tv Deadline White House MSNBC December 3, 2018 1:00pm-2:00pm PST
now. >> thank you, chris. the body of president george h.w. bush arriving at joint base andrews just in the last hour. we're going to keep an eye on that picture as the casket carrying the 41st president of the president is escorted to the capitol where it will lie in state. we have some of our favorite friends and reporters joining us. we start with something george bush was known to say when he spoke about his daughter robin bush. i love you more than tongue can tell is what she used to say to him. to see the outpouring of affection and the civility and respect that president bush showed the office of the presidency as well as all the occupants of it, including bill clinton who defeated him in '92 and president obama who awarded him the presidential medal of freedom. it's fair to say in many corners and certainly among those of us who knew him well, president bush was appreciated and loved for his love of this country more than tongue can tell. jon meacham has been telling the story of the president for 21
years. he's also a beloved confidante and friend of mrs. bush and the 41st president. karen tumulty and peter baker and former congressman david jolly is with me on set for the hour. let me start with you, jon meacham. you've been on television nonstop since friday night when this news broke. we just saw the first image of what the celebration, what the official government celebration of the life of our 41st president looks like. and you and i both know it's something that the family and gene becker, his devoted chief of staff have planned for, for not months but years. what's it like for you to see these moments unfold? >> well, as you say, it's been inevitable. obviously, this was going to happen. but there's something -- there's an interesting combination here. an intersection of two things. there's the majesty of state which we're watching and there's the warmth and fundamental decency and generosity of spirit
of the man being honored. and so for me and for tens and tens and tens of thousands and maybe more americans who felt a connection to him, who believed that whatever his imperfections were, he did his best in the arena to make all of our lives better. as best we can in a fallen world, which i think was his mode de force. i think it's particularly poignant. it would be impressive if it were simply the majesty of state. it would be warm and sentimental if it were just a man of such generosity of spirit. you put the two together, and i think you have a really overwhelming sense of honor and, honestly, gratitude. i don't know if you feel this way. i feel incredibly grateful to him for not having gone to wall street in 1948, which is what he was supposed to do. >> we're so glad he didn't
always do what he was supposed to do. one of his favorite things and i might embarrass you, one of his favorite things was to be read to. and there were some people known for their great voices. great actors and performers who he loved to have read to him and sing to him. i think in his final day he was sung to. he loved just a beautiful voice. he also loved, for you, to read to him the things that you wrote. what were his favorite things? what were the favorite parts of what you wrote about him? >> oh, that's very sweet. the central reaction he had when i would read because the biography i wrote, a it was too heavy for him to hold on to. it was too long. that was mrs. bush's central -- not her only objection but her central one. so we had people read it. i read it to him. and hilariously, and it's almost as though we're making this up, but you know it's true. i would finish a section about
being shot down or writing the acceptance speech or pulling together nato, whatever the hell it was. and he'd go, that's an awful lot about me. well, yes, mr. president, it's your biography, sir. and he did the same thing, my friend ann mcdaniel reported back when the library opened in college station. he had his first tour of the final exhibits. and he looked around and said there's an awful lot here about me. and people might -- there's maybe -- there may be a cynic or two that will say that was an act. >> no. >> it was not an act. >> being a press person for anyone with the last name bush was torture because the whole nature of being a press secretary is to speak for them, and they didn't like to speak about themselves. so it made it challenging. talking about what these last eight months of his life were like without his soulmate, without his wingwoman, without barbara bush by his side. >> very quiet. very tranquil.
