Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

State Funeral of President George H.W. Bush. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 3, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The son of the 41st president, 43rd president, George W. Bush, will eulogize his father, along with three others.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer is on Capitol Hill for us right now.

And, Wolf, an official telling CNN they're intending to keep the public viewing open all night at the Capitol.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there will be long lines, I'm sure, of people wanting to come up to the U.S. Capitol, where we are now, to the Rotunda, and pay their respects to the 41st president of the United States.

This is an emotional moment for a lot of people who remember, Jamie and John.

Jamie has been with us. John King has been with us.

You know the family well. And we just saw a rather emotional, brief but powerful ceremony at Joint Base Andrews.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, he was 94 years old. He had been through a lot of health scares and had a lot of health challenges. The family knew this was coming.

But they're like any other family. You're never really prepared for it. And just watching former President George W. Bush standing there, I saw his shoulders sort of go up and down for a moment and sigh.

I think this is very hard on him. Behind him, one of his twins, Jenna Bush Hager, was standing with her husband, Henry, who was patting her back. It's very hard on the family.

BLITZER: Certainly is, John. And it's not just hard on the family, but so many people who have gathered here this Washington now to pay their respects who worked so closely with the 41st president in so many different capacities.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Throughout his career in government. I saw your note earlier. Even the CIA sent a delegation out to Andrews Air Force Base. The fingerprints, footprints, legacy of George H.W. Bush is across the

government. For the Bush family, remember, they also buried their mom just months ago. And so this has been a tough year and the like.

And one of the things, when you talk to members of the family, what is striking is, there was a lot of worry right after Barbara Bush passed, because, remember, President Bush went into the hospital.

GANGEL: Went right into the hospital.

KING: Went right into the hospital. And there was worry then. But they said he stubbornly wanted to have a final summer in Maine. And much of the family and many of his friends took time to visit during that summer in Maine.

And it's really the Kennedys at Hyannis Port and the Bushes at Kennebunkport if you think about the history of the place and the legacy of the place and the importance that it has been to the family. And so to the point about the emotion, there's obviously emotion.

And you have a former president and this great family standing there watching the casket come off. They call it Special Mission 41, but the plane the family is so familiar with.

But when you do talk to members of the family and the close staff around this president, fiercely loyal people, incredibly. The loyalty to this president for the staff who has been with him for a long time is amazing. They talked about how grateful they were that he got his wish, that he got a final summer in Maine, that he got to say goodbye or have a bunch of friends that he hadn't seen in years come by and say hello and have a quick lunch and little conversations.

BLITZER: Presidential hearse, you saw it beginning the departure from Joint Base Andrews.

I anticipate maybe a half-hour until they arrive here, Jake, up on Capitol Hill.

TAPPER: All right, thanks, Wolf. And we will come back to you when the hearse does arrive on Capitol Hill.

Let's talk about this with our panel here.

And, Tim Naftali, let me start with you.

One of the things that is so remarkable about this moment for this country is, this is the last World War II generation president. And not only is he of that generation, he enlisted on the day he graduated high school, the day he turned 18.

He went out of high school, when everybody else in his family wanted him to go to college , and he was a hero.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, Jake, he was the last of that generation to be elected.

Jimmy Carter served in World War II, and he is still with us.

TAPPER: OK, good point, good point. I apologize.

NAFTALI: That's all right.

I believe that when we think about that World War II generation, and we are going to remember them having given service in war, but then also service in peace. We had a group of phenomenally good presidents who came from that generation. We had one who wasn't so good.

But each of them understood war. And not one of them came out of war wanting more of them. And they managed, in their way, the Cold War with an understanding of how their own experience had been in a hot war.

And so as we remembered George H.W. Bush, let's remember how World War II shaped him and shaped our country.

TAPPER: And, Jeff, one of the things also that is interesting about this -- the loss of this president is, it's the loss of a certain kind of politics.

He certainly could play hardball with the best of them. That 1988 campaign was not for the faint-hearted. But the way he worked across the aisle, the way he worked with Democrats, he had an all Democratic House and Senate when he was president, a striking contrast with the current occupant of the White House, for example.

