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National Day of Mourning for Former President Gerald Ford

Aired January 2, 2007 - 09:00:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: A final hail to the chief led by those who have walked in Gerald Ford's footsteps.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character.


BLITZER: Here in the nation's capital, the powerful, the people and a grieving family join together in prayer and appreciation of the 38th president of the United States.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And amid troubles not of his own making, President Ford proved as worth of that office as any who had ever come before.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), OUTGOING SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We needed a healer. We needed Iraq. We needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford.


BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of the U.S. Capitol. A final tribute to Gerald Ford's service under that dome is happening right now.

His casket was moved just a short time ago from the Capitol Rotunda to just outside the U.S. Senate, where Mr. Ford presided while he was vice president of the United States.

Soon, his body will be transported to the National Cathedral here in Washington for a funeral service attended by his family and many dignitaries, including President and Mrs. Bush.

Welcome to our special coverage of the national funeral service for Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, will be here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM over the next three hours.

And we have a team of correspondents and special guests standing by to cover the final farewell to the 38th president of the United States right here in the nation's capital.

Let's begin our special coverage on Capitol Hill and we'll go to CNN's Joe Johns to set the stage -- Joe, what's going on right now?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, this has been a state funeral marked, in some ways, with non-traditional nuance. The president entering the Capitol for the last time on the House side, now inside the United States Capitol on the Senate side in the Ohio Clock Corridor (ph) just outside the entrance to the United States Senate.

He, of course, was president of the Senate for only a period of months, while he was vice president of the United States.

From there, of course, he will be brought down the steps here on the east front of the United States Capitol, here on the Senate side, to go to the hearse and now on to the National Cathedral -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe, the steps -- we will see the casket actually brought down with that military honor guard alongside, those 45 steps of the Senate -- of the Capitol?

JOHNS: That's correct. We will see the president brought down those 45 steps here to the procession and the motorcade, which is directly behind me. The vice president and others are here to greet the casket, its final -- at the president's final exit from the United States Capitol.

The Capitol, of course, is the place where he served the bulk of his government service, 24 years in the House of Representatives, eight years as the minority leader of the House. And it has been said many times that the one thing he wanted most was to be the speaker of the House.

He never got that. But as it turns out, he was president of the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're seeing the motorcade, including the hearse, how make its way to the steps where you are, Joe. The hearse will be carrying the casket of President Gerald R. Ford to the National Cathedral. You see it right there in the front of your screen. And that motorcade will eventually go past the White House, toward the National Cathedral in northwest Washington.

Our John King is over at the National Cathedral getting ready for this national service -- John, give our viewers a sense of what they can expect to see.

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as that procession makes its way from the Capitol past the White House up into northwest Washington to this majestic cathedral, you will hear the bell toll 38 times in honor of the 38th president of the United States.

Thirty-seven hundred people on hand. This is an invitation only event. The public could make its way to pay final respects up at the Capitol over the weekend, but this an invitation only event at the National Cathedral.

The security, as you would expect in any event, and certainly in the post-9/11 world, quite extraordinary here at the cathedral because, as the country pays its last official farewell, if you will, its last official tribute to President Ford, you will have the former President Bush, former President Carter, former President Clinton and the current president of the United States, George W. Bush, on hand.

Other dignitaries filling in, many of them officials who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations some 30 years ago. Others representing diplomatic Washington and official Washington now. Among those speaking at the service here will be President Ford's son Jack and his daughter Susan; also, George H.W. Bush will eulogize the former president. He was the ambassador to China and the CIA director back in those days.

Henry Kissinger will also speak, the former secretary of state, who carried over from the Nixon administration, a reminder that President Ford, though he was president for only two-and-a-half years, was president at a time of great turmoil and tumult in the country, the days immediately after Watergate in the Vietnam era.

Thirty-seven hundred people here, Wolf, to pay a final tribute. Then President Ford will make his way in one last procession to Andrews Air Force Base back home to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

BLITZER: We'll get back to you shortly, John.

Thank you very much.

Barbara Starr is joining us, as well -- Barbara, talk a little bit about the military aspects, the honor guard. We see the honor guard standing on those 45 steps of the U.S. Capitol right now. A lot of our viewers, of course, are well aware of the fact that any president of the United States is also the commander-in-chief.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these are the young military people paying the final ultimate honor to their former commander-in-chief. Of course, moths young people weren't even born or were just small children when Gerald Ford was president. But that is no matter to them. This is a matter of great honor for the United States military to pay -- do this duty and pay their respects to their former commander-in-chief.

People might be interested in knowing that these young honor guards, most of them since Saturday night, have been sleeping in the basement of the Capitol on cots, round the clock, so they are available to do this duty.

