The nation’s capital embraced George H.W. Bush in death with solemn ceremony and high tributes to his service and decency, as the remains of the 41st president took their place in the Capitol rotunda for three days of mourning and praise by the political elite and everyday citizens alike.
With Bush’s casket atop the Lincoln Catafalque, first used for Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 funeral, dignitaries came forward on Monday, December 3 to honor the Texan whose efforts for his country extended three-quarters of a century from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.
President from 1989 to 1993, Bush died on Friday, November 30 at the age 94.
In an invocation opening on Monday, December 3 evening’s ceremony, the U.S. House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J Conroy, praised Bush’s commitment to public service, from Navy pilot to congressman, U.N. ambassador, envoy to China and then CIA director before being elected vice president and then president.
“Here lies a great man,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, and “a gentle soul. ... His legacy is grace perfected.”
The casket carrying the remains of George H.W. Bush has arrived at the U.S. Capitol for the nation to begin its formal farewell to the 41st president. The president's remains will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning. (Dec. 3)
Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke. President Donald Trump did not attend, but he and first lady Melania Trump came to the Capitol later Monday to pay tribute. They stood in front of the casket with their eyes closed for a few moments, before Trump saluted the casket.
Political combatants set aside their fights to honor a Republican who led in a less toxic era and at times found commonality with Democrats despite sharp policy disagreements. Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, past and incoming House speaker, exchanged a warm hug with George W. Bush and came away dabbing her face. Bush himself seemed to be holding back tears.
Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, placed wreaths in the short ceremony before the rotunda was opened to the public.
Sent off from Texas with a 21-gun salute, Bush’s casket was carried to Joint Base Andrews outside the capital city aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One and designated “Special Air Mission 41” in honor of Bush’s place on the chronological list of presidents. His eldest son, former President George W. Bush, and others from the family traveled on the flight from Houston.
Cannon fire roared again outside the Capitol as the sun sank and the younger President Bush stood with his hand over his heart, watching the casket’s procession up the steps. Bush was remembered just feet away from what he called “Democracy’s front porch,” the west-facing steps of the Capitol where he was sworn in as president.
He will lie in state in the Capitol for public visitation through Wednesday, December 5. An invitation-only funeral service, which the Trumps will attend, is set for Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral.
Although Bush’s funeral services are suffused with the flourishes accorded presidents, by his choice they will not include a formal funeral procession through downtown Washington.
On Sunday, December 2 students, staff and visitors had flocked to Bush’s presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University, with thousands of mourners paying their respects at a weekend candlelight vigil at a nearby pond and others contributing to growing flower memorials at Bush statues at both the library and a park in downtown Houston.