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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

The State Funeral of George H.W. Bush. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 6, 2018 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We learned yesterday, I think it was Willie Geist who tweeted out that Meacham had actually read his eulogy to President Bush, which is sort of an extraordinary thing, and Bush's response was it's a lot about me or words to that effect.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think Jon was very brave to read his eulogy in front of him. And there was another moment like that in the planning when they had him lying in state for 41 hours when he saw that on the schedule, he said do you think anyone will come? It's just --

COOPER: And as you pointed out earlier, some 11,000 people have come in Houston overnight to pay their respects.

GANGEL: He was beloved in this community. There is a number that I learned last summer. Barbara and George Bush raised -- helped to raise more than $1 billion with a "b" dollars for charity in the time after they left office. And a lot of that happened in Texas. They helped MD Anderson. They helped literacy, Points of Light foundation all over the place.

I just want to go back to the music for a minute and Reba McEntire and the Oak Ridge Boys. You know, a lot has been made over the years that the country music thing wasn't real, that he was from Greenwich, Connecticut, a patrician, that this was all to try to make him seem folksy and NASCAR. It was real. He loved country music. I do have a question for Tim McBride, because I never saw this. Did he really like pork rinds or was that made up?

TIMOTHY MCBRIDE, FORMER PERSONAL AIDE TO PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Some of it was legendary, so maybe it was bigger. But he did like pork rinds. He ate them. I'm not sure. The story was put out to all the advance guys. He likes pork rinds. So everywhere he traveled, there was a big bowl of pork rinds. I don't think he ate quite that but he liked pork rinds.

GANGEL: And he listened to country music in the Oval Office.

MCBRIDE: And many of the guests, the country music stars joining today, have campaigned with him in the past, were part of his public life, but were part of the family life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, what I'm really struck by when I listen to Tim and Anita is we see the pictures. Is it Gene Becker who was his long-tyke - I didn't know --

GANGEL: 24 years chief of staff, and before that, by the way, as is always good, she worked for Barbara Bush. So she came, and a former journaliSaint

GREGORY: Covered the Bush family but primarily 43, you know we see the funeral, we see the gathering. And to see the people who had an opportunity to work for this president who were on this team is so special. I have always envied people who have that experience. I love being on the journalistic end, but I envy people who had the experience because they love this family because they give so much to those who have helped them in public service. And I think anybody who works for a president has the special experience, as you all do, that's really a transcendent experience.

ANITA MCBRIDE, DIRECTOR OF WHITE HOUSE PERSONNEL UNDER PRES. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I think it was Mary Kate that mentioned in an earlier segment how at the Houston funeral for Barbara Bush, she was struck by all these volunteers. That's a huge undertaking to take these on. And the military district of Washington does a lot, but you need all hands on deck. Here in Washington, people dropped everything and flew from around the country, who had worked for President Bush, to be volunteers at this funeral. Stuff tickets into envelops so they can get to church, right? I mean, how many people -- we all gathered.

GREGORY: But beyond that, to David's point, this family changed the arc of so many of our lives.

A. MCBRIDE: Look at us.

T. MCBRIDE: Going by -- we met in the White House. But so many and I think someone referenced that in the eulogies yesterday and the tributes. He changed the life of America and was a 20th century founding father. I agree with that line completely. But also changed the lives of so many of us individually and that commitment came out of that, the devotion to the family.

COOPER: One of the Oak Ridge Boys, Duane Allen, actually handed out flyers in the 1960s for one of Bush's early campaigns in Texas. We're just moments away from the final funeral service for President George H.W. Bush. The family arrives next. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:35:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So you're looking at live pictures from inside the Saint Martin's Episcopal Church. The state funeral of the 41st president, President George H.W. Bush, is about to begin. The family members are about to walk in. They'll be welcomed. They'll be greeted by Reba McEntire, the Oak Ridge Boys, among others. And then they will be seated at this memorial service and it will begin. It's expected to last for at least an hour.

