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tv   CNN Tonight With Don Lemon  CNN  November 30, 2018 11:00pm-12:00am PST

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are always important, but never more so important than the time that we're living in. we heard former president bill clinton use the words "total class." and we heard former president barack obama, a democrat, say a gentleman. and i think civility, his graciousness, the way he handled himself is a role model we all will miss. >> jamie, dana, thank you. >> this is cnn breaking news. >> i'm don lemon. it is the top of the hour. here is our breaking news. the 41st president of the united states, george h.w. bush has died at the age of 94. the flag at the white house flying at half-staff right now as flowers pile up outside the bush home in houston, texas.
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tributes are pouring in from president trump and former presidents barack obama and bill clinton. as well as former vice president al gore and condoleezza rice, james baker, and so many more. the nation mourning the man who devoted his life to service to his country and to his family. cnn's john king now with the story of george h.w. bush, the politician. ♪ >> reporter: it was the defining promise of his presidential campaign. >> read my lips. no new taxes. >> reporter: that was his 1988 republican convention speech. just two years later, during the buildup to the gulf war, he broke it, knowing it would infuriate conservative, and perhaps cost him his job. >> as we speak, our nation is standing together against saddam hussein's aggression. but here at home there is
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another threat, a cancer gnawing away at our nation's health. that cancer is the budget deficit. >> all his political people said don't raise taxes, but president bush was convinced he had to and put his t country ahead of his own political standing, agreeing in the end to a compromise that was $3 in cuts to every dollar in taxes. >> there is a time when you have to make tough decisions, give a little to get what is best for the country. >> if you do the math, you don't get the clinton era balanced budgets without the bueschesh e taxes. he was the last world war ii veteran to win the white house. he served a couple of terms in congress, lost a couple of u.s. senate races and was republican party chairman during the wilderness years of watergate. he decided to challenge jimmy carter in 1980, but an incumbent
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president wasn't his biggest problem. >> i am paying for this microphone. >> despite winning the iowa caucus, bush couldn't sustain what he called the big mo, as in momentum. >> i ronald reagan do solemnly swear -- >> and he lost the nomination to reagan. when reagan couldn't convince gerald ford to join the ticket, he turned to bush, who accepted. despite eight loyal years as vice president, nearly derailed bush's 1988 campaign. by the time he locked up the nomination, bush was 17 points behind the democratic nominee michael dukakis. >> three months ago i remember some of the great publications in this country had written me off. >> reporter: bush and his allies made up the ground by attacking dukakis as too liberal, soft on defense they said and soft on crime. >> a revolving door prison giving furloughs to first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. >> one was willie horton, who
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murdered a boy in a robbery. >> in the end dukakis lost 40 states and bush was president. president bush was immensely popular after the 1991 gulf war, but the glow faded fast. by 1992, voters were frustrated with the sour economy and impatient with the president who at times seemed out of touch with their concerns. >> how has the national debt personally affected each of your lives? >> -- maybe i'll get it wrong, but you're suggesting that somebody has means that the national debt doesn't affect them? i'm not sure i get it. help me with the question and i'll try to answer it. >> businessman ross perot was rich enough to mount a third party challenge. >> wherever the seeds of freedom are sprouting. >> look members of the debate audience in the eye and feel their pain. >> but as time moves on, george h.w. bush will be remembered more kindly than the voters
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treated him in 1992. john king, cnn. >> let's bring in now mary-kate kerry. she was a speech writer for george h.w. bush and a continuing op-ed writer at the "new york times" who served in the george h.w. bush administration. good evening to both of you. it's so good to have you on. mary, if i may start with you, and i may say my condolences since you worked with this president. you're a speech writer from 1989 to 1992. what do you feel like tonight? >> i am actually full of joy in a weird way for a tremendous american life. and as president bush said it many times, he led a life of meaning and adventure through service to others. and i talk about him all the time to young people across this nation, and i say to them, you know, you're 16 years old. what do you think you could
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learn from a man who is 94 years old. and there is two things you can learn. one is that this amazing life of service, he often said that politics is a path to public service. and because of things like "house of cards" and some of the other things in our culture today, politics has gotten kind of a bad name. but i believe that young people are tremendously drawn to public service and making the world a better place. and as jamie said earlier, the president often said from now on in america, no definition of a successful life will not include service to others. and he certainly lived that. and the second thing they can learn is that one person can make a tremendous difference in the life of this country george bush had a front row seat. what he did at the cia, watergate as head of the
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republican national committee, vice president, president, and then afterwards as a great humanitarian, a sportsman, father and a grandfather, just a tremendous life that affected so many people in this country. that's a great lesson for young people that one person really can make a tremendous difference. it's a great loss for our country, but i prefer to think about all the things we gained because of him. >> peter, you served in the administration as well. you were the deputy speech writer, am i correct in the administration? >> i was deputy speech writer for his son, and then i worked in the office of national drug control policy for 41. >> talk to me about -- 41 is who we're here to celebrate the life of and remember and his legacy. what do you remember most about? >> i think what i remember most about him is he was a man of so
