Former President George H.W. Bush is returning to Washington as a revered political statesman, hailed by leaders across the political spectrum and around the world as a man not only of greatness but also of uncommon decency and kindness.
Bush, who died late Friday at his Houston home at age 94, is to be honored with a state funeral in the nation’s capital on Wednesday. Following an arrival ceremony Monday, his body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda for a public viewing until Wednesday morning.
President Donald Trump set aside differences in politics and temperament Saturday to honor the former president a day after his death.
Trump declared a day of national mourning and ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff for 30 days to honor a man of “sound judgment, common sense and unflappable leadership.” The president and first lady Melania Trump added that Bush had “inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service.”
While Trump spoke graciously, he has not always been so kind to Bush or his family. He ran against one of Bush’s sons, Jeb Bush, in the GOP presidential primaries in 2016, and was sharply critical of the two-term presidency of another, George W. Bush.
The White House announced Saturday that the Trumps would attend a state funeral for the former president at Washington’s National Cathedral.
The announcement marked a reversal from earlier this year, when the president was not invited to the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush, the family matriarch and the late president’s wife of 73 years. Melania Trump attended instead.
The Trumps were informed of Bush’s death late Friday while in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the Group of 20 summit of rich and developing nations.
Trump said he spoke with former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to express his sympathies. He praised the elder Bush, who died Friday, as “a high-quality man who truly loved his family.”
Sitting alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he refused to answer whether he had any regrets over his past criticism of the Bushes. He did say that Bush’s death “really puts a damper” on his participation at the summit.
In South America, Trump canceled a planned news conference, tweeting that “out of respect for the Bush Family and former President George H.W. Bush we will wait until after the funeral” to hold one.
Trump also announced that he has authorized the use of the iconic Boeing 747 presidential aircraft, known as Air Force One whenever a president is on board, to transport Bush’s remains to Washington — a customary honor for a former president. Bush is to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda from Monday evening through Wednesday morning.
Trump also closed government offices Wednesday and designated it as a national day of mourning, which traditionally occurs on the same day as the Washington component of a late president’s state funeral. He encouraged Americans to gather in places of worship “to pay homage” to Bush’s memory, adding, “I invite the people of the world who share our grief to join us in this solemn observance.”
The proclamation hails Bush as “one of America’s greatest points of light,” a reference to one of the former leader’s signature phrases about the impact of American civic culture.
“President Bush guided our nation and the world to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the Cold War,” the Trumps wrote. “As President, he set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed.”
“And through all that he accomplished, he remained humble, following the quiet call to service that gave him a clear sense of direction.”
They wrote that those whom Bush had inspired to public service were “illuminating the greatness, hope and opportunity of America to the world.”
Trump, the 45th president, paid tribute to “the life and legacy of 41.”
Bush’s crowning achievement as president was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbor Iraq in 1991 in a war that lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
“We didn’t agree much on domestic policy, but when it came to the international side of things, he was a very wise and thoughtful man,” former Massachusetts Gov Michael Dukakis, a Democrat who lost the presidency to Bush in 1988, told The Associated Press on Saturday. He credited Bush’s ability to negotiate with former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev as playing a key role.
“It was a time of great change, demanding great responsibility from everyone,” Gorbachev told the Interfrax news agency. “The result was the end of the Cold War and nuclear arms race.”
During that time and after, Gorbachev said, he always appreciated the kindness Bush and his family showed him.
In Washington, the former Republican president won praise from leaders of both parties.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan lauded him for leading the nation with “decency and integrity,” while Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was a “privilege to work with him.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Bush “befriended political foes, reminding Americans that there is always more that unites us than divides us.”
At the G-20 summit, Merkel, who was raised in then-divided East Germany, told reporters she likely would never have become her country’s leader had Bush not pressed for the nation’s reunification in 1990.
President Bill Clinton defeated Bush in his bid for re-election but 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 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.
Clinton said he would be “forever grateful” for that friendship.