President George H.W. Bush once said about his funeral and lying in state, “Do you think anyone will come?”
On Wednesday, after thousands of teary-eyed visitors waited hours in the December cold to pay their respects to the late president in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda as he lay in state, hundreds of dignitaries, heads of state and family members gathered at the Washington National Cathedral for a state funeral honoring the life of former President George H.W. Bush, answering his humble question with resounding affirmation.
The motorcade carrying the remains of the 41st president, who passed away last Friday at the age of 94, left the Capitol for a final time around 10:30 a.m. The Bush family stood with their hands on their hearts as the casket was carried slowly down the Capitol steps as a military band played “Nearer My God to Thee.” A hearse then began the drive to the cathedral past streets lined with mourners.
Bush has been memorialized among a bipartisan chorus of voices since his death for his commitment to national service and dedication to his family. His service at the National Cathedral marked a rare and very public gathering of the nation’s living presidents and first ladies, who sat next to one another in a front row. The last time the Bush, Clinton, Trump and Obama families were at the same public event was in January 2017, at Trump’s inauguration.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump entered the cathedral before 11 a.m. Trump handed his coat to a member of the military before sitting down beside his wife, who sat next to the Obamas on the end of the row. Next to the Obamas sat the Clintons and the Carters. The president and the Clintons didn’t exchange greetings, though both Trump and the first lady said hello to the Obamas.
The program itself is largely reflective of Bush’s own service in the military, and will include full state’s honors and performances by the U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra, the Armed Forces Chorus, the Air Force Singing Sergeants and the “President’s Own” Marine Band, among others.
It will mark a contrast to the funeral service scheduled for Thursday after the president’s return to Texas, which is said to feature friends of the family from “west of the Mississippi” and includes performances from the Oak Ridge Boys and Reba McEntire.
The attendee list at the national service is a bipartisan cadre of current and former heads of state, and will be the first time that President Trump is in the same room as all the former living presidents, as well as his defeated 2016 campaign rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
President Trump’s public statements about Bush since his passing and the White House’s coordination of the service have largely received praise for striking a tone of respect and being in alignment with his predecessors’ handling of state funerals.
But that tone of respect will hardly erase what has been the president’s overwhelmingly hostile posture towards the Bush family, the Obamas and the Clintons, both from the campaign trail and since taking office.
While both the president and the first lady met privately with members of the Bush family Tuesday, as recently as last week, Trump shared an image with his millions of Twitter followers that called for Obama and Clinton to be jailed and investigated for “treason.”
Even so, the service itself is not expected to carry some of the more political overtones that were present in the service for former Sen. John McCain this year, that included multiple instances like the eulogy from McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain that seemed to take veiled shots at Trump himself.
Eulogies in Bush’s funeral will be delivered by his son, former President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and historian Jon Meacham. Trump was not asked to deliver a eulogy, marking a departure from the most recent state funerals for Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, where both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton delivered eulogies as acting presidents.
Upon the conclusion of the service, the president’s remains will be transported by Air Force One to Houston, and will lie in repose at the St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where Bush and his wife Barbara first became members in 1959.
There will be a funeral service at the church on Thursday before Bush’s remains are transported by train to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University, where he will be interred alongside his wife Barbara.