The five-man honor guard that has been posted with the casket around the clock -- what we have been told this morning -- we've talked to some people involved in it -- is that some of the young military people have very adamantly volunteered to do midnight duty, stay with the president around the clock, at his side at the casket. And many of them have very expressively asked to do -- pull midnight duty. They want to do this. They say that this is a matter of great, great honor for them.

This is going to be a very physically demanding day for the military. They are changing shifts a little more often, we're told, than they do in the past. They usually change every hour. They've been changing every half hour -- as you see, the family, the children, beginning to arrive -- because it will be a demanding day and they want to execute their honors for the president with the ultimate precision and dignity.

So they are -- they are ready for the day ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll be watching them very, very closely. A source of great strength to the widow, Betty Ford, who will be attending all of these services, as well. And we see the children of Betty and Gerald Ford now walking up these stairs between this honor guard to go toward the casket, which is lying in state right now outside the U.S. Senate.

I want to bring in our analyst, Jeff Greenfield, of CNN; Tom DeFrank of the "New York Daily News" -- Jeff, talk a little bit about the timing of this funeral service.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really quite extraordinary. Because the president died shortly after Christmas, when official Washington was on a break, this funeral coincides with the week that everybody comes back to Washington. And so today you will hear much talk about bipartisanship, about the geniality and affability of Gerry Ford, that he said I have adversaries and not enemies.

Forty-eight hours later, in the same building we're now looking at, the new Congress comes back, the first time in 12 years a shift in both houses from Republican to Democrat. We have no idea whether the promises of bipartisanship will, as often happens, disappear in the first 72 hours, whether the Republicans will really get a chance to work with Democrats, as Democrats have promised.

The 2008 presidential campaign will semi-officially already be underway.

So this turns out to be a kind of a breath, a last interregnum, a pause to remember the kind of more official civic notions about Washington before the real political season begins in 48 hours.

BLITZER: And it's clearly going to be a tumultuous political year, 2007, as all of us anticipate.

Tom DeFrank has been healing us better appreciate and understand the Ford presidency, the Ford legacy.

Tom, you're there, I take it, at the National Cathedral. You've been an invited guest to attend this funeral service.

Give us your thoughts.

TOM DEFRANK, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, Wolf, I'm standing on the steps of the Washington National Cathedral right now, hoping that security doesn't throw me off the steps.

But in coming into the cathedral this morning, my mind flashed back to a conversation that I had with President Ford about four years ago. I was interviewing him in California and as he walked me to the door of his office, he said to me, "Oh, by the way, you're going to be invited to the funeral."

And then he said, "And I'm going to be damned sore if you don't show up."

And I said to him, "You know, Mr. President, you're going to outlive all of us. But if, on the unfortunate circumstance that I'm not right about that, I'll be honored to attend."

And he said, "Good, I want you there."

And so I'm honoring that pledge to President Ford. But, of course, in truth, Wolf, that's not a promise that was hard to keep at all.

BLITZER: I know you greatly admired the 38th president of the United States, as so many of us did, as well.

We're looking at these live pictures, by the way, from Capitol Hill. The family members, the children, the grandchildren, the great grandchildren of Betty and Gerald Ford now gathering.

Earlier, we saw some of the honorary pallbearers who have come together at the Capitol, as well, to make this journey from one end of Washington, D.C. toward another from the Capitol to the National Cathedral.

And as you saw, several of those well known honorary pallbearers including the vice president of the United States; the former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger; the former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld; Brent Scowcroft; among others.

And there it is, the casket laying in state outside the U.S. Senate. It shortly will be moved down those stairs of the U.S. Capitol into that hearse.

Candy Crowley is our senior political correspondent.

She's watching all of this unfold, as well -- what's going through your mind, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I guess, you know, the way history has a way of changing what happens in the moment. We've talked a lot about how Gerald Ford became almost instantly unpopular when he pardoned Richard Nixon. And now we look back and we see these polls and some 60 percent of the people say it was a good idea.

It just reminds us, I guess, that the passage of time does tend to put things in perspective. Gerald Ford getting all of these honors, I think, much deserved. And we've also talked a lot about what a sort of common man he was in that best sense of the word and how he was just what the country needed at a time -- when you look back at the decade before Gerald Ford became president, we had Vietnam, we had the death and assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. There were riots in urban areas.

So it was a hugely tumultuous time. And along comes this Midwesterner known for telling the truth. Certainly after Watergate, that was a big asset.

So it seemed that the right man came along at the right time after what had been a decade of tumult.

BLITZER: Candy, stand by.

Walter Mears is joining us, as well.

Walter, as many of our viewers will remember, a great reporter and columnist for the Associated Press, covered the Ford presidency and covered Washington, indeed, for a long time.

Walter, what's going through your mind 30 years after this presidency?

WALTER MEARS, FORMER BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: When I think of -- when I think of those days and think of Ford, I think of the contrasts. I covered 11 presidential campaigns for the A.P. I covered men who spent their...

