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Final Farewell to George Herbert Walker Bush. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired December 6, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN's special coverage of the final farewell to George Herbert Walker Bush. Today, the Bush family says goodbye to their patriarch in his adopted home state of Texas. This should be the most personal tribute to the 41st president yet.
We're live here at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.
Any minute now, the Bush family will arrive at their home church, St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where nearly 12,000 Texans came to pay their respects as the president lay in repose overnight.
Delivering the eulogies today, President Bush's best friend, James Baker, his former secretary of state and chief of staff. Also, the president's eldest grandson, George P. Bush. Right after the service, an historic journey to this final resting place. The president and his family will be carried aboard this train painted in the iconic colors of Air Force One, led by an engine called Bush 4141 for a 100- mile journey here to College Station, Texas. He'll be laid to rest on these grounds next to his beloved wife Barbara and their daughter Robin.
Let's go now to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's watching all of this together with us.
Anderson, we're getting details about the president's very, very close friendship with James Baker. The eulogies, we're going to be hearing those shortly.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, James Baker will be eulogizing the president today. We saw really an extraordinary moment yesterday during the service in which the pastor was speaking about Mr. Baker and about their relationship and about an incredibly touching moment that the two shared on the president's final day.
I just want to play some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. RUSSELL LEVENSON JUNIOR, RECTOR, SAINT MARTIN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH HOUSTON: Toward the end, Secretary Baker and I were sitting on the sofa next to one another, a few steps away, and he whispered to me, you know, that man changed my life. A bit later, Secretary Baker was at the foot of the president's bed.
And toward the end, Jim Baker rubbed and stroked the president's feet for perhaps half an hour. The president smiled at the comfort of his dear friend.
Here I witnessed a world leader who was serving a servant who had been our world's leader.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Extraordinary moment. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between these two?
TIMOTHY MCBRIDE, FORMER PERSONAL AIDE TO PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, they were close friends. President Bush relied on Secretary Baker as his most important adviser but also his close friend. And that's what we saw in these final days. And certainly since the months -- in the months since Barbara Bush died.
COOPER: Were they friends before the White House?
MCBRIDE: Yes. .
COOPER: I mean, more than work related?
MCBRIDE: Back to the early days in Houston.
JEFFREY ENGEL, SMU PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY DIRECTOR: But, you know, the way that President Bush, at that point candidate Bush, brought Jim Baker into politics is really critical. Baker had lost his wife to cancer. And as he has said many times, he was spending a little bit too much time at home, perhaps a little bit too much time with a bottle nearby, and George Bush said come join my campaign. You have to get out. He knew what sadness was when you lose someone. You have to get out and keep going. Baker of course said, you know, I'm a Democrat. George Bush said, we can fix that.
ENGEL: And from then on in, you know.
MCBRIDE: He also didn't --
ENGEL: -- campaigns.
MCBRIDE: Sorry, Jeff. He also didn't have experience running campaigns. But George Bush knew that this was somebody he could trust and put his trust in. But also it would lift him up.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: And let's not forget in the end, he learned not only how to run a campaign, but during the recount for his son in Florida, who are you going to call? James Baker.
MCBRIDE: Exactly. GANGEL: He was the one. There's something else that was, I think,
unique in politics in their relationship. And both men talked to me about it. They were much more equals than -- James Baker could say something to George H.W. Bush that nobody else in his cabinet would say. And there was a joke between them because James Baker would be very blunt and honest. And he would be encouraging, you know, do this, and President Bush would finally turn to him and say, well, if you're so smart, how come you're not president?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Baker also worked for Reagan. You know, so Baker was a very deft -- I mean, is a very deft politician. And you could say, as you were just talking about, that he made two Bushes president.
[10:05:03] And tough as nails, tough as they come, and any Democrat --
GANGEL: To see him break down like that was stunning.
BORGER: Like that. Exactly. And any Democrat you'll talk to who fought against him in Bush-Gore and in Florida said, you know, we brought a knife to a gun fight. And he brought the gun.
BORGER: And once they knew that Jim Baker was going to be leading this, they kind of knew that they were in some deep trouble.
GANGEL: And he was influential -- I'm sorry -- in making -- sorry -- George Bush vice president. He's the one who helped convince Ronald Reagan.