i think gene becker would describe it as a roller coaster. he would have marvelous days, and then he would not have great days. i saw him last tuesday. so not quite a week ago when president obama came to pay his respects. i'm not sure this is true, but i suspect president obama was his last public visitor. which is interesting because imagine a country that managed to. >> within the space of 30 years -- 20 years, sorry. 20 years. managed to elect two of the most different people you can possibly imagine. right? when george herbert walker bush was born in that relatively dark victorian house in milton, massachusetts, in 1924, it was not implausible that the grandson of george h. walker -- g.h. walker of st. louis and s.b. bush of columbus, ohio industrialist and early venture capital guy, his maternal
grandfather, it wasn't at all implausible that he would go to the best schools, go toandover, yale. he might be president. this is the kind of person we elected president. when barack obama was born in hawaii in the 1960s, that was not at all his path. and i think that one of the great things about america is that, as lincoln would say, everyone has a fair chance to rise as far as their industry, intelligence and talent will take them. and my sense is that -- my favorite line, of course, peter baker's marvelous story about secretary baker and the last hours there. but the last thing i heard when i left houston was that baker had said early in the week, you know, hefe, he called him hefe, boss or chief, i want to have oysters. and president bush said, maybe next week. he was always looking ahead. >> peter baker, your story was
the story that cracked my heart open and brought out the first tears when i read it saturday night after i put my son to bed. take me through what you reported about the president's final moments. >> well, as jon said, he had his good days and bad days. and on friday, he had had a number of bad days. he'd been in bed for several days. hadn't been eating very much. his friend jim baker, his former secretary of state, comes by to see him. comes by the house. and he perked up. his eyes opened wide. and he recognized his friend. engaged him. he said, where are we going, bake? and baker said, we're going to heaven. and bush said, that's where i want to go. and so it was a moment of clarity, a moment where he seemed to revive himself. he had breakfast. hadn't eaten several days. three soft boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit drinks. people thought he was rallying again. he was suffering from this form of parkinson's for several years and time after time seemed to
come back from the brink of passing away to rally and show his strength. his fundamental strength and desire to keep going. they thought that was what was going to happen on friday. secretary baker made another stop at the house before dinner. then he was on the way back from dinner with his wife and a couple friends when the phone call came, you better come back to the house. he comes back and he's found that his friend, president bush, has suddenly begun to decline pretty quickly. they couldn't get to all the kids. neil bush lives in houston. he was there. his wife was there. another granddaughter was there. but it put the other kids on the speaker phone. of course, the last of them was your old boss, president bush 43. and he was at home in dallas. and he told his father, you were a wonderful dad. i love you. and his father told him, i love you, too. according to secretary baker, those were his last words before pass away about a half hour later. >> you didn't have to look far
to see sort of the way george w. bush's presidency was shaped. not necessarily by the policy positions of his father but by the experience of having watched his father in that pressure cooker, under the lights. and george w. bush said in an interview last night something that i had often heard the inverse. i heard the 41st president, and i knew this firsthand, was very upset to see the 43rd president beat up in the press by you and your colleagues. i never heard 43 talk about how excruciating to watch the press coverage of his father. were you surprised in hindslight having kocovered the 43rd president to hear that? >> you know him better than i do. these are real people. it's a real father and a real son. didn't mean they didn't have differences. department mean they didn't approach politics in a different way at times. didn't mean that they didn't
have some tension there as they -- as a young man grows up and tries to live in the shadow of this young man and prove himself. took until 40 until george bush stops drinking and gets his act together in his life. for all of the incredible circumstances that they had, no other two people ever had, even john adams and john quincy adams, they didn't live through the second presidency the way these two did. for all of that, a deep and fundamental love. he wrote a biography of his father. it was a hallmark card. a love note to his father. and you can read that without feeling the intensity of their feelings about each other. >> karen tumulty, you wrote an unbelievable story about the 41st president. one of the things that i lived through was his post presidency and the way he reached back to
the man who deprived him of a second term, president clinton, and the way he reached forward and embraced the obamas. and i think peter's colleague described him as the center of gravity in the former president's club. can you talk about what you wrote about, about his postpresidency and the import. >> well, sure. his loss in 1992 was a devastating blow. but then he -- and president clinton wrote in "the washington post" this weekend about the incredibly gracious letter that president bush left for him in the desk. this is a tradition between outgoing and incoming presidents. but then he gives president clinton the best gift he possibly could in those early rocky years of the clinton presidency. george bush disars peer ppeared. he went home to houston. he walked the dogs, loaded the dishwasher. but he gave president clinton
space. it was surely a great vindication when he finds himself back on that inaugural stand eight years later seeing his son inaugurated after having defeated bill clinton's vice president. but then the two of them bonded over tsunami relief and to the point where the bush sons would joke that bill clinton had practically become their brother. and i think it speaks to not only the sort of personal kind of graciousness and charm of these two men, but also george bush's reverence for the institution of the presidency. and his reverence for the fact that there are so few people on this planet who are going to know what it's like to sit in this office. what it gives you and what it takes from you. >> karen, i think that relationship between george h.w. bush and bill clinton is one of
the most interesting and it didn't have to be a natural one. as you said, it's not natural to be so gracious to someone who has defeated you from the job. he loved being president. that resume that he came to office with was being president was something he worked toward his whole political career. talk about how the 43rd president and his relationship with the obamas. and you saw michelle obama talking about how genuine her friendship is with 43 and all the intrigue about the piece of candy he handed her. you see almost the example set by the 41 and clinton relationship being replicated or at least imitated by the 43rd president and the obamas. >> and again, 43 gives 44 the exact same gift. he essentially disappears. gives him space. gives him time. and it surely must have -- you
know, for as much as barack obama would spend, especially in the early years of his presidency, blaming a lot of the problems that he was confronting on his predecessor, george w. bush taking his father's lesson to heart, really decides to give his successor both space and the support he needs. and so that's why i think what you see is this real -- not only a personal bond but just a respect among this very small club of human beings. the ex-presidents club. >> jon meacham, as we watch this event unfold, i mentioned gene becker. we haven't shared with our viewers who gene becker is. and i am afraid of gene becker being mad at me, but i am pretty sure she's in that motorcade so it's a safe time to talk about jean becker.