[16:05:03]

JEFFREY ENGEL, SMU PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY DIRECTOR: Well, and a striking contrast really with everyone who has come since, in the sense that he really was first and foremost a public servant, no matter what party you were from.

And he was willing to reach across the aisle and work with people, as you mentioned, and also was really willing to accept other ideas as his own if they proved better over time, in the sense that he was not ideologically hidebound.

When the data changed, when the facts changed, when he was persuaded, he was willing to move in a different direction. He really was in a sense more pragmatist than an ideologue, but also willing to actually listen, which I think is really the key to his presidency.

TAPPER: Mary Kate, we saw images of Sully, his service dog.

MARY KATE CARY, FORMER GEORGE H.W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Yes.

TAPPER: And you have a story about Sully.

CARY: So I met Sully this summer up in Kennebunkport, as John King was just saying, the president's final summer in Kennebunkport.

And a bunch of us went up there. And it really, first of all, was not the same without Mrs. Bush there. And Mrs. Bush used to have these two little dogs that, to put it politely, were not very well-behaved.

(LAUGHTER)

CARY: And so they got adopted by staff.

And Evan Sisley, who Jamie was just pointing out, decided that maybe a service dog would be a good idea. So he called -- so, Evan called the Pentagon and said, are there service dogs available for disabled American veterans?

And the organization said, we consider George H.W. Bush the greatest of all disabled American veterans, and have we got the dog for you. And Sully arrived very quickly with two pages' worth of commands that he was able to execute.

TAPPER: Oh, wow.

Yes, these dogs are remarkable. They're not just fuzzy friends. They can turn on lights for you.

CARY: Oh, yes.

TAPPER: They can get you things.

Yes.

CARY: Yes.

And, by the way, I said to Evan when he was showing me this list, what is going to happen to Sully when, as we call it, the dreaded moment arrives? And I said, is Sully going to be your dog? And he said, oh, no, no. I'm just a regular guy. Sully needs to be with someone who needs serious help.

And so Sully is being brought back to go to Walter Reed.

GANGEL: Amazing.

CARY: But, anyway, so he says, Sully can do anything but make a martini.

And it turns out that there's a button next to President Bush's bed, and Sully was trained that if President Bush woke up in the middle of the night and said, "I need help," Sully would go over and push the button with his nose and it would ring a bell in Evan's room, and Evan would come in to see what the president needed, right?

TAPPER: Oh, wow.

CARY: Well, this goes for a while. And as Evan would arrive, he would give Sully a treat.

Well, Sully decided he was going to eliminate the middleman and not wait for President Bush to say, "I need help," because he could just push the button and get the treat. Right?

(CROSSTALK)

CARY: So this dog is a little too smart and has started putting on weight, because nobody was going to not come if he pushed the button.

TAPPER: That's the definition of Pavlovian.

CARY: Very -- it is. It is.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're waiting for the casket of President George Herbert Walker Bush to arrive at the United States Capitol.

We will bring that to you live when this happens.

We're going to squeeze in this quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:12:53]

TAPPER: The U.S. Capitol. In minutes, the memorial service for the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, will begin at the Capitol.

The motorcade carrying the president and members of the family, including his son, the former president, is right now on its way there from Joint Base Andrews.

Wolf Blitzer is on Capitol Hill.

There's the Rotunda inside the Capitol. That is where the casket will be for members of the public to greet the president. He will be -- his casket will be there for 41 hours.

And, Wolf, members of the public, they have been lining up already to pay their respects.

BLITZER: Yes, they certainly have, Jake.

And, in fact, we can see them right behind us. They're lined up on the street. They're getting ready to certainly welcome the motorcade bringing the casket. But you can see that folks are already there and a lot of others are already there as well.

It's very interesting that the official delegation that will participate in the Rotunda up here on Capitol Hill at this memorial service, it's such an impressive list of individuals.

GANGEL: We were going through everyone, the RSVP list. Everyone accepted. It's his former Cabinet. It's his staff. It's close friends.

BLITZER: Justices of the Supreme Court.

GANGEL: Justices.

BLITZER: We anticipate momentarily they will be arriving as well.