BORGER: That's right.
GANGEL: Sorry, David.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. No. I don't have the personal recollections. I met James Baker when I was in "Meet the Press" and doing a show at the Reagan Library, and thinking about that moment yesterday. To meet him is to come face-to-face with that elegance and the reserve, but I'm thinking about humility, too. Right? The humility of death.
Here, these were two, as the pastor said, these were two world leaders. Two big figures on the world stage, Secretary of State Baker and of course President Bush. And in the final moments, they were both brought low, one friend rubbing the other's feet to comfort him before he died.
You can go from, you know, being leader of the free world to that final moment, and that's the intimacy of these moments. We're talking about big public figures but this is the stuff that everybody can access.
And that intimacy was really critical when they were in office. GREGORY: Yes.
ENGEL: Because, you know, there's no way there was any light of difference between the president and Secretary Baker. So the president could very easily send Secretary Baker to a foreign mission and then turn around and focus on everything else because he didn't have to worry that Baker was going to do something off the reservation or do something behind his back.
COOPER: And people --
GANGEL: And world leaders knew that.
COOPER: Right. World leaders just knew that he spoke for the president, which is obviously critical for any representative of the president.
MCBRIDE: And to Jamie's point, there was -- there were very few, maybe Brett Scowcroft came the closest after Jim Baker to speaking truth and telling the president what he needed to hear, even if he didn't want to hear it, but no one really equaled James Baker in that regard.
COOPER: And I think you were saying before that, after Barbara Bush died, that the Bakers really made an effort to be there as much as possible.
GANGEL: Absolutely. There's one story, I was actually talking to the pastor who we'll hear from today, Russ Levenson, and he and his wife and James Baker and Susan Baker were spending an enormous amount of time with President Bush after Barbara Bush passed. But just to go back to Barbara Bush and George Bush's relationship. When she was in her final days, in April, and Russ Levenson, the pastor, was there visiting with them, you know, President Bush would say to him, go upstairs. You know, see how Barbara is doing. And he would go upstairs. And Barbara would look at him and say, go downstairs, see how George, you know, is doing.
GANGEL: So to the very end, they were worried about each other. And I think that James and Susan Baker really felt that they -- don't forget, the family was there, Neil Bush and Maria Bush. They live right across the street. They were there every day. But the bakers made it a point to spend as much time with him as possible in his final months.
GREGORY: I was thinking, too, about, you know, who are you going to call?
GREGORY: I mean, I think It's so important to remember the influence that George H.W. Bush had as president on his son. So again, we keep saying they don't like the dynasty word, but the influence that he had in terms of offering advice, but offering the people who were part of his trust, I mean, there were fundraisers, but they were people who offered counsel, who were doing the same, and of course, you know, President Bush 43 then moved away from some of that counsel and some of those people, but that was critical, and Jim Baker really stands tall as one that was there for the son when he needed it.
MARY KATE CARY, FORMER GEORGE H.W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: George W. Bush said that yesterday.
CARY: He taught me how to be a president with integrity and honor. Just as an example.
BORGER: There's sort of a famous story during recount where they had their first meeting with Jim Baker. And Warren Christopher, who was leading the Democrats, and the Democrats expected Jim Baker to walk in and say well, we'll -- you know, we'll have a little recount here, we'll have a little recount there. And then we'll work it out. And Baker said no, we're not doing any of that.
BORGER: We are not. We have won. And we will prove to you that we have won in Florida. And that's the way it's going to work. And they walked out and the Democrats are sitting there going, OK.
GANGEL: What just happened there? Meet James Baker, ladies and gentlemen.
COOPER: The service will begin in about 50 minutes or so. And we -- you know, we've been saying all morning long, it's going to be much more personal. From everything from the people who are speaking, but also even the music, the Oak Ridge Boys will be singing "Amazing Grace," "The Star-Spangled Banner" is going to be sung.
[10:10:03] "Onward Christian Soldiers." My favorite, "Battle Hymn of the Republic" is going to be sung.
COOPER: So it's going to be a very personal service, really representing former President Bush. Right now the president's closest friends are filing to St. Martin's Episcopal Church, including some celebrities who'll be taking part in the ceremony. How they'll honor him next.
BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from inside St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. The guests have been gathering. Almost everyone is already in place. The family will be coming in very, very soon, but this is going to be a very powerful, powerful memorial service for the 41st president of the United States.
[10:15:03] I want to welcome our viewers once again here in the United States and around the world. John King is with us, Dana Bash is with us, Mary Kate Cary is with us as well, a former speechwriter for the 41st president.
Jessica Dean is just outside the church.
Jessica, I understand a lot of personalities have been invited and will attend the service.
JESSICA DEAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Wolf. We've been watching the buses roll up. People are being asked to park in a different area and they're rolling up here, guests are unloading. We've seen some sports stars here. J.J. Watt from the Houston Texans football team, and also Yao Ming from the Rockets. At 7'6", he certainly stands out among the crowd.
We're also expecting to see Arnold Schwarzenegger here. Of course so many stories that you all have been telling over the last few days about their personal relationship. Chuck Norris was also spotted here in the crowd as well as Larry Gaither of country music fame. So a lot of personalities popping up here. As well as, of course, just close family and friends that are gathered here to honor President George Bush.
As you all mentioned, this is a very personal, personal gathering. And inside, during the service, we're also going to hear from the Oak Ridge Boys. They're going to be singing as well as Reba McEntire, we're told, will be singing the Lord's Prayer. So a lot of personalities showing up here as well as those friends and family -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he's so admired by all of these people. The 41st president, George H.W. Bush.
All right, Jessica, we're going to get back to you as well.
I want our viewers once again to listen, and John, and everyone else, Dana, Mary Kate, this was one of the most powerful moments yesterday that we all saw when former President George W. Bush spoke about his dad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Through our tears let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you. A great and noble man. The best father a son or daughter could have. And in our grief, this smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: You know, they're not supposed to applaud at a memorial service like this in a cathedral, but people couldn't help themselves.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, Jamie was in there yesterday, and she came out and told me that you could feel it in the cathedral, people were just moved to do it, knowing that it's not necessarily the protocol to give somebody applause doing it. Not just because of the speech but because everybody felt the relief that he felt that he got through it, even though it was difficult at the end.
Again, I covered his presidency, and I remember how -- you know, he worked very hard to keep his father at a distance, and vice versa, because he wanted to be his own man. And I remember during the tsunami, when he brought his father, 41, in to work with Bill Clinton, never mind that that was an odd couple that became a very close friendship, but I remember how unusual it was. And maybe looking back, how unusual it was that it was unusual since it was his father, because he tried so hard to not, you know, kind of bring his father into things.
But that was the perfect example of how he saw a need. He saw something that was, you know, horrible that happened overseas, and who else would he choose to go and try to help to raise awareness, to raise money, but his father? Because that was his whole essence.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And to that point, the body language of 43 was always the swagger. He was the Texas swagger. He had that bounce in his step. Around his father, he was much more deferential. Much more the son. The reverence which any of the Bush children speak of their dad is remarkable. We all love our dads, we all miss our dad if you're dad is gone. But the way they treat him. But also just remember, George W. Bush was the black sheep of the family.
I remember in the mid-'90s when I covered the politics in the Associated Press, Jeb and George W. were running for governor, the Bush family thought Jeb was going to be the president. George W. Bush was not a perfect child. He made clear of that, when his dad was vice president, he did some things that embarrassed his parents, frankly. And the fact that he -- you know --
KING: Yes, Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers -- former Dodgers great, their manager. The fact that what George W. Bush spoke of is that, you know, he was not the perfect child, and sometimes the timing of his misdeeds was very bad for his parents, but the love, just how the love and the constant love and support he received from both of them, and so what you saw yesterday was -- any time I was around George W. Bush and he talked about his dad, the eyes, just immediately, they just well up because of the pride.
BLITZER: You could see that love. CARY: Yes. Yes. And over the years, I heard many stories from the
family, you know, all these false alarms where we almost lost President Bush, starting, what, 10 years ago?
[10:20:06] When was the first time we almost lost him? It was very hard on George W. Bush. He's a very emotional guy. And people don't really know that. There's other people in the family who are known more for that. And so I think yesterday was very hard for him in front of official Washington in the National Cathedral.
