tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN December 3, 2018 2:00pm-3:00pm PST
actually, as we await the start of this formal memorial service in the rotunda, jamie gangel is with us. jamie, every time we saw the former president, george w. bush and laura bush, you could see him holding back the tears. >> no question. first of all, that was a spectacular moment with the sun setting, washington looking just spectacular. and whatever your politics are, whatever you feel about former president george h.w. bush or his son, former president george w. bush, that was a father, a son, paying tribute to his father as he was brought up the capitol steps. the bushes are known -- they'll be the first to tell you that they are emotional. that they cry easily.
i know that he was steeling himself. you could certainly see on his face the emotion as he, you know, struggled to keep it together. >> tom friedman of the "new york times" is with us. like me and john and jamie, you spent a lot of time covering the president of the united states in various capacities. as you look back and watch what's going on right now in the rotunda, what goes through your mind? >> well, the biggest thing that goes through my mind now, wolf, is looking at the friends and colleagues that are there lined up. what a high-quality team he had around him. i covered secretary of state james baker, traveled virtually all 750,000 miles with him during those four years, including several trips with the president. and when you think about the people who were around baker at the time, bob zoellick, who was his deputy, dennis ross, head of
policy planning, went on to be middle east peace envoy for three successive presidents. bob gates, went on to be defense secretary and cia director. colin powell, obviously, went on to be secretary of state. larry eagleberger, secretary of state. condi rice, secretary of state. this is an incredibly talented team of public servants. and it's a bit nostalgic for me watching those surviving with this group of people. >> there you see the outgoing speaker of the house and the senate majority leader, john king. members of the cabinet have gathered, as well. they're all standing together with the justices of the u.s. supreme court. >> some of them, elaine chao, who goes back to the bush administration. mitch mcconnell of kentucky, a
junior when george h.w. bush was president. many of these members of congress, including the speaker of the house, paul ryan, were not here in washington in those days. and we live in a very polarized washington now. president bush, as jake was noting earlier, george h.w. bush had a democratic congress. the only way to do business was to do it bipartisan. that was his nature anyway. just want to pause for a moment here as we watch -- >> the casket about to be placed on the lincoln catafalque.
>> let us pray. we give you thanks, almighty god, for the appearance among us of great men and women who serve as inspirations for all americans to be their best in service, to god, country and neighbor. this day, we honor our 41st president, george h.w. bush. president bush dedicated his entire life to public service as a vocation, first in the military, then as a member of congress, a diplomat, director of the cia, vice president and finally, president. it is a record of service reminiscent of john quincy adams, an unmatched in nearly a century. we thank you, oh, god, for
having endowed president bush with noblesse oblige, and ask that his example of service to others might be an inspiration to all americans, indeed to all the world. as we continue this celebration of these proceedings might be desirous of being our best selves in service to all our brothers and sisters as you might call us to be. dear lord, thank you for inspiring such greatness in president george h.w. bush, and continue to bless the united states of america. amen.
>> 30 years ago, on the west front of this capitol, george herbert walker bush addressed the nation for the first time as our president. he said, we meet on democracy's front porch, a good place to talk as neighbors and as friends. the words of a humble servant who loved his fellow citizens. and of a principle leader who knew america not only guards our own future, but also safeguards democracy for the world. today this hero has returned to the capitol a final time.
not on the front porch of our democracy, this time. but here in his hallowed cathedral. beneath paintings that tell the story of our land and our liberty, and flanked by statues of his fellow champions whom he joined in making that story possible. george bush was just a teenager when he volunteered for military service and became the navy's youngest aviator. he was only 20 on that september day in 1944 when his plane was hit on a bombing run. but through the fire and smoke, george bush stayed steady at the controls. only once he accomplished this mission did he parachute out over the pacific. a steady hand staying the
course. that's what george bush gave us for decades. decorated aviator, congressman, ambassador to the united nations, envoy to china, cia director, eight years as vice president and our commander-in-chief. through the cold war and the soviet union's collapse, he kept us on course. when the rule of law needed defending in the persian gulf, he kept us on course. with his even temperament and hard-won expertise, george herbert walker bush steered this country as straight as he steered that airplane. 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 accomplished as he was. the patriot who lies before us was blessed with many gifts. but there was no doubt which he prized most of all. a great love story began at that christmas dance when george bush met barbara pierce, and the grace and virtue they taught their children have enriched this nation through a family of leaders. today the nation stands with that family, with our 43rd president, with jeb, neil, marvin and all the bush grandchildren and great grandchildren. we stand with you in mourning, but also in gratitude. gratitude for lives well-lived
and duties thoroughly fulfilled. gratitude that god gave this country george and barbara bush. and that they may now be reunited in the light of his grace. >> as americans, we have no more solemn duty than laying a great patriot to rest. here lies a great man. to the bush family, on behalf of the whole house, republicans and
democrats, we are profoundly sorry for your loss, and we are honored to celebrate this wonderful life with you. like so many, i feel a personal debt of gratitude today, a sentiment no doubt countless millions of americans are feeling at this moment. the 1988 campaign, that was the first one i was ever involved in. we handed out literature at the janesville craig cougar ball games. and i remember going to this big rally in ohio the day after the first debate. the whole experience really drew me into politics. he was the first president i had the chance to vote for. and he was the first president to teach me and many of us that in a democracy, sometimes you
fall short. and that how you handle that, that is just as important as how you win. an old preacher once said, grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected. grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected. glory is transcendent in the life of our republic. this rotunda is a trumpet call to glory. tributes to the giants all the way up into the sky. grace. grace is different. it's more elemental. it is not larger than life. it is the stuff of life.