GANGEL: That's -- we have been talking about this earlier today, but, you know, thousands of people will tell you that they were George Bush's friends. And they really were.

He just developed these friendships over the years. He kept in touch with them. He had an amazing personal touch of in -- in England, they call it the common touch. But he really did.

He reached out to people . He never forgot names. He knew who their children were, what they were doing, and he kept up with people. You know, in politics, we use the word transactional a lot. He was not transactional. He really did keep up with people over the years. And these are his friends and his colleagues who are coming to honor him.

And so many of his staff -- I was talking to his former chief of staff, Jean -- his present chief of staff -- I shouldn't say former -- chief of staff, Jean Becker who has been with him for 24 years now since he left the White House. People stayed with him forever.

[16:15:06]

KING: And at this time, when we have conversations about the current president, sometimes having trouble getting top quality Republicans to join the administration because he is such a different kind of a Republican, and such a different kind of president, just go through this list. Look at the caliber of people who worked for George H.W. Bush.

Number one, you know, again, you talk about the Berlin wall coming down, the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was the president, but he had Jim Baker to help him manage. You look at whether it's the Treasury Department, whether it's Colin Powell, whether it's Lamar Alexander, the education secretary, who was a governor, who's now in the United States Senate.

You go through this list of people, Brent Scowcroft, Sam Skinner, William Webster. You go through this list of people, and the people of the highest caliber not only wanted to, rushed to join an administration of a man who had such a deep resume himself that he put qualifications and character of service high, and you can just look through this list, and it is -- you think about now how hard it is. How hard it is to get people to give up -- it's not just President Trump. It's hard to get people to give up high-paying private sector jobs to take jobs in public service.

But this was a president who attracted an "A" team when you go through this list.

GANGEL: He was loyal to them, and they were loyal to him. His motto, we've said it many times in the past couple days, service before self. And he -- the people who worked with him felt the same way. I will tell you right now at Blair House, there are a whole group of volunteers, former staff people, sitting there who came on their own time to make this all happen today.

BLITZER: Yes, Blair House, the official residence for guests of the president across the street from the White House.

You know, Jake, the diplomatic corps is arriving, ambassadors here in Washington, members of the cabinet. They are arriving. The vice president and Mrs. Pence, they're arriving momentarily, as well.

TAPPER: All right, Wolf. Thank you so much.

Let's continue to talk about the former president, his life and legacy.

And, Dana Bash, one of the things that's unmistakable, whether it is the funeral of Barbara Bush, which President Trump did not attend, the funeral of John McCain, which President Trump was not invited to, or this funeral, which President Trump will be invited to, is that there is something in the contrast between McCain and Trump, between George H.W. Bush and Trump. And look, as I said before, George H.W. Bush was a politician, and there were certainly tough moments that we could go over at a different time to talk about not his proudest moments in politics.

But there was a civility to him. There was a generosity to him. There was a humility to him that stands as a contrast with today's politics.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, you were just hearing Jamie talk about the motto that President Bush had, which is almost exactly the theme of Senator McCain, country first, humility, putting something ahead of yourself. And not just that, it's the notion of, you know, being able to do things that could hurt you very deeply politically, which we saw George H.W. Bush do with the tax increase and other things. Even the Gulf War, which turned out not to be a political problem, but going in, it certainly looked like it could be.

TAPPER: Taking it to Congress -- he didn't have to do that.

BASH: Yes. That's right.

TAPPER: But he took it to Congress, because he wanted the whole country behind it.

BASH: That's exactly right. So, yes. There's no question, contrasting that with politics writ large right now. It's like a different universe between then and now.

I mean, the things that didn't even occur to politicians like George H.W. Bush to do or ways to conduct himself is now standard. And there's absolutely no question that that is the feeling, the innate feeling, the sense of remorse and mourning for a man, but for a time.

TAPPER: Yes.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He also -- what's interesting to me is that he did not write his own autobiography. He is somebody who had Jon Meacham tell his story. Most presidents write their own stories. Donald Trump has written many books about himself. And I think that what stands out about Bush is that he didn't want to tell his own story, because he didn't want to seem to be bragging in some way.

TAPPER: His mom taught him, don't talk about yourself.

