Family members, former Bush cabinet members, and senators and representatives gathered to mourn Bush. His son, former President George W. Bush, placed his hand to his heart as his father’s flag-draped coffin was carried up the steps of the Capitol. On the west front of the complex, just as a sunset gave the National Mall a pinkish hue, Bush was given a 21-gun salute.
“While he was known as the quiet man, it was not for lack of nerve or daring,” Vice President Mike Pence said in brief remarks. “For in all his 94 years, President Bush never lost his love of adventure and he never failed to answer the call to serve his country.”
Bush will lie in state at the Capitol through Wednesday, as members of the public are allowed to file through the Rotunda for a viewing. Then, Bush will be eulogized at a funeral at Washington National Cathedral. President Donald Trump declared Wednesday a national day of mourning, and many government offices will be closed.
As the Capitol ceremony was televised across networks on Monday, pundits across the spectrum talked of Bush’s legacy as one of a bygone era of more polite politics and less polarization.
Pence recalled first meeting Bush in 1988 and being struck by his kindness, while House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “throughout his life of service, President Bush personified grace.”
Bush is the last president to have served in World War II, and as a fighter pilot, his plane was shot down over the Pacific. Pence recalled that he recently asked Bush to sign a photo for his son, who made his first tailhook landing as a Marine aviator on the USS George H.W. Bush. The elder Bush sent Pence’s son a personal letter of congratulations.
“A steady hand staying the course — that is what George Bush gave us for decades,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Ryan recalled that Bush’s 1988 president campaign was the first that he worked on, but then watched as Bush was defeated four years later. “In a democracy sometimes you fall short, and how you handle that is just as important as how you win,” Ryan said.
Others at the ceremony included all of the members of the Supreme Court except Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former vice presidents Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle, and former secretaries of state James Baker and Colin Powell.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are expected to pay their respects at the Capitol later on Monday evening.