BLITZER: Walter, I'm going to interrupt you for a second.

I just want to point out to our viewers who are watching this, we see the children of Gerry and Betty Ford now standing next to that casket in the -- in front of the U.S. Senate. And there you saw the bust of Gerald Ford briefly. It had been moved.

As vice president, he is also -- he was the president of the U.S. Senate and all of the presidents of the U.S. Senate -- in other words, the vice presidents -- have busts outside there. And we saw that, as well.

So I just wanted to point out to our viewers, Walter, what they're seeing as you speak.

But go ahead.

MEARS: He made...

BLITZER: And you can see the bust right there to the side.

MEARS: I was -- I was speaking of the sense of contrast. Of all the candidates that I covered in all those years, Gerald Ford was the only one who came, by accident, obviously, but modestly unassumingly to the White House. And all of the other candidates, all of the other presidents were, in a way, driven men. They ran. Jimmy Carter was running for president before Gerald Ford was vice president. Ford, therefore, arrived with a whole different aura about him. He didn't have to be president. Richard Nixon had to be president. That wasn't the case with Gerald Ford. He could ease into the office in a very difficult time, but in a way that was different from any other president.

BLITZER: But once he did become president, he didn't waste much time in making some very, very decisive decisions.

MEARS: That's certainly true. He made Nelson Rockefeller his nominee for vice president. Of course, he issued the pardon, of which, perhaps, we can talk a bit more later.

Interestingly, although it's widely forgotten, one of his first acts as president was to from a conditional amnesty to Vietnam War evaders/avoiders. They could come home without penalty if they would agree to two years of civilian service in the United States. Not very many people took him up on it, but it was a gesture of reconciliation at about the same time as he -- as he issued the pardon to Richard Nixon.

BLITZER: Walter, stand by for a moment.

I want to bring in our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.

The president of the United States, Elaine, will be participating, delivering a eulogize at the National Cathedral.

Give us a sense of what else we can anticipate.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just learned about something a few minutes ago that will not be unfolding before the cameras, and that is President Bush and the first lady, before the service gets underway at the National Cathedral, will, in fact, be meeting privately with Mrs. Ford, as well as other members of the Ford family. That according to an administration official.

And, again, this is set to take place before the service gets underway.

Now, as for President Bush's eulogize we are told that it will run-approximately 10 minutes in length and will focus on President Ford's character and his leadership at a time that the White House called a divisive moment in our nation's history.

And that certainly, Wolf, echoes what we heard from President Bush last week. You'll recall the president, both in the radio address, as well as a statement on camera after Gerald Ford's death called Gerald Ford a great man and said that he spent the best years of his life serving the United States.

The president, as well, called Ford a true gentleman and alluding to the Watergate scandal said Ford provided haling for the nation -- Wolf. BLITZER: Elaine, the president had decided that he was not going to come on Saturday for the initial part of this funeral service. He returned to Washington in time for yesterday, to go up to Capitol Hill and to make a condolence call, pay his respects, visit the casket that was lying in state. And today he will be a very full and active participant in this memorial service.

He's also declared a national day of mourning, which is appropriate throughout the United States, for -- to honor the 38th president of the United States.

As we see this picture, I don't know if Tom DeFrank is still with us.

Tom, are you still there on the phone with us?

Unfortunately he's had to go inside, to the National Cathedral.

Jeff Greenfield is here.

You see the family, the children, the four children of Gerald Ford. Earlier we saw some of the grandchildren and even the great grandchildren. It was a -- it was a steady, solid family with certainly problems that every family has. And a lot of those were widely publicized. But it was a, I guess, in many respects, a characteristic American family.

And there we see a live picture of the former president, Jimmy Carter, speaking with Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state.

John King, are you out there at the National Cathedral? Can you see these pictures?

KING: I am, Wolf. I'm outside as we see people proceeding in. I cannot see President Carter, as you noted, from where I'm standing. But I do see several busses with members of Congress have just arrived. People are beginning to flow into the building, 3,700 people in all.

And, as you note, obviously, great, high security here at this. And we've seen so many dignitaries coming and the members of Congress, diplomats, the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, came in a short time ago with his wife, Alma. Again, much of official Washington packing this cathedral for a chance to say one final good- bye and pay their last tribute to the former president.

BLITZER: That's Bob Woodward, the "Washington Post" who's a guest at the cathedral, as well. More than 3,000 guests, all invited, are attending this mss.

Go ahead, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: Well, Bob Woodward has recently -- just in the last couple of days, printed interviews with Gerald Ford that were embargoed until his death and they have some fairly eyebrow raising notions. His strong discontent with the conduct of the war in Iraq. He had some very fascinating things to say about how the United States never should have been involved in Vietnam in the first place. He said we were on the losing side.

