Return to Transcripts main page


State Funeral of President George H.W. Bush. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 3, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to squeeze in another quick break.

We will come right back with more from the Capitol ceremony for former President George H.W. Bush.


TAPPER: In minutes, the first memorial service for former President George H.W. Bush will begin in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Right now, friends, family members, members of Congress, ambassadors, local dignitaries all arriving there.

You see House Minority Leader, soon-to-be, in all likelihood, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The motorcade carrying the former president and his family, including former President George W. Bush, right now is on its way to the Capitol. You see the hearse right there in the center of your screen.


Once that motorcade arrives, a procession will carry the casket from the hearse into the Rotunda. The 41st president will lie in state in the Rotunda open all night to accommodate the crowds wishing to bid farewell to the 44th president.

And this is one of the things that people forget when they look at his legacy, Mary Kate, America is, he signed the Americans With Disabilities Act. He signed the Clean Air Act. He had a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate for the entirety of his presidency. He had to work across the aisle.


And he passed major landmark legislation, as you just said. One of his friends through all that was Dan Rostenkowski, who was head of Appropriations at the time in the House, very instrumental in the budget deal as well.

And Rostenkowski later got in trouble and ended up in jail for financial crimes. And the first day that Rostenkowski was in jail, the president called the penitentiary, didn't say who he was, just said, "I would like to speak to my friend Dan Rostenkowski, please. Could you please put him on?"

And the switchboard operator said: "I'm sorry, sir. Inmates cannot take incoming phone calls."

And the president, instead of saying, "Do you know who you're dealing with?" or whatever said: "Let me just talk to the warden. Would you put him on?"

So in a very quiet way, said to the warden, "I would really like to talk to the congressman. Would it be possible?"

And the warden, "Of course, sir," put Dan Rostenkowski on.

Dan Rostenkowski later told Doro, his daughter, that no one else called him the entire time he was in prison.

He was sobbing when he told the story. He said: "I will never forget what George Bush did for me, because he was my friend even when I was down, not just when I was up."

TAPPER: And there's so many stories like that about this president.

And, again, I hate to bring up the elephant in the room, but the contrast between the behavior we see from successors, including the current one, is striking. Yes.

JEFFREY ENGEL, SMU PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY DIRECTOR: It is striking. And it's also striking, the way that President Bush, in contrast to the current president, is really interested and able to accept some form of criticism, and really able and interested in accepting some form of debate.

I will give you a good story. We were talking earlier about the wimp factor.

TAPPER: I'm just -- I just want to show -- if we could put that picture back, I just wanted to show some of the people.

There it is. You see Brent Scowcroft, his former national security adviser, on the left. Lamar Alexander. Who are some of the other...

CARY: Elizabeth Dole.


TAPPER: Elizabeth Dole is there, obviously Vice President Dick Cheney, who was George H.W. Bush's secretary of defense.

You see C. Boyden Gray, his the White House counsel, is the tall the tall guy in the back. John Sununu, who was a chief of staff. Anyway..


CARY: ... is there.

TAPPER: Go ahead, Jeff. I'm sorry.


TAPPER: Oh, Dan Quayle. I'm sorry. I'm sorry to do that to you, but Vice President Dan Quayle on the right with the red tie talking to Dick Cheney, George H.W. Bush's vice president. Sorry, sir.

ENGEL: So, to return to the story of the famous "Newsweek" cover that showed him as the wimp in 1988, 20 years later, I found myself working at Texas A&M and invited the person who wrote that story to give a lecture.

We invite all kinds of people to give lectures. And President Bush typically came to our lectures. And I asked, would the president like to come to this lecture? And I was very politely told by him: "I don't really want to go to that one. But I'm really glad you brought him in, because the students need to hear from a variety of voices, and mine should not be the only one that they here. Just because my name is on the school doesn't mean that they shouldn't get other opinions."

And he endorsed a real interesting sense of not only bipartisanship discussion, but also have accessibility of public servants taking critique.

TAPPER: That's interesting.

It reminds me of -- there's -- people have been showing the video of the Christmas party, the White House Christmas, party after George H.W. Bush has lost to Bill Clinton. And he invites Dana Carvey, who has been making fun of him for five years on "Saturday Night Live."

He invites him there. And Barbara Bush, the outgoing first lady, says something along the lines of, he's lucky I didn't hit him in the head.


TAPPER: She's still mad at Dana Carvey for what is in retrospect a fairly loving portrayal and spoofing.

There's the hearse.

But he really was able to forgive.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Oh, he definitely was able to forgive.

And it's because he didn't take himself so seriously. I think that's really an important part of the story here. He was self-confident, without preening.

TAPPER: And the motorcade is arriving at the Capitol right now. There you see the hearse containing the casket where George H.W. Bush is. Let's go to Wolf Blitzer for more -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we're up here on Capitol Hill.

We can see the motorcade arriving right now. The motorcade will bring the casket. They will -- in fact, you can see it right behind us. If we take a closer look, you can see what's going on.


But every minute, indeed, maybe every second, has been so prepared, as we look at the dignitaries who have gathered at the top of the steps of the Capitol. The family members will be there as well.

