George HW Bush honoured by ordinary Americans as he lies in state in Washington
Mourners pay their respects at the casket of former US president George HW Bush as it lies in state inside the US Capitol Rotunda. (Reuters: Aaron P Bernstein)
Ordinary Americans have paid their respects at Washington’s historic Capitol Rotunda to the late former president George HW Bush, who died last week at the age of 94 after a life of service as a World War II, head of the CIA and wartime president.
- Bush is lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda for public viewing until his funeral
- US politicians spanning generations are making their condolences
- Observers of all stripes praised the president’s repose while in office
Before sunrise, people were waiting to pay their respects as an honour guard stood watch beside Mr Bush’s casket in the cavernous Rotunda, which will be open until his state funeral on Wednesday (local time). Mr Bush will be buried in Texas on Thursday.
With Mr Bush’s casket atop the 1865 Lincoln Catafalque — a platform used to raise caskets — dignitaries also came to honour the president, whose efforts for his country extended three quarters of a century from World War II through his final years in advocacy.
In an invocation opening proceedings, the US House chaplain, the Reverend Patrick J Conroy, praised Mr Bush’s commitment to public service, from Navy pilot to congressman, UN ambassador, envoy to China and then CIA director before being elected vice-president and then president — the first incumbent to do so in over 100 years.
“Here lies a great man,” said Paul Ryan, the Republican House speaker, and “a gentle soul … his legacy is grace perfected”.
Vice-President Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke.
President Donald Trump salutes and first lady Melania Trump pays respects at the casket of former president George HW Bush. (AP: Jonathan Ernst)
President Donald Trump did not attend, but he and first lady Melania Trump came to the Capitol later on Monday to pay tribute.
They stood in front of the casket with their eyes closed for a few moments, before Mr Trump saluted the casket.
The president will lie in state for three days before a state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral. (AP: Morry Gash)
Washington’s partisan toxicity paused
Political combatants set aside their fights to honour a Republican who led in a less toxic era and at times found commonality with Democrats despite sharp policy disagreements.
Nancy Pelosi, a previous Democratic House speaker nominated for the post in the new Congress, exchanged a warm hug with his eldest son George W Bush and came away dabbing her face.
George W Bush himself seemed to be holding back tears.
The hotly tipped next speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, embraces George W Bush. (AP: Jabin Botsford)
Ms Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, placed wreaths in the short ceremony before the rotunda was opened to the public.
Departing from Texas with a 21-gun salute, George HW Bush’s casket was carried to Joint Base Andrews outside the Washington aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One, and it was designated “Special Air Mission 41” in honour of Mr Bush.
George W Bush and others from the family travelled on the flight from Houston.
Cannon fire roared again outside the Capitol as the sun sank and the younger Mr Bush stood with his hand over his heart, watching the casket’s procession up the steps.
George HW 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.
Former US president George HW Bush’s service dog Sully lies next to his coffin as his body lies in state Washington, DC. (Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)
Bush didn’t want a formal funeral procession
An invitation-only funeral service, which the Trumps will attend, will take place at Washington’s National Cathedral.
Although Mr Bush’s funeral services are suffused with the pomp afforded to US presidents, by his choice they will not include a formal funeral procession through downtown Washington.
Eulogies will be offered by George W Bush, former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and historian Jon Meacham, a Bush family spokespeople said.
On Sunday, students, staff and visitors had flocked to George HW 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.
“I think he was one of the kindest, most generous men,” visitor Marge Frazier said.
Thousands from around the US are expected to pass through the Rotunda to pay their respects. (AP: Patrick Semansky)
After services in Washington, Mr Bush will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church, before burial at his family plot on the library grounds.
His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age three.
Mr Trump has ordered the federal government closed on Wednesday for a national day of mourning.
Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.
Bush ushered in a new world order
China’s state media have praised the late president for ushering in new links between Beijing and Washington at the end of the Cold War. (AP: Doug Mills)
Mr Bush’s passing puts him in the Washington spotlight after more than two decades living the relatively low-key life of a former president.
His death also reduces membership in the club of living ex-presidents to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama.
One of Mr Bush’s major achievements was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbour Iraq in 1991, lasting only 100 hours.
He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Soon after he reached the height of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, with public approval ratings that are the envy of today’s politicians, the US economy began to sour and voters began to believe that Mr Bush, never a great communicator — something even he acknowledged — was out of touch with ordinary people.
Other observers have pointed to Mr Bush’s “mixed” legacy on combatting the AIDS crisis, which by the end of his first term, claimed around 133,000 lives that were overwhelmingly those of gay men.
The president, while releasing funds for treatment and creating disability legislation that forbade discrimination against those living with the disease, was widely criticised for telling those at risk of AIDS to “change their behaviour”.
A humble hero of World War II, Mr Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over a Japanese island. He had joined the Navy when he turned 18.
Shortly before leaving the service, he married 19-year-old Barbara Pierce, and forged the longest presidential marriage in US history.
Mr Bush enrolled at Yale University after military service, becoming a scholar-athlete and captaining the baseball team to two College World Series before graduating Phi Beta Kappa after just two-and-a-half years.
After moving to Texas to work in the oil business, Mr Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s, where he was elected to the first of two terms in Congress in 1967.
He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice-president.
‘I just loved him’, Clinton says
He was denied a second term by Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend.
The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?” he joked in 2005.
In a recent essay, Clinton declared of Bush: “I just loved him.”