Wednesday 18 September 2019

Americans pay respects at coffin of ex-president George HW Bush

The disabled, his pet dog and spy chiefs were among those to attend the Capitol event ahead of Wednesday’s funeral.

Former President George H. W. Bush lies in state in the US Capitol Rotunda (Morry Gash/AP)
Former President George H. W. Bush lies in state in the US Capitol Rotunda (Morry Gash/AP)

By Calvin Woodward, Laurie Kellman and Ashraf Khalil, Associated Press

Soldiers, people in wheelchairs and long lines of other Americans filed through the hushed Capitol Rotunda to view George H.W. Bush’s coffin and remember a president whose legacy included military victory half a world away and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled.

Sully, Bush’s service dog, also made an appearance.

People filed into the Capitol throughout the chilly, overcast day to pay respects to the 41st president, a son and father of privilege now celebrated by everyday citizens for his common courtesies and depth of experience.

“He was so qualified, and I think he was just a decent man,” said Sharon Terry, touring Washington with friends from an Indianapolis garden club.

Her friend Sue Miller said: “I actually think I underestimated him when he was in office.

Visitors file into the Capitol Rotunda (Patrick Semansky/AP)

“My opinion of him went up seeing how he conducted himself as a statesman afterwards.”

The CIA, too, honoured Bush, the only spy chief to become president, as three agency directors past and present joined the public in the viewing.

Former CIA directors George Tenet, left, and John Brennan pause alongside current director Gina Haspel in front of the flag-draped coffin (Patrick Semansky/AP)

In the midst of the period of mourning, first lady Melania Trump gave Laura Bush, one of her predecessors, a tour of holiday decorations at the White House, and the Trumps planned to visit the Bush family at the Blair House presidential guesthouse.

Although President Donald Trump will attend Bush’s national funeral service on Wednesday, he is not among the eulogists announced by the Bush family, a list that includes the late president’s son, former President George W. Bush.

“The elegance & precision of the last two days have been remarkable!” Mr Trump tweeted of the funeral ceremonies, which opened in Texas and came to Washington on Monday.

Mr Bush is lying in state at the Capitol until the Washington National Cathedral service.

The Trumps visited Mr Bush’s coffin on Monday evening.

Sully, former President George H.W. Bush’s service dog, walks to the Capitol Rotunda (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Dignitaries came forward on Monday to honour the Texan whose service to his country extended three quarters of a century, from the Second World War through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.

President from 1989 to 1993, Mr Bush died on Friday at 94.

Not all the people who came for the viewing in a heavily Democratic city and suburbs were Bush supporters.

They waited in line nonetheless.

“I’m just here to pay my respects,” said Jane Hernandez, a retired doctor.

“I wasn’t the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could.

Former Senator Bob Dole salutes the flag-draped coffin (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

“And anybody who does that job deserves some respect.”

Fred Curry, one of the few African-Americans in the queue, is a registered Democrat, who voted for Mr Bush in 1988, the election won by the one-term president.

“Honestly I just liked him,” he said.

“He seemed like a sincere and decent man and you couldn’t argue with his qualifications.”

Inside the Capitol, people in wheelchairs visited the coffin alongside Sully, the two-year-old Labrador retriever assigned to Mr Bush after his wife, Barbara, died in April.

A group of nuns view the coffin (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Their presence was to commemorate Mr Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that, among its many provisions, required businesses that prohibit pets to give access to service dogs.

Bob Dole, 95, an advocate of that legislation and the former Senate majority leader from Kansas, came in a wheelchair to honour his fellow Second World War veteran.

At the coffin’s side, an aide helped Mr Dole into a standing position. Once steadied, Mr Dole saluted.

Mr Trump’s relationship with the Bush family has been tense.

The current president has mocked the elder Mr Bush for his “thousand points of light” call to volunteerism, challenged his son’s legacy as president and trounced “low-energy” Jeb Bush in the Republican presidential primaries en route to office.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited on Monday evening (Shawn Thew/AP)

The late Mr Bush called Mr Trump a “blowhard”.

Although Mr Bush’s funeral services are suffused with the flourishes accorded presidents, by his choice they will not include a formal funeral procession through downtown Washington.

After services in Washington, Mr Bush will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial on Thursday 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 leukaemia in 1953 aged three.

Mr Trump has ordered the federal government closed for a national day of mourning while flags on public buildings are flying at half-mast for 30 days.

Mr Bush’s death also reduces membership in the ex-presidents’ club to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

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