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George H.W. Bush remembered as a hero and for years of dedicated public service


The late George H.W. Bush on Monday evening made his final journey to the U.S. Capitol, where he launched a long and distinguished political career more than a half century ago that culminated in winning the White House in 1988.

Vice President Mike Pence, bipartisan congressional leaders, Supreme Court justices and Cabinet secretaries past and present packed the Capitol Rotunda as a flag-draped casket carrying the 41st president arrived for a ceremony that begins three days of mourning in Washington.

Bush died Friday at his home in Houston at age 94, just seven months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush.

Congressional leaders hailed the former president on Monday for his heroics as a young aviator during World War II and his presidential accomplishments. But it was Bush’s devotion to family, combined with his civil approach to governing across decades of public service, that was remembered most prominently.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hailed Bush as “a humble servant” and “principled leader” who governed with a “modesty and kindness that would have been surprising in someone one-tenth as tough and accomplished as he was.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) praised Bush as “a gentle soul of firm resolve” who showed the world “that how we live is as important as what we achieve.”

Pence remembered Bush as “a good man” who “left America and the world, more peaceful, prosperous and secure.”

“There was a kindness about the man  … kindness, modesty and patriotism,” Pence said. “He was so modest, in fact, that he never wrote an autobiography.”

The one light-hearted moment within the otherwise solemn ceremony came when Pence related the story that Bush, as he prepared for the vice presidency, had joked that the position entailed “nothing substantive to do at all.”

But Bush used that role, Pence continued, to “set the standard as a sound counselor and loyal advisor to an outsider who came to Washington, D.C., to shake things up, cut taxes [and] rebuild the military” – a reference to Reagan that was also unmistakably an allusion to President Trump.

“And together they did just that,” Pence said. 

Inside the majestic Rotunda, bipartisan comity was on full display: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stood next to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), likely the next Speaker. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, chatted up D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat. A few seats away were the Supreme Court justices, including Clarence Thomas, who was appointed by Bush, and Brett Kavanaugh, who served in the George W. Bush White House. Both justices survived brutal Senate confirmation hearings.

Members of the Bush clan, America’s foremost political dynasty, were on hand, including George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who came up short in his presidential run against Trump two years ago.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was Defense secretary in the first Bush administration, walked in alongside former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served as Bush’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bush’s Education secretary, sat not with his fellow senators but across the room with the former Bush Cabinet secretaries. Cannons, fired on the National Mall in honor of Bush, rattled the Capitol building, while the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club sang "America the Beautiful." 

Bush will lie in state, on the revered Abraham Lincoln catafalque and under the Constantino Brumidi fresco “The Apotheosis of Washington,” until 7 a.m. Wednesday.  Members of the public will be able to personally view the casket and pay tribute to the late president during that time.

Trump was not on hand at the Capitol arrival ceremony but may privately pay his respects with first lady Melania Trump. Trump will attend Wednesday morning’s funeral service at National Cathedral, but is not expected to speak.

The death of a former president is a rare event — the last former president to die was Gerald Ford, a former House GOP leader, 12 years ago.

The funeral is shutting down business in Washington, with the House cancelling votes and committee meetings all week and the Senate scrapping votes until at least Wednesday. Ryan postponed his major farewell address at the Library of Congress and the annual Christmas tree lighting until after this week. Trump’s government-funding meeting Tuesday with Democratic congressional leaders was also delayed.

The only business the House and Senate conducted on Monday was to unanimously approve the use of the catafalque, on which the caskets of Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, former Sen. John McCain and many others had rested.

Trump ordered the federal government to close on Wednesday, declaring it a national day of mourning for Bush. Security will be extremely heavy across the nation’s capital, as foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, attend the funeral in northwest Washington.

Earlier Monday, Trump sent Air Force One to transport Bush’s casket and his surviving family members, including George W. Bush and Laura Bush, from Houston to Washington, D.C. Because the current president was not on board, the 747 plane was dubbed “Special Air Mission 41.”

During a brilliant, sunny December day, the plane landed at Joint Base Andrews Air Force Base, where Bush’s casket was met by top military brass and an honor guard and transported to the Capitol in a black hearst. Bush’s service dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Sully, accompanied the casket to Washington.

The son of a U.S. senator who was born to privilege, George H.W. Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack at Pearl Harbor and, at 18, became the nation’s youngest naval aviator. On Monday, Bush, a colorful socks fanatic, was sporting socks with Navy planes, his spokesman said, a tribute to his military service.     

Bush’s time in Congress was short. After moving to Texas in the 1960s, he ran for a Senate seat but lost. He served in the House from 1967 to 1971, where he kept offices in the Longworth House Building, but he left Congress after losing a second Senate race.

While his Senate bids were unsuccessful, there is a bust of Bush in the Capitol, where as Reagan’s vice president he served as president of the Senate.

“He was my very best friend. He was a great mentor to me. He got me into politics,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), who is a family friend of the Bush’s, told the Hill. “For the nation, it is the loss of a man we may never see the likes of again, a leader that led entirely by example and a leader who could reach out and make a deal, but never give away his core.”

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