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Bush makes final journey to Capitol amid pomp and compromise

Bush makes final journey to Capitol amid pomp and compromise

Former president will lie in state there until Wednesday’s funeral service
Bush makes final journey to Capitol amid pomp and compromise
The coffin of former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Dec. 3, 2018.
Photographer: Pete Marovich/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Former President George H.W. Bush made his final journey to the nation’s capital Monday, his coffin arriving at the Capitol as the rays of the setting sun washed over the plaza where family and friends stood solemnly during a 21-gun salute that began four days of commemoration of his life and death.

With all the pomp and pageantry of the first presidential state funeral in 12 years, Bush was welcomed back to the building where he served four years in Congress at the start of a political career that would take him to the heights of power. He will lie in state there until Wednesday’s funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.

President Donald Trump visited the Capitol on Monday night to pay respects to his predecessor. The president and the first lady, Melania Trump, arrived in the Capitol Rotunda precisely at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time and stood in silence before the coffin for two minutes. Trump clasped his hands before him and closed his eyes before delivering a crisp salute and departing.

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Even as the memorials got underway, organizers said that while Trump would also attend the cathedral service, he would not deliver a eulogy, evidently a compromise intended as a nod toward protocol while avoiding a more awkward moment given the animosity between the current president and the Bush family. Instead, former President George W. Bush will deliver the main eulogy for his father.

Despite a history of caustic words, Trump has offered nothing but gracious comments about the former president since his death at age 94 on Friday. He sent the blue-and-white presidential jet to Houston to bring the body to Washington and invited the family to stay at Blair House, the presidential guesthouse opposite the White House. But perhaps in deference to the family’s sensibilities, he waited to visit the Capitol on Monday evening until after the Bushes had left.

At a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Vice President Mike Pence and the Republican leaders of Congress gave short speeches welcoming Bush’s relatives and associates. On hand at the ceremony were George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and their siblings, Neil, Marvin and Doro, as well as their spouses and a passel of grandchildren.

Members of Bush’s administration, including James A. Baker III, Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, John Sununu and others stood waiting for the coffin’s arrival and then entered the Capitol for the ceremony. Among others attending were a half-dozen members of the Supreme Court, including Justice Clarence Thomas, who was appointed by Bush.

The coffin was brought into the Rotunda from the north side, passing bronze statues of Ronald Reagan on the right and Dwight D. Eisenhower on the left. As is customary, the four entrances to the Rotunda were draped in black. After the speeches, George W. Bush led his family in circling the coffin before departing.

“Throughout his life of service, President Bush personified grace,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. “His character was second to none. He reached the heights of power with uncommon humility. He made monumental contributions to freedom with a fundamental decency that resonates across generations. No one better harmonized the joy of life and the duty of life.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and the Senate majority leader, reminded the mourners of Bush’s service as a Navy combat pilot shot down over the Pacific during World War II.

“With his even temperament and hard-won expertise, George Herbert Walker Bush steered this country as straight as he steered that airplane,” McConnell said. “He kept us flying high and challenged us to fly higher still. And he did it with modesty and kindness that would have been surprising in someone one-tenth as tough and as accomplished as he was.”

While Democrats attended the ceremony, they had no speaking roles so Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, took to the Senate floor on Monday to eulogize the former president before the ceremony.

“He embodied the characteristics we admire in a president — integrity, civility, dignity, humility and a sincere interest in bipartisanship,” Schumer said, adding, “His yearning for a kinder, gentler nation seems more needed now than when he first called for it.”

In the corridors of the Capitol, it was a moment for memories — and for letting bygones be bygones. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., was spotted laughing alongside Cheney, who once uttered an obscenity at Leahy on the floor of the Senate.

Leahy recounted Bush’s tenderness after the senator’s son was deployed to the Middle East during the first Gulf War, which Leahy had opposed. Bush, knowing the senator’s position, invited Leahy and his wife, Marcelle, to the White House for a movie and drinks.

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After the president mixed their drinks himself, Leahy said, Bush put his arm around Marcelle Leahy, and said, “I’m thinking of you and I’m proud of him.”

Some who came barely knew Bush, but simply wanted to honor his legacy.

“I think you see the respect in the number of people who are here, a respect for everything he stood for and the grace and dignity with which he approached his job,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who arrived in the Senate in 2007, when Bush’s son was president. She had met the elder Bush only once but said his passing marked the end of “a way of life, and an era.”

Everyone, it seemed, had a story — and many of them involved firsts. Elaine Chao, Trump’s secretary of transportation and McConnell’s wife, made her first trip to Camp David at the elder Bush’s invitation, when she was a deputy secretary of transportation. She watched him play horseshoes, but did not join in. “I was too shy to do so,” she said.

But it was Bush’s fellow Texan, Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, who perhaps summed up the former president most succinctly.

“He’s a Texan and an American,” Cornyn said, “and there’s not much more you can ask for than that.”

The arrival of the coffin kicked off four days of events fraught with tension because of the bitter rift between the current occupant of the White House and the family of a previous one.

Unlike Sen. John McCain, who made clear Trump would not be welcome at his own funeral in September, Bush opted not to break tradition by keeping away the incumbent president. But he did not invite Trump to speak.

Instead, in addition to George W. Bush, eulogies will be delivered by two friends, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. Rounding out the speakers will be Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of the definitive biography of the 41st president.

Trump, who has been sharply critical of the Bush family in the past, made no public complaint about being left off the roster of speakers. “Looking forward to being with the Bush Family to pay my respects to President George H.W. Bush,” he wrote on Twitter.

After the funeral at the national cathedral, Bush’s body will be flown back to Houston for a service at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where he was a longtime member. Baker, the former secretary of state and Bush’s longtime friend, will speak at the church.

The former president will then be taken by a special train named Locomotive 4141 and painted the same blue shade used on Air Force One to College Station, Texas, an echo of the funeral trains used for presidents like Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Bush will be interred on the grounds of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University, laid to rest next to Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, who died in April, and Robin Bush, their daughter who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

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