the connective tissue in a free society. it deepens the well of our common humanity. throughout his life of service, president bush personified grace. his character. 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. there's that indelible image of him as commander-in-chief during the gulf war, waving to a sea of troops during a visit during thanksgiving. there are all these images we
have of him as a devoted husband, that twinkle in his eye that barbara always brought out, especially in those big, huge family photos you all had in kennebunkport. this one i will never forget. there was that image of him as a loving father reaching out to hold his son's hand at the national cathedral after 9/11. there's this letter he wrote his children on the last day of 1990 as he wrestled with a decision over operation desert storm. he begins by recounting the family christmas, and he apologized if he seemed distracted. i tried not to be, he writes. then for about a page, he elaborates on his struggle over sending young americans into harm's way. twice in the letter, he writes,
"every human life is precious." and the original copy he adds by hand a note wishing his family a new year. in consequential times, george herbert walker bush demonstrated the finest qualities of our nation and of human kind. a great leader and a good man. a gentle soul of firm resolve. he showed us that how we live is as important as what we achieve. his life was a hymn of honor. his legacy is grace perfected. his memory will belong to glory.
bush family. it is deeply humbling to stand before you today at the beginning of a week in our nation's capitol when we will commemorate and celebrate the lifetime of service and leadership of the 41st president of the united states. president george herbert walker bush. the bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn and grieve with those who grieve. and today on behalf of the first family and my family and the american people, we offer our deepest sympathies and respects to your family. and we thank you for sharing this special man with our nation and the world. today president bush becomes the 32nd american to lie in state in
the united states capitol rotunda. soon americans from every corner of the country and every walk of life will make their way to this rotunda to pay the respects of a grateful nation. upon the death of abner, it is written that king david said, "do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen and is real this day." george herbert walker bush was such a man. while he was known as the quiet man, it was not for lack of nerve or daring. for in all of his 94 years, president bush never lost his love of adventure. and he never failed to answer the call to serve his country. born into a tradition of public service, george herbert walker bush began his own life of service when he was still in high school. after the japanese attacked
pearl harbor in december of 1941, he wanted to do his part, so he enlisted in the united states navy on his 18th birthday. on receiving his wings, he became the nation's youngest naval aviator and was sent to the south pacific where his story almost ended. september 1944 on a bombing raid over cheechajima, his aircraft was hit, his engine caught fire, but still managed to hit his target before baling out and being rescued by american forces after some four hours at sea. all told, he flew 58 combat missions. and he earned the distinguished flying cross, which would have been enough honor for any american life. but george herbert walker bush was just getting started. after he came home, he staked his claim to a booming post war america by making a name for himself in the oil business. for four years, he walked these
halls as a congressman from houston. president nixon took notice of the young texan and asked him to be an ambassador to the united nations. he led a party during a tumultuous time for the presidency, and after earning the respect of another president, he did the work of a diplomat as the first united states envoy to china, and led the cia. and then for eight years, george herbert walker bush served as the 43rd vice president of the united states. i'm told as he was preparing to become vice president he once joked about the job, saying that there was, quote, nothing substantive to do at all. but as history records, during those years, he set the standard. as a sound counselor and loyal
adviser to an outsider who came to washington, d.c., to shake things up. cut taxes, rebuild the military. and together, they did just that. and then in 1988, he made history again. when george herbert walker bush was elected in a landslide as the 41st president of the united states of america. becoming the first sitting vice president to win the presidency in more than 150 years of our history. he served during an uncertain time in the world. made momentous by his leadership. president bush oversaw the fall of the soviet union, the crumbling of the berlin wall. and under his leadership, america won the cold war. he took our nation to war to repel aggression in the persian gulf. and through his leadership as
commander-in-chief and the brilliance of our armed forces, the united states won a decisive victory. when president george herbert walker bush left office, he left america and the world more peaceful, prosperous and secure. president bush was a great leader who made a great difference in the life of this nation. but he was also just a good man who was devoted to his wife, his family and his friends. i was lucky enough to meet him in 1988 when he was vice president. and i was a 29-year-old, just getting started in politics. then, as always, i was struck by his approachability. there was a kindness about the man that was evident to everyone who ever met him.