I think today is going to be a much easier day for him. He's going to be surrounded by all of his Texas family friends, and even Reba McEntire and the Oak Ridge Boys are very dear friends of the Bushes. Reba McEntire has been on vacation with the family. The Oak Ridge Boys have been to Kennebunkport many times. So I think it's going to be a lot easier today for George W.
BLITZER: And, you know, John, a lot of athletes are there.
BLITZER: He was a big sports fan.
BLITZER: The 41st president. You saw Dikembe Mutombo from the NBA just showing up.
KING: A big sports fan but also --
BLITZER: There he is right there.
KING: Dikembe heading in, who played for the Houston Rockets at one point. A very long and distinguished career. But what does Dikembe Mutombo do? Gives back to his home country. Charity. Now J. J. Watt is there from the Houston Texans. Think about after the hurricane and all the money he raised. George H.W. Bush was a point of light. He was involved in all this, he supported all this. He helped bring attention to it.
Yes, he was also a huge sports fan. I remember checking in with his longtime spokesman Jim McGrath over the years, including this year when the Red Sox beat the Astros. I would check in how was 41 doing, he says he's enjoying it, he's going to watch the Astros beat your Red Sox again. Didn't turn out that way this year, my Red Sox. Last year, I'm very happy when the Astros kicked my Red Sox out of the playoffs. That -- 41 was a fan. And you see it. He wore the socks and he tried to go to the games.
BLITZER: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California is arriving right now as well. A very, very close friend of the late president.
And I just want to add one thing about Dikembe Mutombo. You're absolutely right. Since retiring, he's done enormously important work, in the NBA and in Africa. I've been involved. You've been involved.
BLITZER: They've done really important work in Africa.
There's James Baker, by the way. He's already inside, and his wife. You know, James Baker, this is going to be a moment, you know, that we're all going to remember.
BASH: Yes, no question. You know, look, in politics, you hear, oh, he's his friend. She's her friend. They go back. They have relationships. But you never know if it's a political friendship or a real friendship. It doesn't get more real than this friendship.
CARY: Bake and Jefe.
BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures from inside St. Martin's Episcopal Church. This memorial service is about to get under way. We're going to see the Bush family, they're going to be taking in their seats at the church momentarily. Lots more of our very special coverage right after this.
[10:27:21] COOPER: And you're looking at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston. The funeral for George H.W. Bush was going to be taking place momentarily. All the guests pretty much are seated. They were supposed to be there by 10:30 East Coast Time. The Bush family is going to be arriving in the next 10 minutes or so.
Jessica Dean is standing by outside.
Jessica, am I correct, we expect the Bush family in about 10 minutes?
DEAN: Yes. That's exactly right, Anderson, but we have seen some members of the Bush family. Neil and Pierce Bush, we're told, are here. And then as you mentioned, other members of the Bush family will continue.
As we have seen over the past few days this is meticulously planned out. You know exactly where everyone will be sitting and then, of course, President George W. Bush and his wife Laura coming in there at the end. But again Neil and Pierce Bush are here. And then we will hear from various members of the Bush family during today's service.
George P. Bush, the grandson, the current land commissioner of Texas, will be speaking about his grandfather. Again, he's the only elected Bush right now across America. So again, passing the torch on to the next generation.
But, Anderson, we expect to see more members of the Bush family in just the next few minutes.
COOPER: It's also interesting, Jessica, I mean, so much of the music that's going to be played today, I actually expected some of it to be played yesterday, but we're going to be hearing "America the Beautiful," "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies." "This is My Country." The "Star Spangled Banner." The "Battle Hymn of the Republic." "Onward Christian Soldiers," "Amazing Grace."
Amazing, you know, particularly, I love all of those hymns. So I think it's -- that adds to the kind of personal nature of this service.
DEAN: There's no question about that, that everything was hand- picked. That President Bush knew exactly what he wanted. And there's certainly, as you say, a theme here. Beautiful music that we'll be hearing and certainly that personal touch. And then we're also going to hear from people like Reba McEntire and the Oak Ridge Boys who are going to add some more -- you know, "The Lord's Prayer," "Amazing Grace," songs like that that really will just make it beautiful and incredibly personal today.
COOPER: Yes. A lot to watch for and to listen for.
Here back with our group, Jamie, you know, we have been talking so much about James Baker. He obviously is going to be speaking. Not -- I'm not sure how long he has been working on his speech.