Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR
George H.W. Bush Makes Final Trip to Washington Soon; Ceremony Begins for George H.W. Bush at Ellington Air Field in Houston. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired December 3, 2018 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Looking at live pictures from Ellington Air Field in Houston. Special Air Mission 41 right there. You're joining CNN's special coverage of President George H.W. Bush's final journey to Washington, D.C. Air Force One, rebranded for this trip as Special Mission 41, standing by to depart to Joint Base Andrews. The Bush family motorcade is set to arrive at any minute at Ellington Field and there will be a ceremony that we'll bring that to you when the plane departs. The silence there, you can just hear the wind in Houston. It's truly moving.
The panel -- as we wait, the panel is back here with me.
Mary Kate, President H.W. Bush is one of, what, two men in American history who hold the honor of being both president and father of a president. And I was watching 41 on 41 again last night, my favorite movie.
BOLDUAN: I know, it's amazing. She executive produced it, so everyone knows.
How did they navigate that relationship?
MARY KATE CAREY, FORMER SPEECH WRITER FOR GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I think, in their minds, I think it was very typical father-son relationship that was no different from anybody else's. And when I have talked to family members about it, they think they are just like any other American family. And why would anybody be interested in them?
And I have said to them, oh, no, to have your father and your brother both be president of the United States is a very unique thing. And there's something different about your family. And it may seem normal to you, but it's not normal to the rest of us. So please share with us, you know, how did you get through things and what were the values you were taught? A lot goes back to the grandmother, Dorothy Walker Bush, and the way she raised the president. As Jamie has said many times, no braggadocio, no talking about yourself. For a while, when he was a child, his nickname was Half-Half, because he was constantly sharing whatever he had with someone else. That spirit of service and giving back was engrained. And I think that's carried throughout the generations.
There's also a tremendous amount of sports that keep the family together. We know about the ranking committee where the president would decide who could play who in tennis or golf.
BOLDUAN: There was no committee, spoiler alert.
CAREY: -- very competitive on sports.
And another thing that makes their family very different, I think, is the amount of humor and pranks that go on is remarkable. And that, to me, is a very cohesive thing for their family, and explains a lot about their outlook on the world. Very funny group of people.
BOLDUAN: When you talk, Tom, about the humility, the humility that was taught, demanded and embodied the man, I wonder what you think that president H.W. Bush would be thinking of today, all of the accolades, all of the tributes that are being laid upon him right now.
TOM COLLAMORE, STAFF MEMBER TO V.P. GEORGE H.W. BUSH & SERVED IN BUSH WHITE HOUSE: I think one of the things I think of is we hear three words associated with the president often, faith, family, friends. And we're about to see some very poignant moments play out here. He was a man of deep faith. He just didn't wear it on his sleeve. He lived it every day of his life. And his family was the center of his universe, and he would be thrilled at the participation of the grandchildren in particular in both today's services and the departure. Seeing them all scurry around there at the funeral home, it just made me think he would be smiling at that. And friends. I mean, there's no living American who has more true close personal friends than George H.W. Bush. And the next few days, we'll see all of them come out talking about him and their special relationship. And it's not fiction. I mean, this man kept in close touch with an uncountable number of people. And it was real. And it was genuine. When I saw that casket come out, Jamie mentioned it, with the Secret Service carrying him, that touched my heart because, I'll guarantee you, he knew the first name of every one of those agents. He knew their wives' names and their kids' names. It's always been that way. So it's a poignant moment.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I love to joke that he had thousands of close personal friends. But he really did.
COLLOMORE: He really did.
COLLOMORE: And we had to keep track of all of them.
The National Cathedral, by the way, is just too small a venue. I will tell you that.
GANGEL: I don't know how they're going to do that.
BOLDUAN: For everyone, it is not a small venue.
That's the point Tom is trying to make right now.
Jeffrey, when you think of the close personal relationships, was that -- would you say that was what was behind the success that he had on so many foreign policy fronts? Pierce Bush said something great, I think it's been said, that he became this Forrest Gump-like character in the last American century, when it came to moments in history that he was a part of.
JEFFREY ENGEL, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN & AUTHOR: No doubt about it, that the personal was really crucial to his diplomacy. The president would make a real point of getting to know foreign leaders. But the critical thing was he would get to know them before the crisis where he needed them. He would call them up just if he had a few moments during the day, call them up randomly, someone from Africa, someone from Asia, and say, tell me about what you think, how does the world look to you. I think that helped build the trust so than when he called them and needed something, as the president, then they were more willing to listen.
