WASHINGTON — With tears welling in his eyes, President George W. Bush and his family accompanied President George H.W. Bush’s casket into the Capitol to begin 41 hours of lying in state.
The 41st president’s cabinet stood at the top of the Capitol steps as Bush’s hearse arrived from Joint Base Andrews. Former Secretary of State James Baker, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell, and former White House chief of staff John Sununu were all seen wiping away tears as Bush’s body was brought into the rotunda.
“Today this hero has returned to the Capitol a final time, not on the front porch of our democracy this time, but here in its hallowed cathedral, beneath paintings that tell the story of our land and our liberty and flanked by statues of his fellow champions, whom he joined in making that story possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), adding that in the Navy and in politics Bush was a “steady hand staying the course.”
“Through the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s collapse, he kept us on course. When the rule of law needed defending in the Persian Gulf, he kept us on course. With his even temperament and hard-won expertise, George Herbert Walker steered this country as straight as he steered that airplane,” McConnell continued. “He kept us flying high, and challenged us to fly higher still, and he did it with modesty and kindness that would have been surprising in someone one-tenth as tough and accomplished as he was.”
In the front row as congressional leaders paid tribute were George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, Marvin Bush, Dorothy Bush Koch, and their spouses. All Supreme Court justices were also there.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said one of his most unforgettable memories about Bush was the president being “a loving father, reaching out to hold his son’s hand at the National Cathedral after 9/11.”
Ryan defined grace as “the stuff of life, the connective tissue in a free society — it deepens the well of our common humanity.”
“Throughout his life of service, President Bush personified grace. His character — his character was second to none. He reached the heights of power with uncommon humility. He made monumental contributions to freedom with a fundamental decency that resonates across generations,” he said. “…In consequential times, George Herbert Walker Bush demonstrated the finest qualities of our nation and of humankind, a great leader and a good man, a gentle soul of firm resolve.”
“He showed us that how we live is as important as what we achieve. His life was a hymn of honor. His legacy is grace perfected. His memory will belong to glory.”
Vice President Mike Pence noted that “while he was known as ‘the quiet man,’ it was not for lack of nerve or daring, for in all of his 94 years President Bush never lost his love of adventure, and he never failed to answer the call to serve his country.”
“I was lucky enough to meet him in 1988, when he was vice president, and I was a 29-year-old just getting started in politics. Then, as always, I was struck by his approachability. There was a kindness about the man that was evident to everyone who ever met him,” Pence said. “All his years in public service were characterized by kindness, modesty and patriotism. He was so modest, in fact, that he never wrote an autobiography. But he did leave a record of his life in the thousands of letters that he wrote.”
Pence said Bush wrote a congratulatory letter to Pence’s son in August after he made his first tailhook landing as a Marine aviator on the USS George Herbert Walker Bush.
“In that letter, President Bush wrote to my son, in his words, ‘Congratulations on receiving your wings of gold. I know how proud you and your family are at this moment.’ And then in words that assured us that the letter came directly from him, he wrote, quote, ‘Though we have not met, I share the pride your father has for you during this momentous occasion, and I wish you many CAVU days ahead. All the best, G. Bush,'” Pence continued. “I would come to learn that acronym, CAVU for short, is a term Navy pilots have used since World War II. It stands for ‘ceiling and visibility unlimited.'”
“President Bush described CAVU, in his words, as the ‘kind of weather we Navy pilots wanted when we were to fly off our carrier in the Pacific.’ And he once wrote a letter to his children, saying that CAVU, in his words, ‘describes my own life as it’s been over the years and as it is right now — ceiling and visibility unlimited.’ You know that may well describe the essence of this man. And it may well have been his vision, the vision he had for his life, for his children, his children’s children, and his country. No barriers, no boundaries, no limits.”
After lawmakers left and the Bush family went to stay at Blair House, the Capitol was opened to receive a long line of mourners and will remain open to visitors until 7 a.m. Wednesday. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump were expected to come pay their respects this evening.