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many parts. he was just a deeply impressive man. we lost one of the great ones. he was a person who was a remarkable combination of characteristics in my mind there was strength and dignity and humility and gentleness, and as a president he was a person of a lot of wisdom and prudence, conservative virtue and real steadiness at a time when the world and the united states needed steadiness at the helm. i don't think he was a great natural politician, but i do think he was great public servant. and he had the right order of the loves. st. augustin has a line the right word of the loves. and he had the right ones. family and friends and faith and country. you know, he is a person who seemed to belong to a different generation, an older generation,
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and in many ways i think a better generation. i looked to him as a person and the feelings i have tonight are gratitude for what he did and admiration for who he was. >> some residents more than other others, when they speak you feel the gravitas, you feel the comfort in their voices in times of sadness and sorrow in the country. george h.w. bush was one of those men, one of those voices. remember the thousand points of lights speech, which was one of the greatest in modern history. as a matter of fact, the former president barack obama reference ared it in his statement of the passing of george h.w. bush. he said after 73 years of marriage, george and barbara bush are together again now, two points of light that never
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dimmed, two points of light that ignited countless others with their example, the example of a man who even after commanding the world's mightiest military -- and he goes on to talk about that he got more out of being one of the founders of the ymca than he did out of being the president of the united states. but writing for him, tell me what that was like. >> well, he had a great very unique voice. and a lot of it was based on his self-deprecating humor and his humility, which is surprising for a man who david mccullough once said to me was the most qualified man to be the president of the united states outside of the founding fathers, and yet he was deeply humble. as your viewers heard earlier, his mother really ingrained in him a feeling of humility and not bragging. many times in his speeches, if we had too many times the word "i" he would circle it and write
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across the top of the speech, too many is. he felt as president of the united states, it was more important to use the word "we" in a democracy. it was part of his character not to talk about himself. his mother called it the great i am. don't talk about the great i am. but he also thought that it was deeply unfair to say i want this, i want that as president. he thought that that was unfair to the people who actually had to go do the work of implementing the policies. so he would always say we, we're going to do this together. here what's we're going to do as a nation. and he thought that was important for our democracy. he also felt that in terms of his humility, self-deprecating humor was very important. so at these big dinners, the white house correspondents dinner, the alfalfa dinner, the gridiron, he never pointed out people in the crowd and belittled them or made fun of his political opponents, which is very much in vogue the last few years. he stuck more to making fun of
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himself, making fun of the fact that he hated broccoli or making jokes about the family dog, this sort of thing because he thought that was good politics and everybody loves self-deprecating humor. it's a very becoming thing in the most powerful people in the world. and so it was great fun to write for him. it was the best job i'll ever have, and i'm going miss it terribly, because he was tremendously fun to write for. a wrote a lot of the less important speeches. i did what i consider the fun stuff. it with does girl scout of the year awards and the spelling bee winners and the turkey pardonings. and i think he thought it was fun too. so we had a good time together with things like that. it with australia great joy, because i think that was for him the fun stuff of the job. seeing the real people and not necessarily being with all the big muckety-mucks all the time. it was great fun to write for him. >> some of us love broccoli,
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others didn't, especially this president. in 1990 he banned broccoli on air force one, saying he had hated it since he was a kid. peter, listen, you also served in the reagan administration, correct? >> i did. >> talk to me about their relationship. >> it was a very close relationship, and one of deep mutual respect. they were different people, obviously, and reagan had a real sparkling personality. it was interesting what david said. george h.w. bush could have fit in the founding generation because he was a person who had so much experience and talented. he was deeply loyal to ronald reagan, and reagan praappreciat that. he was different kind of conservative than reagan, but he added a lot. he came in with a loft foreign
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policy experience that reagan did not have, and i think he was a steadying voice in the reagan administration, and a person that president reagan really trusted, playly on national security matters. and that shows when he became president as well. >> i want to play this now. this is george h.w. bush the letter to president-elect and mrs. reagan written november 10th, 1980. you are vice president-elect. >> this will be all right for me, i think. >> this is just a quick thank you. thanks for making us feel so welcome. thanks for the joy of working with you. thanks for those little touches of grace and humor and affection that make life sing. please let us know that we both want to help in every way possible. i will never do anything to embarrass you politically. i have strong views on issues and people, but once you decide a matter, that's it for me, and
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you'll see no leaks in evans and novak bitching about life. at least you'll see none out of me. and he didn't. >> well, there you go. in the days to come, mary-kate, as the nation mourns and the leaders gather together, it's going to put a new focus on the values of president george h.w. bush, the service, the family, his service to country, his honor. that's what we need to focus on right now. >> boy, isn't that the truth? the values that he lived are in short supply these days. and like you said, i talk to young people about it all the time. one of the great stories from the reagan years was when president reagan asked him to be his vice president, it was really because vice president bush was then ambassador bush, was the number two finisher in the primaries.