There's James Baker, the former secretary of state, his wife Susan. He's already inside. He'll be delivering one of the eulogies. That will be a really, really powerful moment. I'm here with John King, Dana Bash, Mary Kate Cary, who was a speechwriter for the late president for several years.

You know, John, as we get ready for this moment, and they're beginning to wrap up what has been several days of all of us celebrating the life of this amazing man, we're going to be hearing some very, very powerful personal stories.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the personal I think is the key point today, as we're watching Houston and Saint Martin's. So we were in Washington for the presidential, the official, the government, the career, the public service part of George H.W. Bush's life.

[10:40:06] This is his closest friends. He has some former staff members, Secretary Baker, of course, but these are his friends, these are people who are closest to the family. It has been a celebration. You see the smiles at most of these events, even the Bush children smiling because they're talking about their dad. They're seeing friends. I suspect that that arc will change a bit as we go through the day here. Even now, they're going to celebrate the community man, their dad, Houston, with friends. Then they get on the train to come from Houston here, and you're saying good-bye.

Six days now since they lost their dad. It's been a celebration of his life because they so revere him because he had such a full and remarkable life. I do think the arc of the celebration to sadness and farewell will take place as we go through the moving ceremony here at Saint Martin's and then start that 100-mile train ride here to college station.

BLITZER: Dana, what will you be looking for?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think just as John was mentioning, just how personal and how real this is going to be -- not that yesterday wasn't, but yesterday was much more of a, you know, typical what you would expect when you're having a state funeral for a president, somebody who he had a good relationship with on the world stage, the former Canadian prime minister. Somebody who he had a good relationship at the U.S. Senate and of course, a former president, of course, just happened to be his son, but today, it is going to be in the place where he genuinely, he and Barbara Bush, genuinely worshipped, genuinely part of this community at Saint Martin's in the greater Houston. These are the people who he spent his days and his weeks and his months with, doing normal things. Like, you know, praying with them or, you know, asking about their family, getting to know their friends and family in this community. And of course, as we were talking about before, we're going to hear from his grandchildren, the people who not only revered him but really looked at him as the grandfather like all of us who were lucky enough to have grandfathers.

BLITZER: Mary Kate, you're familiar with this church. Tell us about how important of a role it played in the life of the late president. MARY KATE CARY, FORMER GEORGE H.W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: You know, he was a member here for 50 years, as other people have pointed out. George Bush didn't really like to talk about his faith. And Mrs. Bush once told me he lives his faith, he doesn't talk about his faith. And he was very quiet about it, but he had a very strong faith. And I think a lot of it had to do with Saint Martin's. The other church that he belongs to is Saint Ann's by the sea, up in Kennebunkport which is a teeny tiny church. So I think that's why there's not a service there today. But it will be filled with longtime friends who are also the Bakers who are also members at Saint Martin's.

But there's also a lot of people in the crowd who look like to the outside world would be celebrities, but they're actually very good friends of his. Some of these country music stars are very good friends. Chuck Norris is there. He's gone skydiving with President Bush. Crystal Gayle, Larry Gatlin, they've all been to Kennebunkport, the Oak Ridge Boys, as he calls them the Oaks. Reba McEntire has been on family vacations with the entire Bush family. So it's a really tight-knit community here at this church this morning.

BLITZER: The funeral service is set to begin. We'll take another very, very quick break, much more of our very special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:47:47] COOPER: And you're looking inside Saint Martin's Church in Houston, where the service will be starting very shortly. We believe the Bush family right now is in a private prayer with the Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson Jr. and the Reverend Peter Cheney. After that, some of the honorary pallbearers will appear. The grandsons, the family will then be seated in the front rows. They'll be escorted to their seats, and right before 11:00 a.m. on the East Coast, President George w. Bush and his siblings and their spouses will be escorted to their seats and the service will begin with an organ prelude and then America the beautiful. Let's just listen in for a few seconds at the sounds inside the church.

COOPER: Jamie, we just saw Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who arrived, just a short time ago, just some of the more well-known people over there, Reba McEntire, the Oak Ridge Boys who are also going to be performing.

