wartime commander in chief who liberated Kuwait, or the -- or the sense of decency and bipartisanship. What was he proudest of?
GRAY: I think he was probably proudest, himself, of his handling of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. I think that's what, really, he was proudest of. But I think that if you look at his life in total, he was probably proudest of his family. And the example he said of great character, integrity and love and thoughtfulness.
TAPPER: He was a man -- and, look, politicians, all of us, humans have complicated legacies. But he is somebody who, as you heard in the story from Condoleezza Rice, how he didn't want to go to the Berlin Wall and dance on the wall after it came down. This this was a German moment. He was somebody for whom dignity was important. And, you know, that certain nobilities -- the idea that, like, let others sing my praises. It's not for me.
GRAY: Well, humility is -- yes, is one of his great characteristics. He wasn't a very boastful person.
TAPPER: And he could have been.
GRAY: He could have been. Maybe he should have been, really, as a politician but he wasn't.
TAPPER: What did you see, behind the scenes, at the White House when you were White House, that you wished he had boated more about?
GRAY: Well, you know, he had a hugely important positive impact on the economy. From cleaning up the bank crisis that was left to him, a statute no one has ever heard of, to the deregulation that he continued, that was started by Reagan. And it set off a boom, you know, one of the greatest booms in American economic history which lasted well into his son's first term.
So, I think that is something that he's not remembered for the way he should be, because it was an extraordinary -- an extraordinary accomplishment on his part. And the best -- biggest beneficiary was President Clinton.
TAPPER: One of the most interesting things that we see with people in public life who have big losses is that sometimes -- and I don't -- I don't besmirch them or -- I understand it must be very, very tough to lose a national election. And we see people, different politicians, dealing with it in different ways. And it's -- it must be very tough. He dealt with it with tremendous grace self-deprecation. He invited Dana Carvey to the White House to mock him one last time. That lovely letter he wrote Bill Clinton, teaming up with Bill Clinton. Enjoying his life. Reveling in his life, not feeling sorry for himself. Where did that come from?
GRAY: Well, one thing you should remember is that although he only had one term, he got more accomplished than many presidents get in two terms. And he did it with a divided government, the Democratic House and the Democratic Senate. And that is something we forget, that he got the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, the bank clean-up, the Energy Policy Act. Those things he got with a hostile -- not mean, --
GRAY: -- but hostile Congress. And that's something that I that think he knew he had accomplished. He got it under his belt. He got it done. And I don't think he -- I don't think he felt regret about what he had accomplished. He had done a very great deal in the time he had.
TAPPER: Why was he able to be so unbitter, so, seemingly OK with the fact? I mean, you know, I have read enough about his loss, that it was tough for him. And he felt awful about all that was left unachieved, et cetera.
[17:15:02] But his public persona and the gestures he made to Clinton and to others were remarkable.
GRAY: They were remarkable. That's the way he was. People also tend to forget that what really defeated him in the end it was this indictment of Weinberger, which the press treated the indictment of him five days before the election. If that hadn't occurred, he probably would have won. And how do you guard against that? How do you plan against that? You can't.
And so, I think he felt that, you know, that's just the way the cookie crumbled. That's just the way the dice fell. And I don't think he -- I don't think he looked back on his 12 years in the White House with any regret.
Remember, that under Reagan, he was, effectively, the national security advisor for the first two or three years. He, at Reagan's request, went over to Europe and talked Europe into deploying the Persian missiles which was a huge defeat for the Soviet Union. And he ran the deregulation which set off -- which is still continue -- you know, being revived with great success in the current administration.
So, he had a big role under Reagan. He had, in effect, I think 12 years. People don't think about his service to Reagan, but don't think Reagan didn't think about it.
TAPPER: Our deepest condolences for the loss of your friend who lived a life we should all have. I love you, too, as our last words. C. Boyden Gray, thank you so much. We really -- GRAY: Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me.
TAPPER: -- appreciate it.
A quick programming note. Bush's former chief of staff and secretary of state, James Baker, and his joint chief's chairman, General Colin Powell, will be my guests tomorrow on "STATE OF THE UNION." That's at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern.
As we go to break, I want to show you a more personal moment from the life of President George H. W. Bush. In 2013, he shaved his head in support of the son of one of his secret service agents, two-year-old Patrick, who was battling leukemia. And this was a cause that was dear to the former president's heart. He lost his daughter, Robin, to leukemia, when she was just three years old.
We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.