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and was the last man standing as they came out of the california primary. and that's a little unusual these days to have the second-place finisher be the vice presidential choice, but it was a great way to unify the republican party. and it lasted for 12 years, you know. it was unusual. it was not since martin van buren was the vice president of the united states and then elected president of the united states immediately after a two-year term. so that was a great testament, as pete was just saying to vice president's loyalty. and there was some hard feelings i think between the reagan and bush people when they came into office that first year as vice president, and vice president bush said to his staff basically, if i can be loyal to the president, you can. and that was the end of that. and there was tremendous loyalty between the two staffs for the rest of the reagan administration. and that's just one example. there is so many values like that that he lived. and it's really remarkable the
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way he chose to live his life and the great example he gave us, but all the time with great humor. one of the things mrs. bush once said is every time she walked past the oval office when he was vice president, she only heard uproars you laughter, and that also built the loyalty of the staff. if you have a god time at work, you tend to want to come back the next day. he was very good at that. the number of pranks he pulled, the notes he was passing during meetings, there is legendary stories of president bush's great sense of humor. and i don't think the american people knew that so much about him, but certainly the people who worked for him did. and that's what makes so many people who have worked for him for generations -- i wouldn't say generations, but decades, how long bush world has been with him because a lot of it has to do with his sense of humor and the loyalty that he showed up and down, whether you were the queen of england or the gardner, he treated everyone the
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same. and a great lesson for that and loyalty goes up and down. and he certainly lived that israel in life. >> but his family has talked about his personality that many of us don't see or didn't see at all. you can speak to that as well, peter. >> well, that's right. it is interesting. sometimes people who have tremendous personal qualities, aren't conveyed as well. he was actually one of the most impressive people you would ever meet when you saw him, a person who is in command, and really radiated a kind of strength, as well as a dignity. i wanted to say something else too, because a lot of people have said, and rightly so, how deeply he loved his family. the other thing is how deeply his family loved him. it was a remarkable thing. i know both of his sons, two of his sons, jeb and president bush 43, and they not only loved him, they revered him.
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and i think that all of them, of his kids would say he was the greatest man that they ever met. and the people who knew him best loved him most. and that is really quite a tribute there is a lovely poem that steven spender, who is a british poet of the 20th century wrote about the trades of heroes who passed away. he begins by saying i think continually of those who were great. they left a vivid air signed with their honor. and george h.w. bush left a vivid air signed with his honor. and we'll miss him. >> peter a winner, mary-kate kerry, thank you for your time. >> thank you. cnn's jake tapper has the story of a very modern presidency of george h.w. bush. >> reporter: historians say that president george h.w. bush's international dealings set the gold standard for the modern presidency. >> it is a big idea, a new world
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order where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind. >> reporter: president bush charted u.s. policies that promoted eastern europe's peaceful emergence from communism, the fall of the berlin wall, the breakup of the soviet union, and the end of u.s./soviet proxy wars in nicaragua and el salvador. >> some felt we were so infat yated with the change in eastern europe that we're in the process of neglecting this hemisphere. and that is not the case. >> reporter: president bush used u.s. military power to remove a drug-dealing strong man, manuel noriega, who was turning panama into a narco state. and in what at the time was the biggest u.s. military operation since the vietnam war, president bush put together an international coalition that liberated kuwait after it had been invaded by saddam hussein's iraq. >> the skies over baghdad have
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been illuminated. >> after over five weeks of aerial bombardment, ground forces pushed the iraqi army out of kuwait in just three days. >> we stood our ground because the world would not look the other way. ambassador al sabah, tonight the gulf is free. man of the year still sums up his presidency, the uplifting world leader on the international stage, and the one in washington, d.c. weighed down by a sputtering economy and d.c.'s endless political wars. president bush tried to be bipartisan from day one, i'm putting out my hand to you, mr. speaker. i'm putting out my hand to you, mr. majority leader. >> democrats who controlled both houses of congress and sometimes even his fellow republicans slapped that hand away. alarmed by then record deficits,
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the president broke his most memorable campaign promise. >> read my lips. no new taxes. >> reporter: convinced it was in the national interest to compromise, he agreed to a bipartisan deal, cutting spending and raising taxes. he broke a major campaign pledge and then saw the deal shot down by house conservatives. a second attempt passed, but did not stop the recession in time. bush's nomination of clarence thomas to the u.s. supreme court provoked another acrimonious fight. democrats dug up claims of sexual harassment. >> this is a circus. it's a national disgrace. and from my standpoint, as a black american, as far as i'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks. >> reporter: and bush's approval rating, an unheard of 91% by the end of the gulf war slowly eroded. the recession he could not stop ended up costing him a second
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term. but president bush left indelible marks on the nation as well as the world. he signed the clean air act of 1990, calling it one of his administration's greatest domestic achievements. he also signed the americans with disabilities act, prohibiting job discrimination and to this day opening buildings and public transportation to millions of americans. it is no wonder that modern presidents from both parties looked up to him. >> mr. president, i'm one of millions of people who have been inspired by your passion and commitment. we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you, and we can't thank you enough. >> jake tapper, cnn, washington. >> let's bring in now cnn's jeff zeleny. jeff zeleny is traveling with the current president right now. it's 4:23 in the morning where you are. obviously folks are not reacting, but they will be once they wake up, because this is where the world leaders are gathering. >> don, there is no question. and there is every -- as we look at every chapter of the life of
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president george w. bush, at 94, had such a big stamp on the world, and kept such a close eye on the world events. and certainly a summit like this here at the g20 summit, a group of world leaders, so many things have changed. of course the tenor and tone of politics have changed so much. don, as we sit back and really reflect and sort of relearn some points of president bush's time in office, i am struck by i think something that will stand out in history. it is that relationship starting with president reagan. he ran against president reagan, governor reagan at the time in the 1980 primary. he was defeated, and then he was picked at the vice president. he was a loyal vice president, as we heard earlier there, and then he of course went on to serve one term of his own, but was defeated by governor bill clinton of arkansas. that was a painful defeat for a sitting president, who had been a vice president.