It's all -- there's Sam Donaldson, former ABC White House correspondent.

So it's often interesting that we really learn some of the most interesting things about our most important public figures years after they've made the decisions, often decisions that were in direct contrast to their actual feelings at the time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as we see the speaker of the House, at least for another day or so, Dennis Hastert, he's attending this funeral service. He delivered a eulogize Saturday night on Capitol Hill, when the mourning actually began here in the nation's capital honoring 38th president of the United States.

So many dignitaries, Candy Crowley, are there inside the cathedral already. More are arriving. All of the presidents, including the sitting president right now, the former presidents, will all be there, as well.

It's a moment -- as I look at these pictures, Candy, that really does bring official and unofficial Washington together, government officials as well as journalists and others.

CROWLEY: It does, the intertwining of all the mediums in Washington. It struck me, as you showed that picture of Bob Woodward, that in Washington, there's not six degrees of separation, there's about two degrees of separation. So many of these people are intertwined throughout a number of administrations.

With Bob Woodward, of course, he and Carl Bernstein did the heavy load of reporting, which unrivaled the Nixon administration, which put Ford into office as the president.

So all of these -- what's fascinating about this -- there's Dick Cheney, who was in the Ford administration, who is now vice president, a position, of course, that Gerald Ford once held.

So all of these people so intertwined, it's just fascinating to look back at history and then look at the present and see how it all led up to this moment.

BLITZER: And, Jeff Greenfield, as we look at these pictures, it's clearly amazing that so many of these top Ford administration officials are still major players 30 years later.

GREENFIELD: I can't recall any other situation where 30 years after a president has left office, so many of the people who came to power under that president wield important power today.

Dick Cheney, as Candy Crowley mentioned; obviously, Donald Rumsfeld, who was the mentor to Dick Cheney. He brought Dick Cheney into the Ford White House as his deputy chief of staff.

BLITZER: And there's Donald Rumsfeld right there.

GREENFIELD: Right. Two men who, for good or ill, clearly wielded an awful lot of power in the Bush administration.

James Baker, who was Ford's campaign manager in 1976 when he barely beat Reagan for the nomination, just recently was chairman of the Iraq Study Group, which may or may not provide a way out of that entanglement.

I've been thinking about this since the death of Gerald Ford. I think it is unique in American public life. L

BLITZER: There's the casket of Gerald R. Ford. It's still lying in state in front of the U.S. Senate. Momentarily, the honor guard will remove the casket from that platform and begin the process of taking it down those 45 steps of the U.S. Capitol and putting it in the hearse.

We see the honor guard approaching right now.

Barbara Starr is watching this with us.

For this honor guard, for these U.S. military personnel, Barbara, this is a huge honor.

STARR: Wolf, this is really one of the ultimate honors for these units that perform these duties. As we said a little while ago, many of these young people specifically volunteering, wanting to be part of it.

This is something that is very solemn but everyone should understand that the military trains for these honor ceremonies in private but trains regularly. They understand the precision, the discipline, the tradition.

You will see everything unfold with great, great precision.

BLITZER: I'm going to interrupt you for a second, Barbara.

We see the honor guard taking the casket, followed by the four children, the four Ford children. And they are moving away from the open -- from the door to the U.S. Senate as this procession continues.

Go ahead -- Barbara.

STARR: Yes, we perhaps should mention, it's our understanding that Mrs. Ford is in the limousine down below. These -- this is a very steep set of steps, as we who cover the Capitol know. And she, of course, is a bit frail and it's just really too much for her, is our understanding.

So the children will escort the casket down the steps, past the military honor guard.

You know, you see military members here from all of the services -- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard. That is one of the honors for a former president as commander-in- chief. All of the military services participate.

We expect that we, once again, for President Ford, will hear the military play "Hail To The Chief." There will be ruffles and flourishes. There will be a 21-gun-salute...

BLITZER: Right...

STARR: ... reserved for a president. All of this...

BLITZER: This is -- Barbara, that -- we just saw Betty Ford, Mrs. Ford, the widow, emerge from that limousine. She is going to be -- now she's at the bottom of those steps, as well. There she is. She's escorted by a U.S. military officer. And she will be there to receive the casket, as well as her children.

Bob Franken is our correspondent up on Capitol Hill right now, as well -- Bob, give us your thoughts.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's so interesting to watch the somewhat awkward relationship between the very public pomp and ceremony that goes with the death of a president and the private, the private relationship of the family and the private sadness that the family is feeling.

It is awkward. It is oftentimes very difficult to bridge that gap. The family must, at times, feel put upon by its public obligations.

But in this particular case, what we saw so much was the pictures, particularly of the children of Gerald Ford, seeming to reach out to the public not only to graciously acknowledge all the salutes and tributes that the common citizens had played, but seeming to get some strength from that.