[17:20:22] CABRERA: As a fighter pilot during World War II, George H. W. Bush's plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. He was plucked from the ocean by a U.S. submarine. His crew mates, however, did not survive. In 2002, Bush traveled back to the site accompanied by CNN cameras. And, as you'll see, it was an emotional trip and a reminder about just how lucky he was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I wake up at night and think about it sometimes. Could I have done something different?
TAPPER (voice-over): He had spent nearly a lifetime wondering.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I have a clear picture of my parachute blowing up onto Chichi Jima.
TAPPER: Hoping to return to the Pacific to the site of a combat experience he said forever changed his life.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I'm not haunted by anything other than the fact I feel a responsibility still for the lives of the two people that were killed.
The tower that we went after was up on this -- up on this hill.
TAPPER: Fifty-eight years after his bomber was shot down by the Japanese, former President George H. W. Bush finally got a chance to go back to answer his own questions.
Lucky little guy.
I wonder if I could have done something different. I wonder who got out of the plane. I wonder -- I wonder why the chute didn't open for the other guy. Why me? Why am I blessed? Why am I still alive? That has plagued me. TAPPER: Bush's story of war begins half a world away at an elite
eastern boarding school.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, December 7, 1941, I was 17 years old. It was a Sunday. I walked by the chapel. Somebody came running by and yelled that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
TAPPER: Four days after Bush graduated from Andover, on his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the United States Navy.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I knew, fact certain, that I wanted to serve duty, honor, country. But, again, I hate telling you this, because I don't want to be sounding like I'm different. I'm not.
TAPPER: September 2, 1944, the day that would end up defining the war for 20-year-old George H. W. Bush. He was a Navy pilot, getting ready to fly off the aircraft carrier, San Jacinto.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: We went to the briefing room. We were told what our mission would be. The mission was to attack a radio station on the island, Chichi Jima.
TAPPER: On a spectacularly sunny day in June 2002, President Bush returned to the place where he almost lost his life, a remote island 700 miles off the coast of Japan.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: All right. Now, how do we thank all these people?
Very nice. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to get a picture.
TAPPER: Chichi Jima is a fly speck in the Pacific, about twice the size of Central Park. Today, it is a sleepy, natural paradise with fewer than 2,000 residents.
[17:25:09] But it's also home to countless relics of World War II. This is all that remains of the main radio installation on the island.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Yes, that'll open it up.
TAPPER: It was the key target of Bush's bomber squadron.
Bush started his bombing run with the radio tower in his sights.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: The minute we started, angry, black puffs of anti- aircraft fire. And they were all over the place. And then, I felt that we were hit. And I felt the plane kind of go forward, like this. And I tried to stay on my target, release the bombs and pull out here. So, I did -- I have the satisfaction of knowing that I completed my mission.
TAPPER: His mission was complete. But Bush and his plane were in serious trouble.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: We came down off these mountains. I could tell I was hit. The plane was burning. The cockpit was beginning to fill up with smoke. So, we headed out here. And began occurring to me that the plane was -- I thought was going to explode because I could see fire along where the wing fold.
TAPPER: Bush decided to abandon his plane. But an armor plate behind his seat prevented him from speaking directly with his two crew members, Ted White and John Delaney.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I, then, told our guys to get out. Whether or not they heard it or not, there was no reply to the command. And then, I jumped out. I dove out onto the wing of the plane, but not as far as I should have, and I pulled the rip cord too early. And what happened was I hit my head on the tail of the -- on the horizontal stabilizer of the plane. It didn't take long before I was in the water.
TAPPER: With still no sign of Delaney nor White, Bush struggled to get into his life raft and to stay away from shore.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I knew I had to get out of there. I had to stay away from the land. And I was expending a hell of a lot of energy. But then I felt sick to my stomach. I felt I was crying, I got to confess. I don't feel badly about that, incidentally. I was scared. I was 20 years old. And I thought about my family. And I thought about survival.
TAPPER: Bush was in more trouble than he knew. Squadron mate, Charlie Bynum, was watching over Bush from the air.
CHARLIE BYNUM: We saw him in the water. And we saw the Japanese boats coming out from land to pick him up. They had guns on them.
TAPPER (live): When we come back, more of our extraordinary 2002 journey with President Bush. How he reconciled his personal feelings about Japan as president. That's next.
[17:32:57] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. More on our stories with George H.W. Bush's war heroism in World War II. In 2002, CNN accompanied former President Bush to the battle grounds of that war. He was haunted by the events of September 2, 1944, and the deaths of his two crewmen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATS: The raft was small. You had to paddle with your hands, like that. This is a luxurious version of the raft.
TAPPER (voice-over): Floating in a life raft similar to this one off the coast of Chichigima (ph), George Bush was trying to stay out of enemy hands and wondering what had become of his two crew members.