all his years in public service were characterized by kindness, modesty and patriotism. he was so modest, in fact, he never wrote an autobiography. but he did leave a record of his life in the thousands of letters that he wrote. i'm told that he started writing letters to his parents when he was 18 years old, and over time his circle of correspondents grew to include family, friends, advisers, staff, business associates, former presidents. and just about anyone who would take the trouble to write to him. after a lifetime of writing letters, my son got one just not too long ago. as i told two of his sons this weekend, when our son made his first tailed hook landing as a
marine aviator on the "uss george herbert walker bush," i took the liberty of writing the ship's namesake to ask for a small favor. i didn't write him as a vice president to a former president. i just wrote as a proud dad of a marine aviator to a former navy pilot. i asked him to sign a picture of the flight deck that i could give to my son. now, we were told by the staff that the president had long since ended the practice of signing autographs. and we understood that. but little to my surprise, just in time for my son's winging, there came not only a signed photograph, but, of course, a letter. hand-signed, as well. august 2018. in that letter, president bush
wrote to my son in his words, congratulations on receiving your wings of gold. i know how proud you and your family are at this moment. and then in words that assured us that the letter came directly from him, he wrote, quote, though we have not met, i share the pride your father has for you during this momentous occasion, and i wish you many cavu days ahead. all the best, g. bush. i would come to learn that that acronym, cavu for short, is a term navy pilots have used since world war ii. it stands for ceiling and visibility unlimited. president bush described cavu in his words as the kind of weather we navy pilots wanted when we were to fly off our carrier in
the pacific. and he once wrote a letter to his children saying that cavu, in his words, describes my own life as it's been over the years and as it is right now. ceiling and visibility unlimited. that may well describe the essence of this man, and it may well have been his vision. the vision he had for his life, for his children, his children's children and his country. no barriers, no boundaries, no limits. so we mourn with those who mourn and grieve with those who grieve. but we do not grieve like those who have no hope.
for president george herbert walker bush had that hope. his face sustained him throughout his life of service, and we pray that faith will be a source of comfort. for all those who mourn the loss of this good man and great american, president george herbert walker bush loved his family, and he served his country. his example will always inspire, and his lifetime of service will be enshrined in the hearts of the american people forever. may god bless the memory of george herbert walker bush. and may god comfort his family and friends. and may god continue to bless the united states of america.
lord, we're grateful for the privilege you gave us to learn and grow from his integrity, kindness, heroism, courage, excellence, service, intellect, humility, civility and spirituality. as we celebrate this well-lived life, challenge us, oh, god, to also leave the world better than we found it. continue to comfort those who mourn, touch each member of the bush family with your mercy, love and grace. and god, support us all the day
long until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world lies hushed and the fever of life is over. and our work is done. then in your mercy grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest and a peace at last. we pray in the name of george herbert walker bush's savior and friend, jesus christ. amen.