I have to say, there's one important note here which is he always called when he had a few moments in the day. It just shows the power of the presidency, that people, no matter what time it was in their country, they would pick up the phone and talk to him.
[11:35:27] BOLDUAN: You take that call. You always do.
Guy, stay with me.
We're watching this in Houston at Ellington Air Field. The Bush family will be arriving shortly. We're going to fit in a quick break before the ceremony begins. We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for joining me. We're looking live at Ellington Air Field in Houston, where you're looking at, well, presidential airplane today called Special Air Mission 41. The presidential plane that will be taking President H.W. Bush and his family to his final flight to Washington, as the ceremonies, services, and the funeral will be taking place for the next coming days. The ceremony set to begin any moment. We will bring you there as these moments begin.
My panel is sitting here with me.
And we were, in the break, Jamie, talking about President Bush was a stoic man. But also known for his humor. I mean, just ask Dana Carvey. And liked to crack a joke himself, and on the people around him.
GANGEL: And he also would pull pranks. And he loved his Secret Service. But there was something he also loved to do to his Secret Service. I was just talking to his spokesman, Jim McGrath, who texted me the word "Fidelity." So "Fidelity" was his boat, and there were a series of them over the years. They got more and more powerful. And I remember I was once out with him -- and I am not the only person this happened to. He said, "Watch this." His boat could outrun the Secret Service boats.
And he would just go out to sea and he thought it was the funniest thing in the world. The Secret Service figured it out. They then had two boats on him.
They had one all the way out there to make sure they got him on the other side. But that was classic George Bush.
BOLDUAN: You can see, as you all have noted, you can see that relationship, that bond that he had with everyone around him, including the Secret Service, evident today, as you can see they're honorary pallbearers and also the actual pallbearers who brought the casket from the funeral home into the hearse.
And as we're looking right now together, I think we're seeing as the Bush family motorcade and the hearse is arriving to Ellington Air Field.
But as we're watching, you brought actually a note, Kristin, that George Bush wrote you. One of the final -- the final note you received.
[11:39:54] KRISTIN CLARK TAYLOR, FORMER DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS FOR GEORGE H.W. BUSH: The final note, yes. I had gone to see him in Houston just for the day, just for the day. I flew from D.C. into Houston. Sat with him for a couple of hours. By then -- and I won't say he was bound to his wheelchair, because he was never bound. He was sitting in his wheelchair. We had a wonderful conversation, just talking about memories and about things that had happened. He remembered more than I did.
I thought, where is that coming from? And shortly, as I was leaving the office, I heard him kind of holler out. He said, "Kirstin." He's not one to holler, at least he never hollered or yelled at me.
And I turned around, kind of ran back into his office. And he held his arms out and said, "One more hug." And I hugged him. And I didn't know that that would be the last time I saw him.
And I guess that's a life lesson for us, to always just say I love you. Or good-bye. Hello. All of it.
But the next day, though -- and I'm still trying to figure out how quickly this happened. The next day, I went to my mailbox, and there was a note. It didn't come FedEx, so I'm thinking, how did that happen so quickly. There was a note, penned in his hand. By then, the Parkinson's had set in and it was illegible, but what was legible was the love he felt and the personal kind of conviction that he felt. And I could just imagine him pushing his hands to write that letter. And to me, that's one of the single most wonderful memories that I have of him.
BOLDUAN: That's truly special, that he even took the time, and in that state. You know how frustrating it would be to not be able to pen it the way you wanted.
Go ahead, Tom.
COLLOMORE: It reminds me, all of us who are privileged enough to work for this great man have a drawer full of these notes at home.
CLARK TAYLOR: And we're not unique.
COLLOMORE: And we're not unique. Remember all those friends?
COLLOMORE: But I remember my first one was in 1978. I had driven him to the airport after an event in Connecticut. And I had given him a note saying, you know, "If you run, I would love to help." I got a handwritten note two days later from Houston that said, "If I decide to run, I would be honored to have your help." He had me from then on.
CLARK TAYLOR: Absolutely.