BUSH: Wondering whether they got out, wondering whether they gone in with the plane. I don't remember seeing the airplane go into the water. And even now, 58 years later, I think about it.
TAPPER: As Bush looked for his crew, the Japanese began to look for him. Squadron mate, Charlie Bynum, flying over Bush spotted Japanese boats headed towards him.
CHARLIE BYNUM, FORMER BUSH SQUADRON MATE: We went down and strafed those boats to keep the Japanese from getting him.
TAPPER: Bush was saved from capture and a likely horrendous fate on Chichigima (ph). But floating in the Pacific, he was still in danger until a miraculous site appeared from beneath the waves.
BUSH: And, suddenly, you see a periscope. Then you see a submarine. The only thought I had was, God, I hope it's one of ours. And sure enough, it was the U.S. "Finback."
They had pulled me aboard, and I walked up, dazed kind of. I mean, still scared, I guess. And went up to the tower and then the bells range and down we went.
[17:35:01] TAPPER: Bush was safe, but his fears about his crew members were confirmed. Radioman John Delanie and gunner, Ted White, had gone down with the plane.
Eyewitnesses had seen one other parachute, but neither body was ever found.
Crushed, Bush wrote his parents from on board the "Finback."
BUSH: "There was no sign of Dale or Ted anywhere around. I looked as I floated down, and afterwards, I kept my eye open for the raft, but to no avail. The fact that our planes didn't seem to be searching anymore showed me pretty clearly that they had not gotten out. I'm afraid I was pretty much of a sissy about it, because I sat in my raft and sobbed for a while."
TAPPER: Decades later, Bush still wondered if he could have done anything differently.
BUSH: The plane is full of smoke. You could see fire along the wing. But I know I called the people that were going to evacuate. I know that I did the right protective turn. And thank god, I know that one of them got out of the airplane.
TAPPER: Bush had faced a tough decision, abandon the plane and hope that he and his crew could parachute to safety or try to ditch the plane in the water allowing for a safer exit.
BUSH: You wonder, could I have landed the plane in the water. I did that once in June of that year. It's not a difficult thing to do. But this plane was on fire and was really in bad shape.
TAPPER: On board the "Finback," Bush had plenty of time to contemplate their loss.
BUSH: It bothered me so very much. I did tell them, and when I bailed out, I felt that they must have gone. Yet, now I feel so terribly responsible for their fate.
TAPPER: Bush would serve on the "Finback" for 30 days before the sub returned to Pearl Harbor from its patrol.
BUSH: They said, you can go home. I said, no, I want to back and finish our tour. Hitched hiked back out to the fleet and flew some more missions over Philippines.
TAPPER: Bush would go on to fly a total of 58 strikes during World War II, but that day over Chichigima (ph) would live with him forever.
BUSH: My life was spared.
BUSH: A lot of other people's lives weren't spared in that war.
BUSH: I now am getting older, and much, much, much older. I am at this stage I look at all of this as a blessing. I look at all of this as having made me a better man. A little kid made into a man by a series of circumstances over which he had no control.
[17:42:34] TAPPER: Former President George H.W. Bush mentored many Republicans who rose to positions of power. I want to read the words of one of them, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, quote, "George H.W. Bush did it all. He was a war hero, a congressman, an ambassador, vice president, and president during one of the most momentous periods in our country's history. An early boss and mentor, President Bush was one of the most decent and honorable men I've ever known."
Senator Portman joins me now.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R), OHIO: Thank you.
TAPPER: -- on losing your friend and mentor. We should point out for people who don't know, you served as director of affairs as White House budget director for his son. You last saw the former president just a few months ago. Tell us about it.
PORTMAN: It was another visit. He was typical George Bush, generous with his time and comments, humorous. You know, when you are in your 90s, sometimes it's tough to have a good attitude and be humorous, and he was all of those things. His last comments to me was, you know, you're a good man. And so you saw the George Bush that all of us came to know and love right through to the end. He was just an amazing people person. You know, he loved people.
I remember being at Kennebunkport with him when there were Democrats, Republicans, Independents. Everybody wanted to come and flock to him and talk to him and be around him. He was just an amazing person. And you're right, he is a mentor. He also got necessity involved in this crazy business. I never would have gotten involved in politics except for him taking a chance on me and bringing me into his White House and putting me in jobs that probably I wasn't qualified for at the time and testing me. I owe him for that as well.
TAPPER: How did that happen? How did he enlist you and bring you into this crazy business?
