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Washington Hosts The State Funeral For George H.W. Bush


This is an extraordinary moment and an extraordinary morning in Washington, D.C. Funeral services are about to take place for the late President George H.W. Bush. And here are some of the sounds we heard in Washington moments ago.




GREENE: "Hail To The Chief" also a gun salute as the president's casket was brought down the stairs of the U.S. Capitol. It is now in a presidential hearse, and it's being transported to the National Cathedral, part of the motorcade. All of the Bush family - now, they are going to arrive at the National Cathedral, where we have already been seeing just a roster of high-profile guests arriving, including - moments ago, we saw former President Bill Clinton greeting Al Gore, which speaks to the extraordinary list of guests at this event because, of course, Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in a very bitter campaign. But they formed a friendship after that. So they'll be among the many dignitaries who will be sitting there as these funeral services take place in a short while.


That's right. All five living former U.S. presidents will be in attendance. We already saw, as you noted, President Bill Clinton has arrived along with his wife Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama, Michelle Obama are there already. We saw images of Jimmy Carter. We are joined in studio by NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who is marking this moment with us. And what a moment it is, Scott. This is an extraordinary gathering of people together to mark the legacy of the 41st president.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right. And former President George W. Bush is traveling from the Capitol to the cathedral along with the funeral procession. And I believe we just saw a motorcade arriving at the cathedral, which presumably has President Trump - is carrying President Trump. So all the current and former presidents living will be in attendance for this service along with a large number of foreign dignitaries. Certainly, George H.W. Bush attended a lot of state funerals himself when he was especially Ronald Reagan's vice president. And he's on the receiving end now of a lot of respect around the world.

MARTIN: Can you walk us through what we are likely to see? President Trump, as you noted, will be in attendance, although not speaking. Who will be standing up to give remembrances?

HORSLEY: Former President Bush's biographer, Jon Meacham, will be delivering one of the eulogies. Alan Simpson, the former Wyoming senator, will deliver a eulogy as well. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada will be there. He was a partner with President Bush in negotiating the NAFTA treaty. Carlos Salinas, the former president of Mexico, is also on hand, but we don't expect him to speak. And then of course, finally, George W. Bush will deliver a eulogy.

GREENE: And what a moment for him. I mean, you know, you talk about consequential speeches for a president. This certainly - I mean, just personally - has to be one of if not the most meaningful speeches that George W. Bush has given, capturing the life of his own father.

HORSLEY: We were just watching television pictures of George W. Bush at the foot of the steps on the east side of the Capitol as his father's casket was carried down the steps looking, obviously, emotional, as you would expect. And David, I know you had an opportunity to interview George W. Bush a number of years ago when he published that affectionate tribute to his father, "41."

And he talked at that time about how the nature of our politics is that, as a one-term president, there's always kind of an asterisk next to your name or sort of a feeling that you must not have been terribly successful. And he was sort of making the case that his father was a very successful one-term president, even if he's perhaps sometimes underestimated by historians.

GREENE: Yeah, you just had to keep reminding yourself that you're speaking to a former president about his own father who was president. I mean, that's only happened one other time in the United States of America. But you know, you can, I think - I mean, historians will be looking at that relationship forever when it comes to, you know, the reasons behind George W. Bush going into Iraq and if it had to do with his father's legacy. But you know what really came through to me was the love in that family. I mean, there was - they meant so much to one another. You could tell - George W. Bush - both of his parents meant so, so much to him. And so I think among the many things we're seeing today, you know, putting the consequential nature of a presidential funeral aside, I mean, this is a family that has been very important in American politics and is going through a very difficult, reflective moment.

MARTIN: You know, what a lot of people are reflecting on is the fact that George H.W. Bush represents a different time in politics in a lot of ways and that he didn't treat his political rivals as enemies. He tried to recognize their own multi-dimensional humanity. And he did that after he lost to Bill Clinton, a devastating loss for him. We actually have some tape of President Bush speaking on Election Night 1992. This is a kind of audio diary. Let's listen to this tape.


GEORGE BUSH: What an experience it's been. How privileged I am, how lucky our family has been. How much I miss my mother. And today I'm thinking of Dad, too. As I told Bill Clinton, I feel the same sense of wonder, majesty about this office today as I did when I first walked in here. I've tried to keep it.

MARTIN: That tape aired as part of a documentary from Fox News, which is why you heard the music produced underneath that. But Scott - I mean, it was a huge moment for him, but it was clear in that tape he was so privileged to have been able to serve.

HORSLEY: Absolutely. And as we watch just now, the funeral procession is making its way past the White House here in Washington on its way before turning north up to the National Cathedral. It's interesting. George H.W. Bush was a fellow who liked speed a great deal, a former naval aviator who took off from aircraft carriers and...

MARTIN: Right (laughter).

HORSLEY: ...Famously drove his cigarette boat around the coast of Maine at high speeds, scaring the bejesus out of the...

GREENE: High speeds at late ages, we're talking about. I mean recently.

HORSLEY: Yeah, scaring all of his passengers, including a good number of journalists. He was known to play a round of golf in two hours. It was aerobic golf.

GREENE: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: As he makes this final trip through Washington, the funeral procession is not moving at high speed. It's moving at a very stately speed. And you can see the streets are lined with well-wishers - some of them waving small flags, some of them making heart signs with their hands - showing their affection for the 41st president.

GREENE: Everyone talked about his sense of humor as well. I mean, during his presidency, some people would talk about his verbal gaffes and his style. But behind the scenes, in private, people just said - I mean, he had this really sweet and wicked sense of humor. Commentator Cokie Roberts, who you know is on our program a lot, was talking about - she actually visited with him not so long ago.

And he was talking about wanting to jump out of an airplane yet again. And someone said, you know, Mr. President, your last landing was not that great. And he said, why are you concentrating on that? And so he really - and he just sounds like, especially in these later years, you know, he was a joy to be around.

MARTIN: We are watching a historic moment. The state funeral services for President George Herbert Walker Bush are about to get underway at the National Cathedral here in Washington, D.C. We are watching dignitaries arrive at that cathedral and a motorcade carrying the casket, the body of the former president, making its way from the Capitol building where he has been laying in state. That motorcade will make its way to the National Cathedral where the memorial service is expected to get underway shortly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.