And that really reflected the personality of Gerald Ford. He was, as we have talked about ad infinitum, a member of the House of Representatives. The key word, representative. It's the members of Congress who have a very close relationship with their constituents.

As he moved up into the very highest levels, that's an areas where people can become very insulated from the various, the constituents, that he felt very commonality with. And the family seems to reflect that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The former first lady, accompanied by U.S. Army Major General Guy Swan, the commanding general of the Joint Task Force, National Capitol Region.

We're going to watch and listen as this casket is now removed from the Capitol and it goes down those 45 steps toward the hearse.

Let's just listen and watch briefly.





The procession continuing as this National Day of Mourning unfolds on the U.S. Capitol. Fairly soon this motorcade will begin to make its way through the streets of Washington, down Pennsylvania Avenue, over to the National Cathedral. And we're going to be watching this unfolding motorcade, this procession, as it continues.

There, you see the White House with White House staffers now standing outside of the White House as it -- as the procession will makes its way in front of the White House on its way, to what you see there now, the National Cathedral; a very majestic site in Northwest Washington.

The guests are there, as well. Most of them, at least, you saw Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States. You see foreign leaders who have gathered there, as well, in the middle of the screen, at the bottom is Shimon Perez, the vice premier of Israel, who is there.

I saw Nancy Reagan is there. There's incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. There is Nancy Reagan, the former first lady of the United States standing, walking in, being escorted by a military officer, as well.

John King is over at the National Cathedral watching all of this unfold.

And an amazing assortment of dignitaries invited inside the National Cathedral, John. What, more than 3,000 guests have been assembled there?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE SITUATION ROOM: A hundred people invited. This is invitation only. You can't just walk up to the cathedral on this day and attend the services, as you could over the weekend; go and pay your respects to President Ford at the Capitol.

But, as you noted, it's a who's who of Washington now, and then. You have former presidents in there. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, as you just note who just two and a half years ago, of course, was here on a very sad occasion for her, the memorial service for her husband, President Reagan. She is now here to help pay tribute to President Ford, as the country remembers and say as final farewell to the 38th president of the United States.

You noted, the current Speaker of the House Denny Hastert in there, greeting House members as they arrive for the ceremony. And then the woman who in just a few days will make history as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, also on hand, as well. So as the country says farewell, a changing of the guard, if you will, a tribute to a former president, there are reminders of the changing of guard and changing of power about to take place here in Washington.

But it is also, Wolf, a day of some amazing contrasts. You have the who's who list of dignitaries from around the world, and certainly from political -- the politicians, the political linage of the United States in there. But also, members of the Boy Scouts. You might be struck by this.

The Ford family, of course, and the former president decided just who would speak. Just what would be said; what songs would be sung at this service. Also decided who would be the ushers. In the National Cathedral today the ushers for the service are Boy Scouts. I believe Gerald R. Ford was the only Eagle Scout to become president of the United States. He clearly wanted to have something important to his childhood be very important to his final farewell here at the National Cathedral, as well, Wolf.

There, we see the hearse that will take the casket from the Capitol, eventually making its way to the National Cathedral for this national memorial service. Joe Johns is over there, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, as well.

Joe, what do you see? What do you hear right now?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, THE SITUATION ROOM: Well, obviously just a sea of images here, quite frankly, Wolf.

One of the most interesting things I think it's very blustery day out here on the steps of the United States Capitol, and a number of the people in the military cordon, we've seen their hats fly off. In fact, right now there's a hat -- headgear of one of the military personnel on the steps, where the casket just came down.

But beyond that, just to speak to this moment, and all the symbolism that we have seen when the casket, or the president, came out of the building, not only did it pass by the bust of Gerald Ford, it also passed by the busts of the two people he replaced at the highest levels of government, that would be Spiro T. Agnew, who was the vice president of the United States, the job that Gerald Ford took when he ascended. And then, also it would have passed by the bust of Richard Nixon himself. So just this entire event awash with powerful images here, as the hearse bearing the body of the former president now leaves the United States Capitol for the last time, Wolf.

BLITZER: There it goes. It won't be very long. It won't take a long time to make its way from the national -- from the Capitol over to the National Cathedral. It would go past the White House. It won't stop, the motorcade won't stop in front of the White House, but it will pass along the way symbolic of the years that Gerald Ford, of course, served as president of the United States.

And there you see the motorcade beginning the process leaving Capitol Hill and will go down Pennsylvania Avenue. Walter Mears is the former Associated Press Washington bureau chief, who covered this president, covered Washington for a long time.

It's not every day, Walter, that we see a funeral, a national -- a state funeral for a president of the United States.

WALTER MEARS, FMR. AP WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: No, indeed. And I'm struck by the symbolism we have talked so much about, the symbolism of all of this. Gerald Ford was a man who said he had political adversaries, but not political enemies.