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but i think there is a lesson in what came next. the strong bond that the bush family, president george h.w. bush and barbara bush formed with bill clinton was one that we have not seen the likes of in our current politics. they became so close. they became a deep family members of one another, and it became something that, again, we've not seen before. and i was looking through some of the words and writings that both of them said. and this was a mutually agreeable love affair if you will. and this is something that bill clinton said about george h.w. bush. he said, "this man whom i always liked and respected and ran against him in a campaign, in some ways i literally came to love. and i realized all over again how much energy we waste fighting with each other on things that don't matter. he can virtually do no wrong in my eyes, even though every five
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years he makes me look like a wimp by jumping out of airplanes. i love you." so saying virtually he can do no wrong in his eyes, that is something that is totally different from our politics of today. different from our politics of this moment. so as we go in the coming days to celebrate and remember george h.w. bush, we would be remiss to not put it in the current context of today's politics and see how different indeed it is. we have read of course the statements from president trump that came out here early in the morning hours here in buenos aires, struck all the right tones, of course. but we should also remember the bushes did not attend the trump convention. some members of the bush family did not indeed vote for donald trump. of course they wanted jeb bush to win the republican nomination. it's a different era in this party's politics, the tenor and
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tone is so different than it was in the era of george h.w. bush. >> and we should say that both former bush presidents did call to congratulate trump soon after the new york businessman's win over clinton. >> indeed. >> he wrote trump a letter apologizing for not being able to attend his inauguration because of his poor health, but he didn't attend. but still, you know, he is a man of such class and such dignity. do we have a picture of the presidents in the oval office? jeff, considering what you said, it's hard to imagine, but i would hope that we could get become to a point where this photograph can happen to have the living presidents all gathered and getting along in the oval office at once. >> no question about that. this is something, don, in terms of historians and the lives of presidents, this president's club there, this is something that does not happen often at all. and i remember this moment very well, covering the barack obama
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administration, seeing this happen in the early days of 2009 when he was going to be taking office you. saw these presidents come together. jimmy carter there of course off to the side. that got some attention at the time. but boy, a quaint notion to the divisiveness of our current time. the time we see presidents come together essentially are the openings of presidential libraries or at their funerals. and president george h.w. bush of course the longest living president will be laid to rest. it will be celebrated over the coming days. will be eulogized by presidents of both parties, and this will also be something that will be interesting to see how president trump, donald trump reacts to this. of course, he was not invited to the funeral of barbara bush. we will see if he will be to this funeral. but, don, setting that aside, it
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certainly is a time to take stock of this, of this moment here. and just talking and texting tonight with members of the bush family who i know and have covered for so many years, they are remembering him with a smile, and they are urging others to do so as well. boy, what life well lived at 94. >> well put, jeff zeleny. buenos aires with the trump -- traveling with the trumps. jeff, thank you. let me ask you one more question. you know, of course his own son, the bush family and the adams family, the only two american families to produce two presidents, right? >> no question about that. this is something that absolutely is something that we've not seen very often in our history at all. and who knows if we will again. it certainly is possible, but given today's outsider nature of our politics, we certainly like
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politicians who certainly do not come from the inside. it certainly would be hard to imagine that a son would be elected again. but, don, we do have that statement from the president, and let's look at that again, because i do think it is instructive here, this statement that president trump issued a short time ago. let me look for that right here. >> i have it. -- when you find it, just let me know and i'll let you jump. in president george h.w. bush who passed away last night. through his essential authenticity, disarming wit and unwavering commitment to faith, family and country, president bush inspired generations of his fellow americans to public service, to be in his words, a thousand points of light, illuminating the greatness, hope
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and opportunity of america to the world. jeff? >> and don, he says this. president trump always found a way to set the bar higher. he says as a young way, he captained the yale baseball team, and then went on to serve as the youngest aviator in the united states navy during the second world war. later in life, he rose to the pinnacle of american politics as a congressman from texas, envoy to china, director of central intelligence, vice president of eight years to president ronald reagan, and finally president of the united states. with sound judgment, common sense and unflappable leadership, president trump guided our nation and the world to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the cold war. as president, he set the stage for decades of prosperity that have followed, and through all that he accomplished he remained humble that gave him a clear sense of direction.