BORGER: So he felt comfortable telling someone his story who could then interpret it. This is a man who loved writing letters to people.

[16:20:01] And we have now seen chapter and verse of that, not only to Bill Clinton, but to so many people. Not things in short spurts, but longer thoughts. And yet didn't want to brag about his achievement. And one of the ironies of his life is that people thought he didn't have grit as a result, which, of course, he did.

TAPPER: We're going to sneak in another quick break. When we come back, we'll talk more about the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:14] TAPPER: Right now, Vice President Pence arriving at the capitol. He is among those who will honor the 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, at the memorial service, which starts minutes from now. There he is. You see him getting out of the vice presidential limousine with his wife, Karen, I believe.

The motorcade carrying former President George H.W. Bush and members of the Bush family, including former President George W. Bush, is right now on its way to Capitol Hill for this memorial service.

CNN's Manu Raju is in the Capitol rotunda where the ceremony will happen.

And, Manu, we've seen the diplomatic corps fill the rotunda. We have seen some local dignitaries, the mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan. Tell us what you see.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we'll see more and more officials. Bush administration officials from his administration coming in. We saw Colin Powell just moments ago enter, as well as Trump administration officials, too, cabinet level officials. Steven Mnuchin, as well as Wilbur Ross.

The Senate is filling up, too. Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republican and Democratic leadership soon will gather, as well as we await their remarks during the ceremony in the rotunda.

Now, when the casket does arrive in the front of the east front capitol of -- east front steps of the capitol, it will move up the steps of the capitol with being led by honorary pall-bearers, including the former vice president, Dan Quayle. And they will be greeted by Bush family members once they depart from that motorcade. We expect when they do arrive here, Jake, that process will take about 15 minutes until the casket actually leaves from the motorcade up the steps of the capitol and into the rotunda.

But right now, a very solemn moment here as a lot of former Bush officials, current senators and high-level dignitaries await these services that are set to take place in just a matter of minutes here.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Kate Anderson Brower, we were talking about not just the reputation for modesty, but the facts on the ground. President H.W. Bush, many times, really was a man of humility. He, for instance, was urged to go to the Berlin wall after it fell by Condi Rice and, you know, take something of a victory lap. And he said, no, this is a German moment, let the Germans have it. And he wouldn't go on the ticker tape parade in New York City after the success in the First Gulf War.

You were talking about an experience he had -- there is Clarence Thomas, current Supreme Court justice, along with his other justices whom President George H.W. Bush appointed to the bench.

Anyway, Kate, you were talking about a trip that George H.W. Bush took after his presidency to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

KATE ANDERSON BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And I would say a lot of presidential hopefuls idolize George H.W. Bush, right? And I'm curious to see what Mike Pence says about him, because Bush was the only vice president in modern history to become president. So, he worships George H.W. Bush.

But at the Vietnam War Memorial, in the middle of the night on the tenth anniversary of the memorial, Bush insisted on going with no press to go visit the memorial with Barbara Bush, and to pay his respects as a former World War II vet himself. And I think what's remarkable about it, he really didn't want any fanfare, and there were some Vietnam vets who were actually shocked when he came up to them and put his arms around them and thanked them for their service.

And then when people were reading the names of the vets who had passed away, who were killed in action, he got up and started reading it and then stopped after about 12 or 13 names, because he was, you know, very choked up with emotion. And he wanted to make sure that it wasn't about him. And I think that's the bottom line and we're hearing from a lot of people, it wasn't about George H.W. Bush. It was about serving the country and patriotism, which is something that is lacking now, I think.

TAPPER: There's his best friend on the right side of the screen right there, former secretary of state, former secretary of the treasury, former White House chief of staff, James Baker. James Baker, who was a nonpolitical individual, a friend of George H.W. Bush's in Houston. His wife, Mary, died of breast cancer, and George H.W. Bush urged him to join his campaign to keep him busy, to distract him from --

BASH: He was a Democrat. TAPPER: To distract him from his misery and his suffering. There he

is with his wife Susan. And a life-long friendship and partnership was born.

We're going to squeeze in another quick break. We'll come right back with more from the capitol ceremony for former President George H.W. Bush.