BOLDUAN: Mary Kate, one thing that we haven't talked about, and I wanted to make sure we get in, is the role of World War II and being a flyboy. How did his experience in World War II, his respect for service and duty, how do you think what happened to him in World War II, how that dictated his path?
CAREY: I think he would be the first to say that he had a bit of survivor's guilt. It bothered him tremendously that he lost his two crewmen. He also sent a number of letters to other crewmen's families when they were lost. So he was very aware of the cost of war. And hated war. But yet, as he went through his career -- and I think a lot of his career was because he felt he had to make his survival worthy of their deaths. And so he had a tremendous life of service, I think, in large part, because of the two men who lost when they got shot down. And as he became commander-in-chief, World War II greatly affected the way he prosecuted the Persian Gulf War. The tremendously low number of casualties was not an accident. He made sure that happened. And he was very careful about ending the Vietnam syndrome at the time and thanking our veterans. I think veterans now in the United States are treated much, much more differently than they were because of the way he reacted to the way it happened to him. And so it was a lifelong thing. World War II happening to him really changed the course of his life, and he would say, for the better, even though it was a tremendously sad period for him. But it affected the rest of his life in a tremendous way.
BOLDUAN: Jamie, they're about to pull up. The family is there with him. Some meeting -- some of the family, east coast family, will be meeting them in Washington.
The role of his very public life on his family, on his relationship with his children, what do you think that is?
GANGEL: I think we have heard the grandchildren say a number of times, and to your point about celebration, they're all doing interviews. Their grandfather wanted them --
GANGEL: This is not -- they want to be out there and talking about his life. I heard an interview with either Jenna or Barbara, former President George W. Bush's twins, talking about how they thought everyone's grandfather was president --
BOLDUAN: I love that.
GANGEL: -- of the United States.
And another thing is, these two people, both former President Bush and Barbara Bush, never let anything go to their children or grandchildren's heads. If you went up to Kennebunkport, there were a list of rules about picking up towels and making your bed. And I remember President Bush just being appalled that his grandchildren had left a half-open can of soda.
You have heard this, too.
GANGEL: So there was nothing about their private life that would make you feel that he was president of the United States. The picture I love is the one -- I think we showed it earlier this morning -- of the president and Mrs. Bush in bed with all of the grandchildren around them.
GANGEL: What does that say? It was one of his favorite pictures, that this was his family. This was the real deal. (CROSSTALK)
[11:45:42] BOLDUAN: You can see, if we can join together, and now the ceremony is beginning at Ellington Air Field in Houston. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: Forward March. Forward.
[11:51:57] UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: (INAUDIBLE)
[11:57:43] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I'm John King, in Washington.
You're watching a solemn ceremony as the Bush family just boarding. You see the Bush family continuing to board, plus friends and associates of the former president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush. The 41st president of the United states about to make, on the 747 that was commissioned as Air Force One during his presidency, his final journey to Washington, D.C. Special Mission 41 is the Air Force designation for this flight today.
You see the honor guard there and the hearse that brought the casket of the former president, now the late President George H.W. Bush. You see the dignitaries boarding the plane there. They will come to Washington, D.C. The former president will lie in state at the U.S. capital tonight and tomorrow morning. The nation will mourn. A ceremony at the National Cathedral on Wednesday. And then President Bush will be laid to rest next to his beloved wife, Barbara, at the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, on Thursday.
We watched the Bush family board the plane here and the honor guard. It has been 12 years, 12 years since the country has buried a president, Gerald Ford in 2006.
As you watch this play out, you are reminded again one of the great places and many places that George Herbert Walker Bush. He and John Adams share the unique distinction of being both president and father of a president. When you see 43 go up the stairs with Laura Bush to take this flight -- I will start with you, Jamie Gangel.
You are closest to the family. You watch the ceremony play out here. Maybe an odd thing to say, but George H.W. Bush loved tradition and he loved ceremony. He had such amazing respect for the military and the Air Force and how the trappings of the presidency, if you will, that it's very fitting to watch this play out.
GANGEL: Absolutely. I think his respect for the presidency and the office is a very important counterpoint to -- what was that word that his mother always said? Don't be a braggadocio. He was not one to boast about himself. We've heard the word "humble" used over and over again.
[11:59:51] And I will tell you, from a reliable source, former President Bush, when they first came to him and said, you need to make your funeral plans, sir, he did not want to have anything to do with this. But then they said, this is part of your responsibility.