GANGEL: These are people who really considered themselves friends of the president. We have said over the last couple of days that he had thousands of friends. He did.

COOPER: Let's listen.

REV. RUSSELL LEVENSON, JR., RECTOR, SAINT MARTIN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, HOUSTON: In a few moments, we'll begin the service in celebration of the life and faith of our 41st president, and longtime member of this parish. I'm going to ask a few things in the way of courtesy. If you are a cell phone user, I would ask you please turn off your cell phone unless some of you may be expecting an emergency call. That's possible. But if you're not, I would ask you to please turn off your cell phone or put it on vibrate.

COOPER: He's just giving some basic instructions.

GANGEL: So that's Pastor Russ Levenson. He and his wife Laura were very close to the Bushes. He was with President Bush when he passed. He was with them also when former first lady Barbara Bush passed.

[10:50:05] And he actually did the same thing at the beginning of Barbara Bush's funeral because you know these, a reunion in many way. Old friends have been invited to don't see each other. There's a lot chatting in and catching up. At the beginning, he wants to remind everyone, this is a funeral service. This is a memorial service. So he did the same thing for Barbara Bush. He took a break to -

COOPER: Asking for reverends.

GANGEL: Asking for reverends and respect for everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pastor Levenson is a very interesting figure. I happen to know his cousin, a guy named Jim Fitzpatrick, who is a great basketball coach here at Episcopal High School, and his mother comes from a Jewish family, they grew up in Birmingham in the '50s and '60s. It's been remarkable the last couple of days, so wonderful to get to hear him.

COOPER: He's also encouraging everybody to sing along with the hymns. And he said these all were picked by the president.

LEVENSON: We're going to have a few more minutes and then we'll be getting the service started. Thank you.

COOPER: So as I said, there's already been a private prayer that the Pastor Levenson has had with the Bush family on site, right before.

GANGEL: You know, one of the things that we're going to see here today are friends from the sports world, very, very important to George H.W. Bush. Some younger people think of him in his later years, confined to a wheelchair. And you can see right there -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't miss him, can you?

GANGEL: That would be the Oak Ridge Boys coming in and Reba McEntire, who was really one of his favorites. He adored her. And she adored him. They did a lot of campaigning. And they're all shaking hands with President Baker right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jim Baker.

(CROSSTALK)

GANGEL: I'm sorry. You know what. There were times when that was under consideration, the way he carried himself. But James Baker has spoken in the last couple days about President Bush always having his back and about friendship and loyalty. And I know a story from Arnold Schwarzenegger had some difficulties and scandals in his personal life that were very difficult. And President Bush picked up the phone and said, hey, how are you doing? That's a very typical story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have heard that from Senator Simpson yesterday, too.

(CROSSTALK)

GANGEL: He may not have, you know, liked or approved of what was going on, but he wanted you to know he was your friend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had your back.

COOPER: Let's check in with Wolf in Texas. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, as we're looking at these beautiful pictures, Anderson, these are live pictures from inside the Saint Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, this memorial service, funeral service for the 41st president of the United States. Momentarily, it will begin and it will be spectacular, we're told, the music, the words, especially the eulogies. Everything will be so, so powerful and very personal, a moment to say thank you to this great man. John, we're watching the family members. They're finally coming in. They had a little private service with the Reverend Levenson Jr. just before.

KING: To follow up on something Jamie was just saying, a reminder that George H.W. Bush was president in a transitional time in so many ways. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall coming down, we focused on that, but also in our culture and society, the beginning of CNN, the cable age. We didn't have Twitter, we didn't have social media. So many Americans maybe don't know. He actually loved country music. He loved sports. He loved to talk, whether it was with his son George W. or with Tommy Lasorda (ph), or members of the Houston Astros who were there today.

He loved baseball with a passion, loved other sports. They don't know that he cut a check for Dikembe Mutombo when he was trying to build schools and health clinics back home in Africa. That he cut a check to J.J. Watt and said, what can I do to help after the hurricanes hit Houston.

