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State Funeral of President George H.W. Bush Set to Begin. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 3, 2018 - 15:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, you're looking at live pictures out of Joint Base Andrews, where hundreds of U.S. service members, they are already gathered. They're awaiting -- they're waiting to pay their respects to the former president of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

We want to welcome you to our special CNN coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer live from the U.S. Capitol, along with my colleague Jake Tapper, here in Washington.

Today begins the first official day of mourning for the 41st president of the United States. Here at the U.S. Capitol, former President George H.W. Bush will lie in state after the first service remembering his life and service to the nation.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In just minutes, we expect Special Air Mission 41 -- that's the plane carrying the late president and his family from Houston -- to land at Joint Base Andrews, right outside of Washington, D.C., where that crowd has gathered.

From there, a motorcade will take them all to the Capitol, where, in the next hour, the processional into the Capitol Rotunda will begin for the service featuring remembrances of the former president, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Vice President Mike Pence.

Wolf, this is just the beginning of a week-long celebration of President Bush's remarkable life.

BLITZER: And it truly was remarkable.

Passed away at the age of 94, but he did so much during all of those years, before he became president of the United States, certainly after he became president of the United States. And the nation will be paying tribute to a truly remarkable man.

Our special correspondent Jamie Gangel is here with me, along with CNN's John King.

Jamie, let's walk through what we anticipate happening once this special plane, this presidential aircraft, lands at Joint Base Andrews. There will be a motorcade up here, where we are, to Capitol Hill.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, what we know is half the Bush family is on the plane with former President Bush, his sons, former President George W. Bush and family, and Neil Bush and family, and a lot of his staff and his very best friend, James Baker.

But waiting here at Andrews Air Force Base, in addition to the honor guard and the ceremony we have, we're going to see the rest of his family. They're going to greet him. There will be a ceremony here, and we're going to have a change in honorary pallbearers.

In Houston, the honorary pallbearers -- and President Bush picked this himself -- they were his Secret Service detail. Here in Washington, there will be new honorary pallbearers. They will be the captains and commanding officers, including the present one, Sean Bailey, of his carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush.

You will still see Secret Service with him in the motorcade. They will be right behind the hearse. They will stay with him until he is interred. The car you will see in the motorcade is his normal follow- up car. And they will be on duty.

And, last, we will probably see his service dog, Sully H.W. Bush. You know, we all saw that just incredibly poignant photo, "Mission completed," of Sully sitting in front of his casket last night. He is returning to Washington, and he will actually continue his service at Walter Reed.

BLITZER: And we will be hearing from the leadership of the U.S. Congress, including the vice president of the United States, who is the president of the Senate.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A reminder, number one, of the tradition and the protocol.

It's been 12 years since we have buried an American president, since Gerald R. Ford. And also a reminder, we think of George H.W. Bush as president of the United States and as vice president of the United States and many other things, because his political career started as a member of the House of Representatives.

So he's coming back to the House, if you will. As vice president, he was vice president of the Senate. And during the Reagan years, there were many battles where he was here in his role as the president of the Senate and the vice president.

Striking to me, as we remember an age gone by, is that Mitch McConnell, who will speak today, and Nancy Pelosi, part of the Democratic leadership, they were in Congress as junior members during the Bush presidency.

But in the case of Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, even Mike Pence, the vice president now who was a member of the House before becoming Indiana governor, they weren't here back in those days.

But Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell do have memories of the end of the Reagan presidency and the Bush presidency as well. It be interesting on their reflections.


BLITZER: And, John, what's so interesting is the praise, the celebration of this president is coming from Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

KING: And, again, to the point that it was a different day, the Democrats controlled the House, and by a decent majority in those days, so President Bush had to do business with the Democrats.


So, bipartisanship is a lost art in Washington. It is one of the things being discussed now. Is there any way to get back there?

And a key moment for this President Donald Trump, as the Democrats are about to take charge of the House again, will we see lessons of the Bush presidency or lessons of any other presidency that will bring us to bipartisanship?

But, as you remember it, just to think back, I mean, the Americans With Disabilities Act, a signature civil rights achievement in this country that you see on that corner sidewalk behind us -- even on the speakers rostrum now, there is an elevator to bring a wheelchair up to the speakers rostrum from the House of Representatives.