>> let's just hope there's no satellite radio. >> she dvrs this show. >> let's do it now before she can see it quickly. jean becker is the former president's chief of staff. she is the anchor to winward of bush world as the 41st president would say. jean was a reporter from "usa today." she went into the white house, i think, initially to write speeches for mrs. bush, barbara bush. and then moved over to work for the president. i believe she's been chief of staff since 1997 or '98. certainly in that period. and the most remark -- one of the most remarkable acknowledgements i ever read in a book was she really put together a unique contribution in presidential literature which is president bush's book "all the best" which if people don't have it, that's the book to get. it's president bush writing letters from andover through his
postpresidency. he was -- st. paul couldn't write letters the way this guy could. they're funny and human and touching and they fill you with joy when you read them. you'll cry. i warn you now. >> they've love bombs. now knowing about how many he wrote, he usually probably sat down and wrote ten at a time. you felt like the most important person in the world. he wrote i cannot adequately express my thanks to jean becker and i feel totally justified in presumptuously saying that president bush would say that again today about her entire 20 years of service to him, to his legacy, to the family and to her
friends. >> what jean did, david jolly, is she let the people who loved the family, she let the people who served the family continue to feel like part of the family, even after they left politics. and, you know, it's interesting. this idea of the letter transcends to their whole life. everyone felt like they knew them. i wasn't that important but i felt like part of the family. i was welcomed into their home in kennebunkport. it wasn't that they made it feel like an exclusive club was their magic. it wasn't. they had wide arms. always an incredibly diverse group of people, i mentioned. actors and performers. there were four generations of kids and their friends, democrats, republicans. they were welcoming in the most traditional sort of way. >> and i think that is the gift that he leaves us this week. the lesson that he leaves us with amidst his legacy is the contrast in political generations. we live in an environment where we reach for toughness.
we reach for unkind words. each of us. not just our political leaders, but i'm guilty of it as well. and george h.w. bush, you had a man who would never do that. and a lot of people forget he lost several critical races. he ran for u.s. senate and lost. he ran for the presidency in 1980 and he lost. he lost again in 1992. that's the one we all seem to remember. but it was that '80 race where he was asked, are you tough enough to be president of the united states? they said are you tough enough to be president of the united states? and he said if by toughness you mean moral character, if by toughness you mean conviction and principle and moral fiber, then, yes, i'm tough enough. if by toughness you mean bullying, no. toughness to george h.w. bush meant coming out with the respect of your colleagues and those that you run against. that is the lesson with which he leaves us. that is the story this week that we leave is that this was a
president who, even in moments of loss, taught us that there is a fiber that holds us all together in a way greater than politics can ever do. >> we had some of these conversations around the death of mrs. barbara bush last spring. we had some of these conversations around the death of john mccain. and we're having some of the same conversations now. do you think these moments pierce through or just reinforce what we've lost. >> they may not pierce through the chapter we're living in now but doesn't mean they won't return. i see someone who reflects the ideals of this nation that were forged over 230 years. with all of our flaws, right? all of our imperfections. but laying true to claims that are greater to any one political party, they recognize we've had some dark chapters. we've had to overcome as a nation. we have done so. but at the end of the day as a nation and the institutions that reflect our nation, they have always survived whatever those
chapters might be. i am not optimistic that next week we have the same spirit of civility and respect between the parties. i am optimistic that what george h.w. bush reflected in his service prevails in the very long run of the story of this country. >> you think it's still out there? >> i do. >> after the break, more of these moving images and tributes to the 41st tribute george h.w. bush who died on friday at 94. his casket right now on its way to the capitol where it will lie in state. john brennan, former director of the cia, among our guests.