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along with his full life of service to country, we will remember president bush for his devotion to family, especially the love of his life, barbara. his example lives on and will continue to stir future americans to pursue a greater cause. he closes like this. our hearts ache with his loss, and we with the american people send our prayers to the entire bush family as we honor the life and legacy of 41. so learn poignant words, a history lesson as we will be continuing for several days to come from president trump there. certainly a different brand of politics. but, don, as the g20 summit continues here in the morning with world leaders gathering, it will be a moment also to look at the impact president george w. bush had on the world, and that is certainly a large one. >> jeff zeleny, thank you very much. i appreciate that. i want to bring in kaylee hartung who is outside the bush residents in houston. hello to you. when last we saw you, there was
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a memorial growing outside the residence, and you said people have been coming out and looking across the street at the residence. and i'm not sure if folks are gathering. it is late. it's 2:30 in the morning there. >> that's right, don. i will say there are more members of the media in the streets surrounding the bush residence than there are onlookers. but you there will be people in this neighborhood familiar with both george h.w. bush and his late wife barbara, who will wake up to this news in the morning and recognize that their neighbors they came to know across the street aren't there. that that chapter has ended for the bush family here in the tanglewood neighborhood. we were reminded tonight in a statement by the mayor of houston that the bushes could have gone anywhere when they left the white house, but in 1993, they chose to make this their beloved city their home. the place where his political career began when he was the chairman of the harris county republican party. and over the last couple of
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deca decades, george and barbara, the two of them, as the mayor said, they became the most esteemed and relatable neighbors to so many houstonians. we came to understand after barbara's passing when you would come across folks in houston, it was not unusual to find someone with a story of seeing that couple at a baseball game supporting the houston astros or seeing them at a football game here, supporting the houston texans. they were boosters of everything houston. and you are to imagine that there will be people who look back on their experience november 1, one month ago and remember the last time george h.w. bush was seen in public, because there were undoubtedly houstonians who were voting alongside george h.w. bush when he did that, he early voted. and his spokesman tweeted this photo saying the 41st president accompanied by his two best friends jim baker and sully discharging his civic duty and
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voting today. and that was the last time that george h.w. bush was seen in public here in houston. sully there, his guide dog who had come into his life more recently. but this will be an emotional period for the city of houston as so much attention will descend upon the city. it is our understanding that in the coming days, the bush family will be congregating here there will be a private service at st. martins episcopal church, the church that they attended together. the private service will be held in that church a couple of blocks away from here in a few days. and then president bush's bloody be taken to washington, d.c. there he will lie in repose this the u.s. capitol, as we sao have seen so many formidable men who have come before him do, and then a service will be held at the national cathedral in washington, d.c. and then his body will be returned back home here to houston. a larger service at st. martins episcopal church, and then of course he will be laid to rest
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in college station at his presidential library. don, it is several days ahead here in houston to remember the president, and of course in washington also. this will be a very personal experience for so many people here in houston who came to know him and love him. >> and we will follow. houston tonight at the bush residence. we appreciate that. and we should, as jeff zeleny said before. his family members are remembering him with a smile, and they want us to as well. george h.w. bush was the 41st president and the father of the 43rd. cnn's wolf blitzer has a revealing portrait of father and son in the white house. >> always an honor to be introduced by president of the united states, especially when he is your dad. >> reporter: it's only happened once before, the country's second president john adams saw his son john quincy adams become sixth president.