And I think that the fact that both sides, all sides of our politics come together at moments like this, is an appropriate tribute to Ford, who stood for an era when people worked together. When there was bipartisanship. When Ford the Republican leader and Hal Boggs or Tip O'Neill, the Democratic leaders, could finish a day's work on the House floor, argue, and then go off and socialize and have a drink, and talk about the day's work. I think it's something that we lost, unfortunately.

BLITZER: Are you surprised, Walter, that so many of our colleagues, so many journalist who covered this president have been invited to the National Cathedral as guests? We saw Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post", Sam Donaldson of ABC News. I know Tom DeFrank of 'The New York Daily News", formerly of "Newsweek", they are all inside paying their condolences, paying their respects to this president.

MEARS: I don't think it's a surprise at all. Ford, uncharacteristically for presidents, I think, liked reporters and enjoyed their company, liked to talk. A lot of presidents put up a wall, and that was not his style.

BLITZER: Let's bring in another journalist Bob Greene is joining us. He spent quite a bit of time with Gerald Ford interviewing him for some books that he has written.

Bob, what is going through your mind as you see the National Day of Mourning unfold here in the United States?

BOB GREENE, AUTHOR: As the procession heads toward the White House we should remember Mr. Ford did not even -- because it happened so quickly when he ascended to the White House, he was living in Alexandria, Virginia, with his family even as vice president. He did not anticipate ever being president. And then so suddenly President Nixon resigned.

And because, usually, if a man is elected president happens in early November. You've got until January 20 to get ready to move. President Nixon left town in such a big hurry, and the helicopter taking him off the White House, it was at least a week till Mr. and Mrs. Ford could move into the White House. And he told me that when he first got there, to the White House, he never sought this.

He walked around at night for a few days just exploring, as he called it, the nooks and crannies of the White House and trying to process the fact that -- I am now the president of the United States. And this is my home. And I never sought it, I never dreamed of it, and here I am.

Mrs. Ford, told me -- sort of a small detail -- Mrs. Ford told me that in the White House, as throughout his life, Gerald Ford was an early riser; got up about 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning. I asked her how that happens in the White House. Does the chief of staff call you to wake you up? Do you tell the Secret Service to rouse you in the morning?

She said no, just a sort of give himself the feeling that he was still Jerry Ford, he brought this little alarm clock he always had on the night table of their homes. He put it on the night table of the White House, and at 5:00 or 5:30 every morning that old alarm clock would go off and he would, you know, slap it -- slap the top of it, and turn it off, and get up to start the day.

So as I watch this, I just think of -- you know, there's upper case history, which we're watching today. And then there's lower case history, which is this guy from Grand Rapids who wanted to be speaker of the House and never got it, and then here he is in the White House walking around at night thinking I've got to get used to this, because now I'm the president.

BLITZER: It is pretty amazing when you think about the quirks of history. We saw so many world leaders, former presidents, inside the National Cathedral. Looking at the motorcade make its way from Capitol Hill, over to the National Cathedral. I was struck when I saw former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn Carter, inside. This president, President Carter, and President Ford, they had a unique relationship.

GREENE: They were the best friends among the former presidents at that time. And you have to remember, President Carter by defeating Gerald Ford broke his heart. Gerald Ford wanted so much for the American people to say you've done a good job. We'd like you to stay. And in 1976 he lost. It stayed with him for so long that he could tell you almost to the number, the number of votes in three states, I believe they were Ohio, Hawaii and Delaware that he would have needed to win. He was just crushed.

And yet after he left the White House and Jimmy Carter moved in, they got to know each other, and they just liked each other. And I don't know how many men could do that. Here is -- you've been defeated, someone else has triumphed, and yet you think to yourself, this is such a good guy, I don't know why, but I like him.

And Mrs. Ford told me that -- the other night, Wolf, on Saturday you talked about when we saw Mrs. Ford. You used the phrase that she seemed so stoic, in the middle of her pain. As you were saying that I thought to myself, that's the word that she used when we were talking to describe her husband. She said he was stoic in his face, that was the phrase she used. Stoic in his face, after he was defeated, but inwardly he was just, he was just torn up.

Jimmy Carter told me that when he and Mr. Ford would be in different cities -- or would be in the same city and they would ride in the back of that Secret Service limousine, Jimmy Carter said that he, Mr. Carter, hoped the car would never arrive where they were going because he just liked talking to Gerry Ford so much. BLITZER: It was a unique relationship, indeed. Now President Carter, together with his wife, Rosalyn Carter, among others, inside including former President Bill Clinton, former President George Herbert Walker Bush -- all of them have gathered together with so many other powerful figures here of Washington. And indeed from around the world, leaders from around the world have come to pay their respects as well.