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as that motorcade carrying the casket of former president george h.w. bush makes its way to the capitol, we are awaiting that ceremony at the capitol in just about 15 minutes from now. but joining us right now is a man who, like president george h.w. bush, also ran the cia. it's former director john brennan. director brennan, one of the most underreported sections of george h.w. bush's life, his time as director of the cia. i want to read the letter you and other former directors released over the weekend because it reminded me of this extraordinary period in which he led the cia. you wrote, as he approached that position as head of the cia as he did everything in his life as a duty and honor to serve, he assumed the role when the cia was experiencing great turmoil. he quickly strengthened morale among the agency workforce and competence. although his tenure was short, the impact on the agency is
indell ibl. this 1999 naming of the cia headquarters compound, the george bush center for intelligence was a fitting jesture to honor a man who embodies all that is best in public service. his leadership was the north star that we all tried to emulate during our time at the agency. what did he mean to the cia, director brennan? >> well, he meant a lot, nicolle. he was director for less than a year. i think it was just almost a year, but he always referred to it as one of the most cherished periods of his professional life. he enjoyed working with cia employees. he wanted to understand as much as he could about the mission of intelligence. and it was a tough time for the agency. a lot of turmoil after a number of hearings and exposure of some of the cia activities. and he brought a sense of leadership and confidence and it
was something that was, i think, much preerkappreciated by the m women of the cia. in early 2016 we brought him back to cia headquarters to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his swearing in as director of cia. and he spent about four or five hours at the agency. and he was just welcomed with open arms by the entire workforce. there were long lines of people as he went down to corridors of langley in his wheelchair. and people were just glad handing him and just applauding him because he really represented, i think, the best of this country from a standpoint of selfless sacrifice. so when he became vice president and when he became president, he looked to the agency to provide him the insights, the information, the analysis that he needed in order to ensure the decisions he was making on behalf of the country were as informed and as reasoned and as enlightened as possible. >> director brennan, what did it
mean to the cia to have someone who understood the intelligence product, who understood the intelligence community's selflessness, really facelessness in many jobs there as their ultimate customer when he became president? there's been so much said in the last three days about his foreign policy accomplishments. how did his understanding of the intelligence and his ability to think and see things the way you all do help him execute his foreign policy? >> first of all, i think it forced the cia to be at the top of its game because here he is, a former director of cia, former envoy to china, eight years as vice president and then becomes president. and so he understood exactly what the intelligence capabil y capabilities were. he understood the strengths and weaknesses. knew the world, knew many of the world leaders at the time. so we were having to give a very, very well-informed and smart and intelligent consumer
the best intelligence possible. i remember going into the oval office my first time back in october of 1990 shortly after saddam hussein invaded kuwait. and it was an intimidating experience for me to sit down with the president of the united states and one who was so steeped in foreign affairs. he couldn't have been more gracious or welcoming. he felt as though the cia was a place that was his home and he relied on it heavily. he challenged us. he made sure that we were doing what we needed to do in order to keep this country safe and secure. to have someone in the oval office who valued the work of the intelligence professionals, who understood the complexities of these world events was something that i think ever since then, all cia officers have respected in george h.w. bush. >> what does his loss, not just his death but the loss of a
period when our politics were populated by people like him who spent their career in public service. how does that change the way the cia does their job? >> as people have said, someone who was in world war ii who has seen such transformation around the world. but also was part of a political environment in washington where you can work with your political adversaries but do it in a way that continues to reflect the values and principles of this country. and so his passing from the scene, even though over the last several years he was less and less active. but he still symbolized, i think, a special time in our lives. and having somebody like that who actually worked at langley and who walked the corridors of
langley, i think cia officers, women and men, just felt extremely proud that one of their own was in the oval office and then was such a revered and respected statesman. i think it's caused many to reflect upon the days when you had people like george h.w. bush who really is a beacon, in many respects, and a model for how individuals who aspire to and ascend to such positions of authority carry out their responsibilities with tremendous dignity and humility. >> director brennan, thank you for getting on the phone and spending some time with us. we're grateful. >> thanks. joining the conversation now is steve schmidt, my former colleague, someone who worked for the bush family. steve, just talk about this moment. this moment for the bush family
losing its patriarch just months after losing its matriarch. we see them, i guess the deep state we call them now, assembled inside the halls of the capitol to honor the 41st president. and at the core, it might be because he honored and valued them. >> i think it's an enormously important moment for the country, nicolle. when we look at the life of george herbert walker bush, this di tannic figure, this american statesman, american giant. his life spanned three-quarters of the american century. born in 1924. the man who presided over the fall of the berlin wall and the collapse of the soviet empire. a person who was a wartime commander in chief. not since fdr did you see such competence in the oval office with the deployment of the united states military into harm's way.