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almost 200 years would pass before adams 2 and 6 were succeeded by bush's 41 and 43. >> dad taught me how to be a president. before that he showed me how to be a man. in 41, it is awesome that you are here today. >> reporter: much of america has changed between the era of the adams years and the era of the bush years, but not everything. it's still easier for a president to take criticism than see it dished out the members of his family. >> as you told me many times, whenever either one of your sons is criticized. >> much more hurtful than when i used to be in that crossfire. much. it's not even a close call. >> reporter: sometimes the roles were reversed. >> mother used to call me. you need to call your dad. why? because he just read some editorial and he is upset. so i call him and he said can you believe what they said about you? and i said dad, don't worry about it. i'm doing fine. i'm doing fine. >> reporter: in their published letters, as well as in their books and interviews we have a
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revealing behind-the-scenes portrait of life in the white house. >> it mattered to be able to get, you know, these notes from dad or phone calls from dad, because in that he was president, he knew what the pressures of the job were like, and he knew moments can be very trying. and to have him interject some humor and/or a love note really made a huge difference during my presidency. >> reporter: the bushes' books, letters and interviews give us personal glimpses of the most dramatic days of their presidency, including a family visit that ended on september 11th, 2001, the day terrorists hijacked four u.s. airliners. >> flying to minneapolis, they grounded the plane i was on. it was a private plane, landed there. the next thing i know, there was that little town outside of milwaukee. about eight hours later, the president called up and said where are you, dad? i said where your people made me land. >> reporter: the relationship between bush 41 and bush 43
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includes lessons for all of us. >> so here's a guy who runs for senator of texas twice and lose and runs for the president of the united states in a primary against ronald reagan in the state of texas and loses and ends up being president. and all the time was still a great father. in other words, defeat didn't define george bush. there is something greater in life than chalking up political victories or political losses. it taught me and i'm confident it taught jeb that you don't need to fear failure. >> reporter: george h.w. bush not only lived to see one son in the white house, he also watched another son seek the same office. >> my brothers and sister are different than me, but i'm not going to go out of my way to say that my brother did this wrong or my dad did this wrong. it's just not going to happen. i have a hard time with that. i love my family a lot. >> reporter: life, love, loyalty, and one family's unique contribution to the history of the united states.
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>> i want to thank my dad, the most decent man i have ever known. all my life i have been amazed that a gentle soul could be so strong. dad, i am proud to be your son. >> reporter: wolf blitzer, cnn, washington. >> i want to bring in now cnn presidential historian timothy naftali. timothy is on the phone. a gentle soul can be so strong. truer words have never been spoken. >> when you think about george h.w. bush, and we'll be talking about a lot about him in the next few days, he believed that the white house, that the office of the president was bigger than he was. he was someone who was in awe of the office and believed it had dignity and he had to lend a dignity to it. and when you think about is personal humility.
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at times it seems odd that someone who was so ambitious -- i mean, after all, as we heard in that piece, george h.w. bush ran for office quite a few times and lost quite a few times. but that ambition was an ambition to be a public servant. he had a sense that government, though he was a conservative, that government could do good. that's one important thing about his form of republicanism. he believed that perhaps the government should be smaller and more efficient than a democrat might create, but in the end, the government, the people needed good government. and he had ambitions to be the one to give them that good government. it's remarkable. he is the end, he is the end of the world war ii generation in power. sadly, i think, at least for the moment, he is the last of the good government republicans. and for him, public service was
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helping people through the federal government. you could do it in private ways. he talked about a thousand points of light. he believed in volunteerism. but he also understood that government could play a role in our world, and that it could do good for all of us. that's something you don't hear much from republicans anymore. >> you know, timothy, you wrote the book on george h.w. bush. what do you think -- the defining aspect of his presidency, what do you think? >> well, i think jon meacham wrote a great book too, but i had the -- you know what, don, what struck me was that how much i misjudged him. i was in graduate school at the time. he ran against bill clinton. the country seemed to need a change. he seemed so tired. george h.w. bush of 1992, he looked tired. he didn't seem to have a message. he didn't really know why he
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wanted to be president for another four years, but when i looked over the decisions he'd make, i realized that though he was very bad at explaining what he was doing, he was one of the poorest communicators, he followed one of the greatest communicators in american history, ronald reagan, and he preceded another great communicator, bill clinton. but he was very bad in explaining what he was doing. but in his quiet humble way, he made some of the toughest decisions that any american president in the modern ages ever made. first of all, how do you handle the collapse of the soviet empire? there were so many ways to do it wrong. there are so many ways that the american president could have made mikhail gorbachev's job harder. after all, gorbachev is the one who makes the big decisions, but we were his partner. george bush got it right. the gulf war. you know, george bush, there are
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very few people around him who wanted the united states to interve intervene, to throw saddam hussein out of kuwait. there was an uncertainty in his administration as to what to do. well, he decided we were going to do it. he decide not only are we going to do it, we're not going to do it alone, we're going to do it in a new way that sets the standard for the world. we're going to do it in way to show petty dictators around the world that just because the cold war is over doesn't mean they have the chance now to use force to change borders. not only did he get the west together, but he decided working with his buddy jim baker to bring the russians, the soviets alongside us. now it seems people forgotten how hard that was. well, that was amazing in 1991. '90-'91. because the soviets had been saddam hussein's backer. but he managed through patient diplomacy to bring on side the soviets so you had the soviets, our former adversary, the arab