former president george w. bush and laura bush walking past the casket. we're watching these powerful images as they walk around the casket on the lincoln catafalque, former president and former first lady, clearly moved, understandably so. we have been watching there first official service honoring the life of the 41st president of the united states. welcome to our special coverage. i'm wolf blitzer, along with jake tapper, here in washington. members of the bush family will now be departing the capitol. soon the rotunda up on capitol hill will open up for members of the public to bid farewell to
former president george h.w. bush. we're also expecting president trump and the first lady, melania trump, to pay their respects later tonight. this is an emotional moment, jamie. you've been watching it so closely. you've been moved, so many people have been moved. >> i couldn't help but watch the family, the children, the grandchildren, all together for the first time with the casket. there's pierce bush and his wife and the other grandchildren walking by right now, paying their respects. this was not an unexpected day, but there is no question that this is a family that is very sad. they adored this man. and, of course, you couldn't, frankly, take your eyes off of his son, former president george w. bush, who was clearly emotional from the time that he was standing outside the capitol
waiting for the casket to come up the steps. and sitting there, listening to the words of these first eulogies, really, for his father. there were times when he looked as if he was holding back tears. there were times when he laughed, which was, you know, nice, because the family wants this to be a celebration of the man and the president. >> there we see the vice president and his wife. and then the speaker of the house and the majority leader. you know, john, i thought the vice president delivered a very powerful eulogy, especially when he told the story of his son, a young marine aviator, who landed aboard the "uss george h.w. bush." >> correcting the career and politics of george h.w. bush to the personal that here was a man who loved to write letters, who didn't write an autobiography,
but published some of those letters. and mike pence saying he was speaking as a dad, not as a fellow vice president, if you will, or fellow politician. saying he was grateful for that note to his son, who is in military service. you could see to jamie's point, the gratitude on the family's face as you had the vice president, the speaker and the majority leader. and then through the wreath-laying, they loved their dad. it's -- he's dad. he's not president bush to them, he's dad. but they also, especially if you talked to president george w. bush or jeb bush, members of the family think because their dad was book-ended between the great communicator, ronald reagan and then the tv-age president of bill clinton, they think their dad was underappreciated sometimes. and if you go back to those days and tom is with us who knows these days better than any of us, the berlin wall came down, the soviet union collapsed. nelson mandela was freed. there was so much tumult and uncertainty in the world. and because he was a one-term president he was underappreciated and you can see
the gratitude now. the personal part will take place in houston and then the burial in college station. but you could see especially on jeb and george w. their appreciation for the recognition of the greatness of the man they call dad but who was president yes only four years, but had a remarkable time in history. >> there you see the former president, george w. bush. tom friedman is with us of the "new york times." tom, you could see how moved, understandably so, the son was. >> yeah. you know, watching this event, wolf, you're really reminded. these sort of events are secular religion as a country. and they're traditions that really bind us together. and it's hard not to watch them, to watch the speaker of the house and the republican speaker of the house, the incoming democratic speaker, the senate majority leader with the senate minority leader. these are moments of incredible bipartisanship in a city that is
so starved, that has so long not seen anything like this on the kind of national scale, it's just hard to watch this and wonder why does it take a funeral to bring us together like this. why can't we even be half as good or a quarter as good on our average days as we are on these days. >> it is an amazing day right now. and this family is a truly wonderful family. the children, the grandchildren, the great grandchildren, have gathered to celebrate the life of the 41st president of the united states, but so close to all of them, they called him, what? gampy? >> they called him gampy. and i think we have said frequently in the last couple of days that george h.w. bush and barbara bush, too, by the way, instilled in this family a sense of service. and you have seen it not only in their children, but in each of their grandchildren. they have gone on to do
something in public service. that is something. service before self. george h.w. bush would say. and what's interesting to me, though, is as we were as we watched them listen, it was, as john said, a recognition of their father and their grandfather's presidency and his importance to this country. there were certain words that vice president pence said that i couldn't help but notice, civility, kindness, modesty. these are words that, you know, we can't help but notice in this time. this was another era, and george bush 41 represented a very different time and a very different kind of person and
those were the justices of the supreme court paying their respects to the 41st president of the united states. what was also so powerful throughout the memorial service, john, was the role of the military. let's not forget, it was president george h.w. bush who on his 18th birthday volunteered, enlisted in the u.s. navy. he could have gone to yale. he eventually went to yale but after his military service. he wanted to engage in the service. now members of the trump cabinet are there in the rotunda paying their respects. >> a larger-than-life, true-american war hero who went on to become our president. but a true-american war hero. volunteered, from a wealthy family. the recommendation was go to college first. he didn't take that recommendation. he enlisted. he was then a war-time president. throughout his presidency, tremendous respect for the military. the last of the greatest generation, world war ii, who will be our president.
so you can see that certainly, the respect that the crew members coming from the george h.w. bush carrier, from the chairman of the joint chiefs to the younger members of the military. you can see how it is an honor for them to be part of this today, just a true honor for them to be part of saying goodbye to a president, but also to a navy fly boy. >> he was the youngest navy aviator at the time he got his wings. the other thing, he's one -- it is one much their own today who went on to become president, and the honorary pall bearers today he picked. those were the captains, commanding officers, the admirals who were in command of his aircraft carrier, the uss george h.w. bush. we saw some pictures earlier. you could just see it on their faces, how emotional it was for them. >> and, tom, you know, that
military service he had, it played such a significant role when he had to deploy u.s. troops during the first gulf war. >> well, you think about bush, in so many ways, wolf, he did really hard things as president. he not only eased the fall of the soviet union without a shot, did it without gloating, he unified germany. he presided over the unification of germany. we forget how much margaret thatcher and the french president did not want that to happen. he stood in the face of that. and on iraq, of course, he forewent the invasion of iraq. >> certainly an amazing man. jake tapper is with us. we see steve mnuchen walking away from the u.s. capitol together with other members of the trump cabinet, there's secretary mattis. jake, this is a powerful moment.