a figure of decency and goodness. somebody who went to work every day with one goal in mind. to make his country more prosperous and its people more secure. to make the country better for the americans not yet born. and it's a remarkable life. when we think about 2018, i think it stands mentioning that this marks the death of the youngest combat pilot in the pacific theater of the second world war at age 94. the passing of the last of the world war ii generation as president of the united states. and when we ponder our politics of division, its vulgarity, its cruelty. what george herbert walker bush is being remembered for this week is, isn't a tweet or isn't a press release or nothing much more than his fundamental
character. his decency. and for a long time in this country, we've been told around our politics that character doesn't matter so much. but what we celebrate in this country at this hour is the celebration of character. of virtue. and all of the virtues that define this man's life are fundamentally the virtues that are necessary for the sustainment and prosperity of a great nation. >> steve schmidt, i think it's fair to say that this moment in our politics is hard on the bush family and people that served them. with that being said, donald trump has exhibited some -- he has had some respectful words for george h.w. bush. and it's just been handed to me that the trumps are expected to pay their respects at the capitol tonight. this seems to me to be george h.w. bush's last gift to the
office of the presidency. to lift donald trump up. >> well, this is an office with so much majesty around it. when we watch as jon meacham said earlier, the state, the celebration of state. the remembrance of this life. the majesty. this is one of 44 human beings who has served as president of the united states and the history of the american republic. he did so in consequential times. he gave his full measure to the country. he conducted himself with decency and dignity. and so in this hour of vulgarity, we look at the remembrance of his life, and i think it's a reflection back into the country. that though they may be missing from our political class, the virtues of decency and goodness are on display and exhibited
every minute of every hour of every day in america. when he talked about the thousand points of light, what he was saying is that, across all the country from the inner city to our most rural towns, there are americans doing great things, doing decent things, doing good things. and he was a man who i think americans understood typified the best of all of us. the best of all of our capacity for decency and goodness. >> he also, karen tumulty, he also is being remembered in some of the same ways by members of the media. there was an extraordinary piece of writing today from maureen dowd. and if you worked in the bush family, you knew the relationship between them was something of a legend. and really wasn't much anyone could do about it. she would write what she would write. but you don't see that. and if there are warm spots and warm relationships between politicians and members of the
media, most politicians are pretty careful not to let anyone find out. >> yes. and it was a tendentious relationship. a lot of the opinion columnists were incredibly hard on george herbert walker bush. so as you might recall, there were buttons and bumper stickers during the 1992 campaign that said annoy the media. vote for bush. and i think, you know, again, it was not like it was a smooth relationship all the time. but there was a certain kind of grace to it and a certain respect. i think on both sides. the responsibilities that come with the job. and it's, i think, really -- as i was writing the obituary for our newspaper, it occurred to me
that when you write these obitua obituaries, you really do have to be very cognizant of the context in which they land. and i think that his death, it's just impossible not to view both his death and his life against the context of where america is right now in the context of what the presidency is like right now. >> everyone is being really careful and respectful. we're watching an image of the 41st president's casket as it's being driven via motorcade in a presidential limo. most presidents call that the beast because of its size and weight. what everyone is getting at is that under donald trump, the office of the presidency has been debased in a way that's unimaginable for people who served, every past president. >> it is. it's different. we're living in a difference time. george bush 41 is -- his body will be carried up the steps of
the east front of the kopcapito. the casket will be placed on the same cataphault. >> and this isn't a law. this is a tradition and what's lost is our reverence and dependence and the way we need and rely upon the elegance and traditions of the presidency. >> it is. in the last 72 hours, donald trump has paid an emotional respect. he canceled his press conference in south america. he sent air force one to get the body of george bush. he's going to attend but not speak at the funeral. but i'd say that's not a gift that donald trump is giving us. that is a gift that george bush 41 is giving us. >> correct. >> because george bush has included donald trump. a man with whom there is great contrast and, frankly, probably great disagreement between the families. bush 41's last gift to us is to invite the trump family into his very last service.