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world and the west together pushing saddam hussein out of kuwait. and then he made another tough decision. when the iraqi army was fleeing the battlefield, he decided we're not going to baghdad. and why didn't he go to baghdad? now, he didn't like saddam. he very much wanted saddam to topple by his own people. but he was trying to set a new standard. he did not want people to see the gulf war as the first american imperial war of the post world war ii world. he got everybody on board to fight, to liberate kuwait. but they weren't on board to topple saddam. he had gone ahead and toppled saddam, he would have lost all the good capital and all the good understanding that this coalition created. and what was his third big decision? his third big decision was to deal with ronald reagan's detlef
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schrem schrempf. reag -- death. george h.w. bush is more responsible than any other republican for the success that we associate with ronald reagan, with ronald reagan's economic success george bush understood he had to raise taxes. he promised he wouldn't raise tax. he was considered a counterfeit conservative by many republicans on the right. but he decided it was the right thing to do for the country. it cost him his party. in many ways, he lost his bid for reelection the day he worked with democrats to pass a tax bill in 1990. but he did it because he knew it was the right thing to do. those are three tough decisions. it's rare that a president has one of those tough decisions. he had three and he got them all right. >> let me jump in here. you wrote something. you called him, and i don't know if you wrote this headline, but this is essentially what it said. it says the overlooked president. we should thank george h.w. bush for many of the success
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attributed to reagan and clinton. in it you write some of the things you just expressed. you said unique among marine presidents, george h.w. bush did not make it easy for us to appreciate him fully. when he was in office, he disdained political theater. and when his advisers forced him to do it, he was bad at it. once he left office, though, he was aware of his accomplishments. he decided not to write a memoir and would not even do an official oral history for his presidential library. >> yes. imagine that. imagine a president who decided that there was more to the job than pr. i hope -- right now people are going to say george h.w. bush was a throwback. i hope that's not true forever. i hope that we have among us men and women who understand that being president is more than the pronounce i. it's more than just about yourself. it's about our country and doing the right things for our country. now, look, i'm not saying that
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george h.w. bush didn't make mistakes. but on this day, let's celebrate the tough calls that he made, the right calls, and the dignities that he brought to the most powerful office in the world. >> timothy naftali, cnn's presidential historian, thank you for your time. thank you, sir. >> thank you, don. >> you know, one of the less seasons of the life of the 41st president, george h.w. bush, one we really need right now was the ability to bring people together. the best may be his friendship with bill clinton. here is wolf blitzer. >> thank you, all. >> reporter: they were one-time rivals. >> my biggest problem with governor clinton is he is on one side of the issue one day and the on the other, the other day. and we cannot let the white house turn into the waffle house. >> reporter: best of friends, a
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political odd couple doing good around the world. their relationship the subject of letters published by george h.w. bush in 2013. >> may all the democrats forgive me as close to the election. i love george bush. i do. >> i so appreciated your words about our relationship, about our friendship, bush wrote to clinton after a 2006 awards ceremony. it was from your heart. i hope you know i feel the same way. >> they've become really great friends. in fact, almost like family. and that's part of a jealous problem for the rest of the bush kids. they think they've got this other brother named bill clinton. >> until you've been on the ground and see it, it's hard to real advertise scope of the challenge that lies ahead. >> reporter: they first came together after the 2005 tsunami in southeast asia, and traveled extensively together over the years. here is what bush wrote to close friend and former "time" magazine columnist. clinton is a fascinating character.
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he has opinions on everything, no matter what. during that tsunami relief trip, bush like many others before him would be confronted by clinton's legendary problems staying on schedule. i had always heard that bill clinton had his own time. clinton standard time. he does. i, on the other hand, am compulsively on time. and two other attributes bush immediately noticed, both clinton's energy -- >> you should have seen him going town to town, country to country, the energizer bunny here. he killed me. >> and love of talking. >> i soon realized as the trip got under way if we got in a bind for things to say or answers to be given to questions, it was reassuring to know that he was de man. >> president clinton was a phenomenal talker. he could talk and talk and talk and president bush would listen and listen and listen and be the straight person for the jokes. >> but bush too could try for a laugh from clinton.
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writing to him after clinton nodded off at a martin luther king day sermon. "i could indeed feel your pain," bush wrote, invoking clinton's famous catchphrase. have i been there myself, more than once, i might ade, and it physically hurt as i tried to keep my eyes open. two political opposites who shared a common bond of the presidency and a unique friendship. wolf blitzer, cnn, washington. >> the bush clan recently gathered in maine for the wedding of his granddaughter barbara bush. it was a small intimate family affair. both former bush presidents escorted barbara down the aisle that day. and wolf blitzer has the story of george h.w. bush, the family man. >> reporter: he trusted others and inspired their loyalty. and above all, he found joy in his family and his faith. those are the words of an admiring son, george w. bush.
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his father was backer and eventually a u.s. senator. in 1945, he married barbara pierce, daughter of the publisher of mccall's magazine. more than anyone, she was his companion and sustaining light in peace and in war. >> he would complete 58 combat missions. these were tough days. but he had something that kept him going. and if you look closely at the photographs of the planes he flew, you will find what kept him going in the name he had painted under his cockpit. barbara. >> reporter: a daughter robin died of leukemia at age 3. four son, george w., jeb, neil, and marvin, and one daughter, doro were adults by the time he became president. over time, gatherings of the family compound in maine became larger and more raucous. >> what it is like, doro? you can't agree on everything.