>> a very powerful moment for this bipartisan moment, non-partisan moment really. let's talk about it with our panel. dana bash, i'll start with you. a lot of emotional, touching tributes there. a lot of emotion on the faces of people like president george w. bush, neil bush, marvin bush, the bush grandchildren, the bush great-grandchildren i'm sure as well. what stood out to you? >> as i answer that, i want to mention some of the people we see walking out now are current members of the cabinet, the trump cabinet, the education secretary, the chief of staff is not on the cabinet but obviously a senior person in the trump administration. so it is still striking. there you see john kelly from the back. the juxtaposition between the current climate and what was just paid tribute to as an era of the past, a figure of the past in george h.w. bush, and done so by the people who are
living in an alternate universe. that was really what was striking to me. done so in the united states capitol where it is as partisan as it gets, but taking a moment to remove themselves from that and news about in many ways what it would be like to be back -- i'm not saying it wasn't partisan then, of course it was. but as has been mentioned here, almost by necessity there had to be bipartisanship for the 41st president to get anything done because he had to work with democrats, and he did a lot of things on the domestic front -- we talk a lot about international, but on the domestic front, that he had to work with democrats to get done like the americans with disabilities act. >> we are looking right now at members of the u.s. senate who are in smaller groups being given time to go to the casket and consider the life and legacy and loss of president george h.w. bush.
that's one of -- yeah, that's one of lyndon johnson's daughter. there's a former senator, chuck robb, from virginia -- what's the name? >> linda robb. >> linda robb there. george h.w. bush -- for a young republican congressman from texas, had a surprisingly cordial and lovely relationship with then-president lyndon johnson. in fact, on inauguration day for richard nixon, young congressman george h.w. bush went to say goodbye to president johnson as he left washington, d.c. >> one of the only people to do so actually. in fact, in 1964 when george bush ran for the senate, lyndon johnson, of course, was running for reelection -- actually, for election for the first time in 1964. he came through texas and george bush had his entire
congressional staff come out and stand as the president's motorcade went by. people said, you know he's a democrat, why would you do that? he's the president of the united states, we have to show respect to the office. >> there was a time he was talking about running for senate and he was seeking the advice of lyndon johnson, and lyndon johnson -- i'm asking -- you don't -- i'll tell the story. >> i'm happy to, but you can say -- >> he said, what's the difference between being in the house and being in the senate. >> right. >> and lyndon johnson said -- >> it is the difference between chicken salad and chicken -- >> just to quote a former president of the united states, but it is something that meant something to george h.w. bush, the fact that he, a young congressman, could go to a democratic president and have that relationship. >> and he ran for senate as well, which is why we have
chicken salad. >> and which is why you see the emotion on president johnson's daughter. >> and he hoped to get the endorsement of lyndon johnson. he made a statement afterwards he thought he had been encouraged to run for the senate by lyndon johnson. >> the question just watching all of this is why does this in some way seem so antique to us? so different from the way we are now, and the words, you know, jamie was saying it earlier, uncommon humility, civility, the grace. these are the words that are used about george h.w. bush, and everybody here, everybody watching this was thinking about that. as jake said earlier, it is non-partisan. it wasn't partisan because he wasn't partisan. the overlay to this is that that's not the way it is. >> i think there's a lifelong
friendship between barbara bush and lady bird johnson, too. there were wonderful letters between them where barbara bush wrote to lady bird johnson, all love. it is a quaint and sweet thing. i think it is real and we saw it with her getting so emotional. it is real for them, and this bipartisan friendship is something you don't see often. >> can i point out as we are looking at this? the man to the left of the screen, to the right of the flag, bill archer, is a former congressman. he had george h.w. bush's house seat in houston for three decades, right? >> that's right. >> until he retired. before george h.w. bush, that house seat -- there was redistricting but it was a democratic state and democratic area and he turned it republican. >> wolf blitzer, it is a small thing in a way, the daughter of a democratic president crying at the funeral