>> and it is so bush 41 to lift up everyone. >> joining me, chris matthews. your coverage saturday night and today has been remarkable. now the moment is here. the casket about to be carried up the steps of the capitol. >> when i worked at the hill i used to take people way down and down there is where the catafalque was. it's all so much about the capitol. there's the first article of the government of the constitution. it is where our government really resides, not the white house. it's the capitol. capitol policemen will die for that building. i know that because i used to be one of them. it is a revered spot.
it is the heart of our democracy. and here's george bush coming back to it. a servant of the state, if you will. nobody has had as many jobs as he's had. everything. u.s. congressman, cia, republican national committee, ambassador to china, vice president, president, he did it all. he loved it. i hate phrases like the deep state because it suggests they're apart from us. of course, these are all people who bear witness to the fact he was representing the american people. and there's dick cheney and the rest of them. what an amazing group of people who have survived all of this. and i think it's about service. and i know president trump, i don't think understands it. he doesn't understand that people come to this city of washington to serve the country. that they are there as representatives of the people, and they know it. and that 21-gun salute is a tribute to the has of state. the person who personifies this country at the top. not just the head of the government or congress or holder of the presidency or chief executive but the head of state. and i think bush, and you know
this better than any president, understood the honor of the office. just like ronald reagan would never walk into the oval office without his coat on. i don't think in any spiritual way, george herbert walker bush didn't see any part of the presidency that doesn't deserve reverence. he was once asked, what's the greatest thing about being president? and he answered with the best possible answer. he said the honor of it. >> and you know -- >> that explains everything we feel today. >> if we went to work in the white house on a saturday or a sunday, whether we were going to be inside the oval office or not, we were not -- we always had to wear a suit. i mean, the office was to be revered. and even if we were called in at the last minute to put together a pool for a surprise trip to iraq or afghanistan, no matter the short notice, we had to put on a suit. men had to put on a coat and tie to be anywhere near that west wing. >> because we represent the american people. it's a republican form of government. we're here to represent the government in any capacity. the people who elect people have
a right to be represented as honorably as possible. and that's what it's about. and i think we get into this tribal political warfare. and we forget what the job is, which is to represent the american people. and i think bush senior really knew how to do that. the funny thing was, because you're talking about the letter righting is a riot because 1988 is when i calm out with a book "hardball." the show is names after that, of course. and he wrote me a letter. he went through each page of the book and numbered the pages he was mentioned on. and page 7, page 22 all the numbers. and he said having escaped unscathed, i'll read the rest of your book. >> he was so -- >> so washington. >> we talked about his letters as love bombs. when you received one you felt like the most important person in the world. i think a lot of people who are out there today are on the receiving ends of love bombs from this president. >> he also did the same with my parents. i'll say this story. i guess i'll say it at the end
of the show when he invited me to a movie at the white house with my wife kathleen. my parents were visiting town on their way back from florida. i guess it was in the spring. i wasn't going to go without them. so i found a way. i finangled an invitation. we went upstairs to the family area and there he was. dressed for a club event for fun. he looked great. had a blazer on. gray pants. evening attire. he took my dad and mom on the most amazing tour. just the two of them. and they never forgot it. my dad said of that night, the greatest event of the night, our family owes it to this president we've just lost. so let's watch, chris, as they get ready to take the casket carrying the body of the 41st president of the united states, george herbert walker bush, up the steps of the capitol where he will lay in state.