There you see the former Vice President Dick Cheney and James Baker, among others. They will receive the casket. And there will be a formal military ceremony that will present arms. The honors will be rendered, once again, "Ruffles and Flourishes," "Hail to the Chief," another 21-gun salute.

And then the casket -- and we will watch all of this unfold -- Jamie -- will be carried up the steps to the Rotunda, as the U.S. Army Band, what's called Pershing's Own, will play the hymns, "Fairest, lord Jesus, and a mighty fortress is our God."


So what we're seeing here is, obviously, the family's going to be there. The honorary pallbearers are all the captains and commanding officers and admirals of the USS George H.W. Bush, the aircraft carrier.

And all of those people standing up on the steps, those were people who will tell you that George Bush was loyal to them, and they were loyal to him.

And it's quite a tribute, that this, again, was something that former President Bush wanted. He wanted his Cabinet, his administration out there to be honored as part of this ceremony.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That it was a team, that it's a team.


GANGEL: It was a team. It really was.

BLITZER: You know, John, this moment will be once again, as we saw at Joint Base Andrews, very, very moving.

KING: And again fitting for a man who began his political career in the House of Representatives, was president of the Senate, was vice president.

You see members of the family there, some of the grandchildren, coming off the buses that came in from Joint Base Andrews and other family friends as they go in.

To see the Bush Cabinet assembled at the top of the stairs, Boyden Gray, Jim Baker, not just people who served in the administration, but close friends of the president, friends before he became vice president and president, and friends long after.

The old saying is you judge a man by the company he keeps. If you look on the steps of the Capitol right now at the Bush family, at the Bush Cabinet, at the highest brass of the United States military, this former president is being greeted with the grace and dignity he deserves outside the United States Capitol.

And just -- it's just a remarkable moment as the sun sets behind us as well, just the weather gods cooperating with this day to give a special moment to the former president.

BLITZER: It was very sunny until just a little while ago. Now, obviously, the sun going down, and it's beginning to get a little bit chillier too.

GANGEL: Absolutely.

And even so, I don't know if we can see it, but there are crowds lined up along the street back here, Washingtonians, people from Capitol Hill who have just come to pay their respects.

BLITZER: And this formal military color guard will begin this process.

You know what? I want to listen in as the ceremony begins.

Jamie, the family is now arriving, together with other dignitaries. They will be at the top of the steps as well.

They were in the motorcade, so it'll take a little while for everyone to be assembled and to receive the casket.

GANGEL: You know, as we have said several times today, George H.W. Bush had a lot of friends. And so it took several buses to bring them all here today.


BLITZER: There's you see the former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.

GANGEL: And he is already looking very emotional, I have to say.

He's -- I have spoken to him recently. And he wants to steel himself and do the right thing. But this is, no question, a challenging time for him.

BLITZER: Looks like the family, if you look at the right part of your screen, they will be walking in that door, and then they will go upstairs, and there will be a place right at the top of the stairs. And then they will all move together, John, into the Rotunda. And if

you take a look at the planning for this memorial service, it is so, so beautiful.

KING: It's beautiful.

You will have tributes from the vice president. You will tributes from the speaker of the House, tributes from the majority leader. You saw the members of the House coming in. Everybody -- this is a moment that, if you have an opportunity to be part of, you can see the -- people coming to crowd in.

And you will have this ceremony first, and then the time for the -- those closest to the family, those who served in the White House, those who were the residential staff in the White House. So, it will be for those closest to this president, to his administration first.

And then it will be remarkable to watch this took place out throughout the night as the public gets a chance as the Capitol has kept open all night. It would be remarkable to see people coming to pay tribute throughout the night. Right now, we just -- we begin what is three- day process of mourning and reflection. But as Jamie noted earlier, the family also making clear every time you talk to somebody in the family or close to their family that they want this to be a celebration as much as it is a sad moment.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Very sad moment indeed. Once the procession, by the way, enters the Rotunda, the Capitol Rotunda the casket will be placed on the Lincoln Catapult. The National Presidential Colors will be posted, a guard of honor will be posted at the corners of the casket, and then the service, Jamie, will begin. But talk a little bit more about this moment for the family,

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that it's -- he was 94 years old. He had had Parkinson's, he had had been in and out of the hospital a lot. But nevertheless, I think no one is ever really ready when it happens, but he had a great summer in Kennebunkport. He -- the one thing his family will tell you is he wanted to take advantage of every minute and he did right up until the last week. He went to his granddaughter's funeral, he voted. He went to Hamilton. He wasn't going to miss a moment.

KING: And to your point about rallying even on Friday when it became apparent to most of his friends that the final hours were here you heard from several them but just take a breath. He's rallied before. Let's watch. Let's see.

BLITZER: They didn't have a chance in recent weeks to go to his granddaughter's wedding --

GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: -- as well which was a special moment for the 41st President of the United States. There you see the hearse of the coffin with the American flag. The color guard is moving forward. This is a time when we could all just watch and listen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:50:37] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Present arms!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready step. Ready step. Ready step.

[16:55:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready step. Ready step. Ready step.