That is a bipartisan legislative remarkable achievement of President George H.W. Bush. And so when he did -- to do business as president, he had no choice. He had to do business with the Democrats.

BLITZER: And we will be seeing and hearing a lot from his family as well.

GANGEL: Absolutely.

So his family really wants this to be a celebration. Excuse me. There's a motorcycle going in the background.

His family, his grandchildren are actually going to be on CNN a lot. They're doing a lot of interviews. They want their grandfather honored. His Cabinet is going to be here.

When the motorcade pulls up at the Capitol, Dan Quayle, his vice president, will be standing there with the members of his Cabinet to receive the casket and to lead it up into the Capitol.

BLITZER: We're only minutes away from the presidential aircraft arriving at Joint Base Andrews, right outside of Washington, D.C., where the casket of the 41st president of the United States will be greeted by many members of the Bush family and a special honor guard.

Much more of our special coverage right after this.



TAPPER: And we're back with our special coverage of the state funeral of former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

At any moment, the presidential aircraft, what has been designated Special Air Mission 41, will land at Joint Base Andrews right outside of D.C., after taking off from Houston this morning.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at Joint Base Andrews right now.

Jeff, tell us what you see from where you are.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Friends of the late president have arrived here, as well as 114 crew members of the USS George H.W. Bush.

They are over here right to my right. They have lined up in formation. They are going to be here to welcome the former Naval aviator, of course, George H.W. Bush, who served as a very young man. And looking at the ranks of these young men and women, Jake, so young, their faces, of course, were not alive during the administration and time of the Bush presidency.

But they are here to pay their respects. You can also see behind me, perhaps, this presidential hearse, a hearse with the presidential seal on it, sitting with American flags as well. The -- there is going to be a 21-gun salute here. And there's also going to be "Hail to the Chief," of course, as well as "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

But, Jake, I can see family members there. And I can tell you, Jeb Bush is going to be here greeting his father. I spoke with him earlier today. He talked to me about his conversation with President Trump on Saturday. He said it was a gracious conversation -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at Joint Base Andrews, where we expect President Bush's family to arrive any moment now with his coffin.

My panel is here with me.

Tim, let me start with you.

President George H.W. Bush was really a creature of Washington, D.C., even though he was from, you know, from Connecticut and Houston, Texas, and he'd been to a number of events like this.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, he famously said when he was vice president, "They die, I fly."


NAFTALI: Well, he was a man who understood -- first of all, he loved dignity. I don't think he loved pomp and circumstance. But he loved dignity. He observed ritual. And he knew the importance of these moments. They would fill him with patriotism and they were viewed by him, I

think, as unifying moments. So, he liked when the flag came out. He liked when members of the military stood there tall and saluted.

But he didn't do it because it was his power. He did it because it was a rallying of the spirit, the American spirit. So to the extent that he is watching -- and, after all, he did plan this funeral -- I think he would be proud to see the service men and women on the ship named after him there to receive the coffin as he arrives for his final journey to Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: And even though we know that he did not vote for President Trump, it is very Bush-like that he would want President Trump to be there, even though it was not a great relationship between him or the Bush family in general.

He was very much about reaching out. He reached out to former President Bill Clinton, the man who defeated him, and they became very, very close.

JEFFREY ENGEL, SMU PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY DIRECTOR: Well, it's a very genteel move certainly to reach your hand out, if you will, even from the beyond, to say that some things transcend partnership, inviting President Trump down to the funeral.

But I do have to say, there's an important point to be made that typically, historically, when a former -- when a president is laid to rest, the current president who's in attendance would speak, not just show up.

So there's a sense in which Donald Trump is both being invited in and also kept at a respectful distance that other presidents in the past weren't kept so far away.

TAPPER: In the sense that he's not eulogizing him at the National Cathedral?


ENGEL: That would be the normal historical pattern. For a current president, if he's in the room, he should speak.

TAPPER: And, Mary Kate, you worked with him, with George H.W. Bush.

What was he like emotionally behind the scenes? Because he was criticized when he was a president for seeming out of touch, for not being emotional enough as a president, especially compared to Bill Clinton. What was he like as a boss?