You can see the motorcade making its way down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the National Cathedral. It will be -- I'm guessing -- maybe 15, 20 minutes before it eventually gets to the National Cathedral. It's clearly going at a relatively slow pace, the motorcade, including the limousine bringing Betty Ford.

Betty Ford, the widow of the late president, together with her four children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the honorary pallbearers are in the motorcade as well led, by the Vice President Dick Cheney, the former Secretary of State James Baker, and others.

Over at the National Cathedral the guests are already inside. You see Senator Clinton there speaking together with Rosalyn Carter, former President Jimmy Carter, former President Bill Clinton, they are inside there, as well. Chelsea Clinton behind her mother -- actually, right next to her mother. See her, as well, toward the middle of the screen.

Elaine Quijano is watching all of this unfold from the White House.

Elaine, what are you picking up?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE SITUATION ROOM: Well, I can tell you, first of all, we have some excerpts of President Bush's eulogy that he will be delivering later this morning. And it talks about certainly Gerald Ford's background, his Midwest background. Saying, quote, "Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility, and we found it in a man from Grand Rapids."

Something else, Wolf, I'm not sure if you're able to see from one of the cameras we have positioned around here, but all morning long now we have been seeing a steady stream of what we assume are White House staffers filing out of not only the White House, itself, but also the adjacent Executive Office Building, Eisenhower Executive Office Building. And they are lined up now along Pennsylvania Avenue outside of the White House, here, in anticipation of the procession.

A short time ago, of course, the president did leave the White House en route to the National Cathedral. We understand that privately, before the service begins, he will be meeting, along with the first lady, with Mrs. Ford and members of the Ford family. This, of course, follows on the heels of their private visit at Blair House yesterday.

The president, as you know, Wolf, has had already some high praise for Gerald Ford. Calling him a true gentleman, talking about how Ford's leadership in the post-Watergate era provided healing for the nation. What the president has called a calm and steady hand for the office of the presidency, Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, there is the former President George Bush and Barbara Bush standing there meeting with other guests who have assembled. See former President Bill Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush, Senator Hillary Clinton, among others. They have all gathered in the National Cathedral. We saw others in earlier shots. Certainly the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, we saw as well.

Barbara Bush receiving friends there, as well. This is a moment, an unusual moment in American history, Jeff Greenfield, as we watch all of this unfold.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Candy mentioned earlier, the currents of past, present and future.

Just have been looking at these shots. It has to be striking to all of us, you've got George Herbert Walker Bush, then we see the person who defeated him, President Clinton sitting right next to the woman, Hillary Clinton, who may well hope to succeed George Herbert Walker Bush's son, who is now in the White House.

Jimmy Carter there, the man who barely beat Gerald Ford in the White House. We saw Nancy Reagan, widow of the man who beat Jimmy Carter.

The current of history that runs through this cathedral, really in an amazingly contiguous way, each connected to the other, is probably one of the most striking things for me about this whole ceremony, Wolf.

BLITZER: As we watch all of this unfold, and there is the former president George Herbert Walker Bush, and Barbara Bush. We can't help but notice the imagery and certainly the symbolism of this event, at a time when there is a serious split, Jeff, here in the United States, as far as the war in Iraq is concerned, and other issues, that on the eve of the Democrats taking the majority in the Senate and the House, they are all, though, getting together right now, to pay their respects to the 38th president of the United States.

GREENFIELD: Indeed. It's been mentioned before that when Gerald Ford came into office, American troops had already left Vietnam, but the war was still going on. One of the things that Congress did, heavily Democratic and determined to reassert its congressional power over executive, was to cut off funding to South Vietnam.

Many of the people now serving with this President Bush -- or just served -- Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, in particular, look back on that and said, that was a dangerous incursion of presidential power and they spent much of the last six years asserting a very strong -- to some critics -- almost unlimited executive power.

I think there's no question, Wolf, 48 hours from now when the Democrats come in and take control of the Congress, the fighting over what to do in Iraq, with Democrats now holding the power of the purse, may be one of the most contentious elements of what we're going to be seeing in the next couple of months. And it really can be traced all the way back, decades, to what happened in Vietnam, Wolf.

BLITZER: That will occur, that transition on Thursday, when the new Congress is sworn in. The new Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the speaker of the House. The new majority leader, Harry Reid, of Nevada, will become the leader of the Senate. That happens on Thursday. Today being Tuesday, so you're absolutely right, 48 hours from now, a major change of power here in the nation's capitol.

But on this day, it's the National Day of Mourning to pay tribute to Gerald Ford and what he accomplished, what he did in aftermath of not only Watergate, but the Vietnam war was winding down, as well.

As I look into that audience over there, the guests, Jeff, who assembled at the National Cathedral. So many powerful figures from inside the government, outside the government, from that Vietnam and Watergate era have been brought together in Washington once again today.