They didn't know these things because it was a different age of his presidency. In the post-presidency, his staff actually did a pretty good job of creating a Twitter profile and a Twitter presence for George H.W. Bush. But a reminder, that as president, we didn't know as much about our presidents. We didn't see as much into their personal lives, because it was, a, a different time, and b, he was a different more reserved man.

BLITZER: On one hand, Dana, we see James Baker, the former secretary of state, who was his White House chief of staff, and then we see just a couple rows behind, the Oak Ridge Boys. It shows the nature of this man.

KING: The range.

BASH: Yes, range is a good way to put it. [10:55:00] But -- and yet they obviously come from very different walks of life, but to hear - you talked about it, Mary Kate, and obviously, just to observe and to know the history, now history of the 41st president, what they had in common is they all felt like and feel like they were so close to him because that's how he made them feel.

CARY: Absolutely.

BASH: And the fact that even the Oak Ridge Boys, for example, he loved their music. He played their music, but he also got to know them as people. And they're there not just to perform but to help pay tribute to their friend.

CARY: Yes, the Oaks told me that when they would go up to Kennebunkport on vacation, they had this ritual with the Bushes. Before everybody would say good night for the evening to turn in, they would all walk down to the gate where the Secret Service kept and touch the gate for good luck and go back in and go to sleep. It was this nice ritual that they had with the Bushes. I haven't heard of other people doing that with them, but it's something they all did together. And I'm sure they are touched to be here today, and they sang "Amazing Grace" at their presidential inaugural. I don't know if you remember that but he loved the Oaks.

I used to write his magazine, article goes write him as president, and one of my favorite ones is why I love country music, by George Bush. I get to learn all about all his favorite country music people. Here comes the family now with the spouses. These are the honorary pallbearers. There are the grandsons and some of the spouses as well. And there's boys first and then the women.

BLITZER: The grandchildren and respective spouses.

BASH: And talked about the 17 grandchildren.

BLITZER: 17 grandchildren.

BASH: There they are and their significant others.

CARY: Followed by Jean Becker, his longtime chief of staff post presidential. She has worked for him for over 20 years. And what a life she's had being so close to him and all the travels around the world. She's an amazing force in their lives.

BASH: And the fact she's walking in with the family tells you volumes.

CARY: I'm sure that was not her choice. I'm sure they insisted.

BLITZER: The rest of the family will be walking in right away as well. They are perfectly, perfectly on time here at the Saint Martin's Episcopal Church. The congregation is getting ready -- they're standing right now. I guess the family will be coming in, and we'll hear the opening words and we'll also hear from the Saint Martin's parish choir, which will be performing "This is my Country" a preamble to his service.

CARY: The best choir in Texas if you ask me. They're spectacular.

BLITZER: We're looking forward to hearing that. We're looking forward to seeing all the spectacular moments and hearing the words of the eulogies that will be delivered by George P. Bush, the eldest of the grandsons as well as the former Secretary of State James Baker.

It's sort of different, John, from what we saw yesterday at the Washington National Cathedral.

KING: This is a spectacular church. Not the grand scope of the National Cathedral, still spectacular. But again, your home in a community that President Bush and Barbara Bush called home, to say farewell, yes to a president, but to a citizen of Houston. And it's sad in many ways that this church is filled yet again just months after it was the farewell to Barbara Bush at the same place.

(CROSSTALK)

CARY: I was there, and this one, they have a dividing line for the invitations. If you were east of the Mississippi, you got invited to the National Cathedral. If you were west of the Mississippi, you come to Saint Martin's. Of the thousands of people who want to come.

BLITZER: These are by invitation only.

CARY: Invitation only, but that's how they kept it -- there's very little of official Washington here because of that dividing line. So this is all Texas. It's going to be a lot of locals.

BLITZER: A friend of the family from California would be at this service.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CARY: Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

BLITZER: The 41st president's children will be walking in. And then the service will begin. That's why so many - that's why all the people at this congregation are now standing, getting ready for the start of the service. In fact, let's listen in.