MARY KATE CARY, FORMER GEORGE H.W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, anyone who knows him knows that he very easily tears up, and you can see it in his son, Neil, who is the same way in a lot of times.

And he was very self-aware of that. And so at one of the first meetings we had with him as president, he told us, don't give me speeches that are through-the-roof emotional that you could have given to President Reagan. You have got to rein them in for me, especially if I'm going to, say, Dover, Delaware, to meet the remains of soldier coming back from overseas.

Anything like that, he would tell us, take it down a notch. There was a series of speeches when he went to Kuwait to the front lines, and that's what he said. What are you trying to do, kill me? Like, keep it in check.

After he left office, he was much better about showing his emotion. I think he felt that it wasn't presidential if he got choked up. He was also much better about showing his sense of humor after he left office.

I remember him saying, they didn't elect me to be a stand-up comic. But after he left office, he let go a little more.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We're continuing to follow the final journey of former President George Herbert Walker Bush to the nation's capital, where the first official memorial service will take place.

We're going to take a quick break. Stay with us.



BLITZER: All right, you're looking at live pictures.

Seconds from now, the presidential aircraft, what's designated as Special Air Mission 41, will land right at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, a place where former President George H.W. Bush has left a remarkable legacy, as a former president, a member of Congress, a special envoy, a World War II combat pilot, among so many other accomplishments, including director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

This plane, Jamie and John, the plane is about to land. It's obviously like Air Force One, but it's been designated joint -- Special Air Mission 41 for this special, special moment in American history.

GANGEL: So, one of the things that a reliable source, President Bush himself, told me was, when they first asked him to do his funeral plans, he really didn't want to have anything to do with it.

And then they said it was his duty to do it, and he jumped in, and he would be the first to say, he micromanaged it, and he planned all of this.

But I will tell you, you're going to see a reunion here. All of his children are going to be together. This is a big family. We have five children, I believe 17 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren. So this is the first time since he passed that they will all be together.

And here he lands. BLITZER: It will be an emotional time, certainly this week, John --

the plane is about to touch down at Joint Base Andrews. There you see it landing right now.

It will be emotional, but it will also be a celebration.

KING: And the Bush family has made clear about that. If you watched -- I saw you over the weekend, interviewing some of the grandchildren, talking about how he lived such a full and remarkable life, that, yes, it's a sad moment, yes, it's a solemn moment, but that the family wants it to be a celebration of the great and remarkable life, to them, beginning with the role as father and grandfather and patriarch of a remarkable family, but obviously also for a career in politics that has just a mind-blowing resume, when you look at all of the things George H.W. Bush did and accomplished in his life, whether it's CIA director, vice president, ambassador and the like.

To this plane point, this 747 came into commission during the Bush presidency. And, as we all know from covering the White House what a powerful symbol of the United States around the world, that it began under this very international president, I guess tells you something.

BLITZER: We are going to have extensive live coverage of the ceremony at Joint Base Andrews and all of the activities, as that motorcade eventually moves up to where we are on Capitol Hill.

Much more, much more of our special coverage of the state funeral, as it will be getting under way, right after this.



TAPPER: You're looking at live footage of Special Air Mission 41.

That's the plane carrying the casket of former President George H.W. Bush, as well as some of his family members. The plane has just landed at Joint Base Andrews, right outside of Washington, D.C., as the nation begins the official process of mourning the life and legacy of the 41st president.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at Joint Base Andrews, where the plane just touched down.

And, Jeff, my understanding is that Neil Bush and George W. Bush, former President George W. Bush, are on the plane, and that other members of the family are on the tarmac.

ZELENY: Jake, that is correct.

I can see, standing here watching the plane, is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Marvin Bush, as well, they and their families and really dozens of former Bush campaign staffers from the White House residence, to the West wing, to the staff of Air Force One, to the U.S. Secret Service, standing here in formation, watching as Special Air Mission 41 makes a final turn here. And for President George W. Bush, this is his first time aboard this

airplane in nearly a decade, of course, since leaving Washington. But, as you see this, the Special Air Mission 41, make a final turn here, Jake, I can tell you, it's a crisp, but rather warm December day, a clear blue day for flying.