GREENFIELD: Including the press, as has been mentioned. Look, state funerals, or funerals involving heads of states, is a way that countries remind themselves of who they are. We have seen that in Great Britain, in events like the funeral of Princess Diana. You can go all the way back to Pericles' funeral oration when he's paying tribute to the fallen soldiers in Peloponnesian war. And it's a famous oration because he's telling them Athenians, this is who we are. This is why we fight for this city-state. This is what we believe.

In a way, whether muted or not, that's what goes on here. However much the professions of bipartisanship will be blown into smithereens in 48 hours, for today at least, there's a sense that people either believe it, or wish it to be true.

BLITZER: The hearse now going past the White House. You see staffers who have gathered along Pennsylvania avenue on the north side of the White House. They opened up Pennsylvania Avenue to allow the motorcade to go by to pay their respects. So let's listen briefly as this motorcade pauses, slows down, as least, as it goes past the White House.

Here's the hearse, the motorcade, going now past the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building, as it is called. We saw it go past the north side of the White House. The West Wing was behind it. We saw staffers, military officers, members of the Secret Service salute, as the casket inside that hearse as it went past.

It is now still going past Pennsylvania Avenue -- that red building you just saw there is Blair House, across the street from the White House. The final time this president will go past the White House, as you see the motorcade continue its way from Capitol Hill, where Gerald Ford served for so many years. Loved the U.S. Congress, loved the House of Representatives, spent years there working his way up to minority leader, the Republican leader, eventually becoming vice president and president of the United States. Bob Greene, when you spent some time talking to this president, he spoke to you about his first nights in the White House. Tell our viewers about that.

GREENE: Well, it was as we were saying. It was a night where he walked around, he -- you know, we always heard the very dark melancholy stories of Mr. Nixon walking around in the final days. In Mr. Ford's first days he walked around just to get himself sort of ready for this.

He didn't really know the place. He had been in Washington all these years but this was -- this was new ground for him. And after he -- after he left -- we keep hearing -- I noticed as we were seeing all the famous and powerful faces in the cathedral, Mr. Ford when he left the White House he realized that he would have to return to being who he was before.

And everyone who talks about him being such a regular guy, he said this was a very personal decision he made. He used the phrase, if you're going to integrate yourself back into the real world, then you've got to do it. And he also used the word oblivious. He said I wanted to make myself oblivious to the fact that people look at me as a former president or as a part of history.

When he would go to buy clothing back in California, instead of being very magisterial about it and have people come to him. He would walk into a clothing store, with all the other customers, wait to be waited on. And he laughed as told me, you know, I'd go back there, and I would, the guy would come out and put the chalk marks on the pants and put the pins in, and stand in front of the mirror with all the other customers. He said nine out of ten times the people in the store will recognize me. And I said, I think, it's probably more than nine out of ten times.

He had this wonderful balance between who he had been, what had become of him, and then he knew that he went back to who he was. He said he and Mrs. Ford, in the years after the presidency, would enjoy watching the television news at the end of each day.

I like watching TV news then, because I had cut the cord. I could watch TV news and know there was nothing I had to do about it, or could do about it. I liked watching the world events unfold knowing that it wasn't my responsibility anymore.

I don't know how many people can go full circle, so graciously and so gracefully and Gerry Ford from Grand Rapids, Michigan, ended up as being Gerry Ford from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

BLITZER: As we see this majestic scene, Bob, at the National Cathedral as we see this unfold, the choir is performing right now together, with the guests who are listening carefully. Patiently, as this motorcade makes its way through the streets of Washington.

John King is over there watching and listening, as well.

You're outside the National Cathedral, John. What an amazing scene this is.

KING: It is an amazing scene, Wolf.

As you've been discussing a reminder of the generational changes the country goes through naturally, but also pauses to reflect on a momentous day such as this, the passing of a president and the memorial service for President Ford.

I'm standing out in front of the cathedral and obviously, they know that the procession is getting closer and closer. There are dozens of just everyday citizens on the street across, on Wisconsin Avenue, across from the National Cathedral, trying to catch a glimpse of all this.

A military band and honor guard outside awaiting the arrival of the casket and the Ford family here. And just moments ago some of those honorary pallbearers went into the building. Donald Rumsfeld, who of course, just recently resigned as the Defense secretary in the current administration, who was the chief of staff in the Ford administration, a mentor to his successor as chief of staff, Dick Cheney, now the vice president of the United States.

Alan Greenspan, known to many as the long-time chairman of the Federal Reserve, who was in those days, the chairman of the President's Council on Economic Advisors; other members of the Bush cabinet and Bush associates and aides, as part of those pallbearers. Jim Baker, who worked in the Ford administration, went on to become chief of staff, Treasury secretary and secretary of State in the Bush and Reagan administrations, inside as well.

Literally a who's who of Washington, and the diplomatic community gathered inside the cathedral now.


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