PORTMAN: Well, I had worked back here in Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio, in his campaigns, and when he was elected president in 1988, he asked me to come and be one of the seven or eight lawyers on his White House staff. Now, I think there are 40 of them. I started off as one of the lawyers. And after about six months, an opening occurred on the legislative affairs side of things, and I went over there to become director of that office. But really wasn't qualified to it to be drank. I had worked on the Hill as an intern. Yet, he trusted me. I appreciated the confidence he showed to me, and I tried to earn that.
[17:44:22] Lots of George Bush stories, Jake. But one would be the Desert Storm experience I had in sitting behind him in one of those meeting with all the members of Congress and cabinet members. I remember some advisors telling him he should not seek approval from because it was uncertain whether that would be successful, and everybody believed that Saddam Hussein needed to be pushed out of Kuwait. And President Bush pushed back and said, no, we're going to go to Congress, and we're going to seek that approval under the War Powers Act. And he thought he could be successful by persuading people of the importance of it. In fact, it was a very tough vote. I remember working it on the Hill, and we ended up winning it by just three votes. And yet, in retrospect, he did the right thing against the advice of some of his advisors, because that helped to bring the country together, and that was his point. One, he respected the institution of Congress, having served there himself. But second, he really wanted Congress, representing the American people, to put their imprint on this policy and to bring people together. And as you know, shortly thereafter, 100 hours thereafter, he was able to declare victory. I think one reason that was such a successful contest or successful conflict for the United States was the American people were really behind this from the start. It's just one example of many that I would have where his wisdom, from his experience of being on the Hill himself, and his ability to sort of take a strong firm position, which was Saddam Hussein had to go, but also wanted to go through the appropriate process and the institutions of government to be able to ensure that it was ultimately successful.
TAPPER: You honored George and Barbara's 73-year marriage on Twitter, saying their partnership served an inspiration for you and your wife, Jane. What did you learn from them about having a marriage when you -- when one of the partners is an elected official and living out your life in the public eye to a degree?
PORTMAN: We just loved both of them. But the lesson we learned from them, I would say, maybe it's a little different from what some might say. Barbara Bush was feisty and didn't always agree with him. And vice versa. And yet, unconditional support and love. He stood with her and she stood with him. That was a great lesson. Also, just being in politics and having kids is tough, you know, because you're apart from your family a lot. And so watching how they did it and how they kept their family together, how they kept their family first, even in difficult times. It was the combination of the support they showed for one another. Jane and I, to this day, consider them to be the model political couple and family. I know a lot of people at Barbara Bush's funeral talked about the fact that she was an equal partner at least in that relationship. And that's important also.
TAPPER: We only have 30 seconds, but you talk about Bush as an honorable and decent man. Do you fear that the era of honorable and decent politics is gone?
PORTMAN: I think it's coming back. Seriously. I think this is a time for us to reflect on why it's OK to reach across the aisle to get things done, why it's OK to be civil and to respect your political opponents, not treat them as enemies. And I think that's where most American people are. Right now, our politics are rougher than that, and our country is more divided, but I suspect that part of what we will see over time is a coming back to that.
He wasn't a person without principle. He had plenty of them. He knew ultimately you had to work together to get things done.
Senator Rob Portman, of Ohio, thank you. Again, my deepest condolences on the loss of your mentor.
PORTMAN: Thank you.
[17:49:29] Be sure to tune in tonight for a CNN special report, "Remembering 41." That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
We're going on it take a quick break. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: President George H.W. Bush dedicated his life to fulling his civic duty up until his final days. This was the last time we saw the former president publicly. He voted early in Houston, one month ago, with two best friends, former White House chief of staff, Jim Banker, and his dog, Sully.
Among Bush's lasting legacies, his Points of Lights Organization dedicated to encouraging Americans to volunteer, the idea rooted in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I want a kinder and gentler nation. Like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The spirit of what Bush was talking about is in embodied by top-10 "CNN Hero," Florence Phillips. She gives back to her community by helping immigrants move up the ladder at work and integrate into the fabric of society.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:55:03] FLORENCE PHILLIPS, CNN HERO: It's the immigrants that made the United States. It was the immigrants that came here to have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of doing whatever they wanted to do. And they're the ones that made this country. We are giving them the key --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on in.
PHILLIPS: -- to unlock all doors. And I see the pride when they say I am an American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A thousand points of light. You can go to CNNheroes.com to vote for her or any of your favorite top-10 heroes right now at CNNheroes.com.
That does it for me today. I'm Jake Tapper, in Washington. I'll be back tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern and noon for "STATE OF THE UNION, where we'll have a lot of coverage on George H.W. Bush.
Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage of the passing of President Bush after this quick break. Stay with us.