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when inside the family, you disagree with the president or a governor. >> we -- there isn't a lot of that. actually, when i spend the weekend with my brother or my father, we sort of talk about fishing or laughing and it's not like that. but i think people voice their opinions. >> reporter: although they lived public live, the bushes guarded their family's privacy and resend outsiders' attempts to pry in or play up stories of rivalry between the father and son presidents. >> we know who we are. we know how we get along. there is no rivalry, there is no kind of trying to live up to something or bring the boy up. it's crazy. we're a close, loving family, larry. and these speculative stories just drove me crazy. >> how about you? >> they are nutty. there was people saying we wanted jeb to be president, not george. that's -- who writes things two
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books were written about me that never spoke to me, ever. so i think you just overlook those. they're just not true. >> you got angry at your husband, didn't you? >> always. >> shortly before the start of the 1991 gulf war, president bush summed up his feelings about his family in a letter to his children. >> he said i had a little plaque made. it says cavoo. cavoo is the kind of weather we navy pilots wanted when we were to fly off our carrier in the pacific. we had little navigational instrumentation, so we wanted cavoo, ceiling and visibility unlimited. because of the five of you whose hugs i can still feel, whose own lives have made me so proud, i can confidently tell my guardian angel that my life is cavoo, and it will be that way until i die, all because of you. >> reporter: wolf blitzer, cnn, washington. >> jamie gangel, who is friends with the family tonight shared something with us that most of
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us didn't know, except for those who are with the family that cavoo, that word he talked about, that meant ceiling and visibility unlimited that he got from being a navy pilot, that was a code word to let him know that he had passed. tributes pouring in to president george h.w. bush tonight, but nothing compared to hearing him talk about his life and presidency in his own words. >> are you happy out of office? do you still miss it? >> i don't. i miss some aspect. it's been so long since we were there. i don't miss it. i don't miss going to work every day in the white house. i miss the presidency, of course. and i loved being president. i loved working at trying to help people and help solve problems, but it was great. but that's history. i did my job as president. i just didn't expose my inner feelings. and i think people like me. i think people were
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disappointed. i think people wanted change. i got a whole rationale of reasons why i did not get reelected. but maybe if i had been a little more emotional or more revealing of the person, why maybe it would have helped. but it never occurred to me then. my idea on legacy is let the historians figure out what i screwed up and figure out what i got right. and i'm confident we had a good administration and good people, and i think the same thing is true of our son. he had tough times and all, but he is doing it right. i hope that we both have set examples for how you ought to conduct yourself when you've been president and then go out of office. let the other guy do it and support him when you can, and be silent. don't be out there criticizing all the time. >> president clinton beat me like a drum back in 1992, and then we became friends. and some of his friends look at
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him and say have you lost it, this crazy guy? and some of mine look at it and say just the same thing. what are you doing with clinton? and just because you run against someone does not mean you have to be enemies. politics does not have to be mean and ugly. >> i have never liked talking to much about my own service. it was just like everybody else in the country that was doing what he felt was right, but in a personal basis, the fact that i was flying in combat off a carrier makes the excitement of the naming of this new ship for me even greater than it would have been. i always thought they did that kind of thing for dead guys, but here i am. and i want to be around, hell, i'll even eat broccoli if i can make it for another five years. thinking was december of '43. my darling bar, words should come easily and in short it
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would should be simple for how desperately happy i was to open the paper and see the announcement of our engagement, but somehow i can't possibly say all in a letter i should like to. i love you, precious, with all my heart, and to know that you love me means my life. how often i have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. how lucky our children will be to have a mother like you. >> do you think about dying? >> a little bit, but not a lot. it doesn't scare me. it used to. when i was a little kid, think about dying, i would be scared about it. terrible. but when you get older, larry, i don't think about it a lot. i got too much to do, too much to live for, too much happiness. >> just because you're old, that doesn't mean you can't do fun stuff. and you don't want to sit around drooling in the corner. >> the scariest moment is when you look out, get ready, get ready, get ready to jump. and you get out to the door and
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you look down and there is no feeling of severe thunderstorm. andt the heck am i doing. and off you go, and it's just heaven. >> no regret, then? >> no regrets about anything. no regrets about one single thing in my life that i can think of. i mean, i made mistakes, but they don't measure up to regrets now. >> the 41st president of the united states. george herbert walker bush has died at the age of 94. he devoted his life to service to his country and to his family, from world war ii combat pilot to congressman, diplomat, vice president, and president, and finally, a widely respected political elder. the death of the 41st president comes after his wife of 3 years, barbara bush, passed away on april 17th at the age of 92. our coverage is going to
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continue with cnn films 41 on 41. the two-hour documentary that tells the story of george w. bush in the words of 41 of his colleagues, friends and family. george's mother was a gentle, wonderful soul, and both his mother and father taught him by example.


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