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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Soon: Presidential Hearse Departs for Train Station; Presidential Hearse En Route To Train Station; President's Casket Will Travel By Train To Bush Library. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired December 6, 2018 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will board a specially equipped train that will take the family and the casket over to College Station to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Gloria, this was really, really a moving moment culminating what has been a several days of tribute and honor to the late president. Look at these pictures as we see the family being escorted out of the church.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's obviously such a difficult time and just throughout these days, the picture that I will always keep in my mind is Laura Bush's arm underneath her husband's arm propping him up the entire time. You almost did not see a moment when she wasn't there to kind of steady him just like we're seeing right now when he grew unsteady and teary.
And today at least for me, we saw the new patriarch of the family, George W. Bush singing a little bit, seeming to be just -- I wouldn't say relaxed, but a little bit less tense maybe because he didn't have a speaking part today and he could enjoy the music and listen to others. And of course you know how close he is to Jim Baker. So I think, you know, in my mind, it's W sort of ascending to this new role with his wife just steadying him every step of the way.
BLITZER: Tim Naftali, our CNN Presidential Historian, how did you see these moments unfold, Tim?
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, Wolf, George Herbert Walker Bush had two comfort zones. He loved Kennebunkport where he lived in the big house built by his grandfather, sign of the eastern establishment. In many ways yesterday, that establishment said goodbye to him.
His other comfort zone was Texas where he wanted to make a name for himself, wanted to define himself different from Prescott Bush, his father. And today is the day that Texas says goodbye to him. Both Bushes -- both places were essentially Bush.
For many at the time when he was a political figure, the Texas side of him seemed a little forced, but it wasn't. And as you saw today in his service and as you will see when he's laid to rest at his Presidential Library, Texas loves him and he loved Texas. BLITZER: He certainly did. Doug Brinkley is with us as well, our Presidential Historian. Doug, give us your thoughts.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, not just Texas loved him, but particularly the Aggies, Texas A&M. He religiously went to those football games. He had an opportunity to build his Presidential Library in downtown Houston, but James Baker had open up the Baker Institute at Rice and he decided, "Well, I want to be with the Aggies."
College Station is just almost a farm club for the CIA, for intelligence services, for people in the armed forces and he saw that university as being a patriotic place that's bringing people into public service.
And Houston that we watched today, you know, I think a lot of the country thinks of Houston as the fourth largest American city, land at Bush -- George Bush Airport when you get there, but it's a lot of sprawl.
But in truth, when you get into the so-called loop of Houston where the church is at and the friends that occur, it's a very small community and everybody knew and loved George and Barbara Bush in Houston. And he is a rapid sports fan.
I thought that George P. Bush was able to talk about, you know, how -- he learned how to pitch with his grandfather's coach. The fact that the Astros of the ball players, he just was so thrilled the Astro won a world series.
He was thrilled to his last dying days that the Houston Texans lost their first three games and they haven't lost since. And so he'd be sad that he didn't get to see if they can make it to the Super Bowl or not, but this was a fitting service.
James Baker is -- was so emotional today. He just -- they were -- they're going to be tied in history at the hip, Bush 41 and Baker. Maybe Harry Truman and (INAUDIBLE) were that close to the president, the secretary of state that that's about it.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think if something else that we have to remember looking at the children and the grandchildren today and that is for that family, George Bush is gone and Barbara Bush is gone in a very short period of time, just seven months. It is a tremendous personal loss. And people really thought that he would pass before she did. And so this has been a very hard year for them.
There are two other things that I just think are worth mentioning, big picture. His secret service follow-up car is still behind him. They are on duty to the very end. They will be with him until he is interred at the College Station.
[20:35:14] And also, the pallbearers we saw today, those were his grandsons. And he was very specific about the pallbearers. It started off with his secret service detail actually carrying his casket the first day from the funeral home, then it was the captains and the commanding officers of the George -- the USS George H.W. Bush, his aircraft carrier, and it ended with family again here.
BORGER: And can I just say something about Jim Baker's speech? Because I think what Baker did was try to set the record straight about George Bush and history and what Bush contributed. Baker was alongside of most every step of the way, but he really did want to talk about achievement after achievement after achievement because, of course, Bush 41 never did.
The other thing that really resonated with me that he said was sort of answer the questions we've been talking about all week, you know, the overlay of the lack of decency now and Trump and all the rest. He said in him, Bush, we are praising what is best about our nation, period. End of sentence. That is what we did this week.
We praised the way we are and the way we should behave and that was what he embodied. So he kind of like just put a button on that argument for everyone and then let everyone know that he was the best single term president in American history, which of course, W has said many times.
And then he ended with the friendship, which everybody ended with the friendship hardly anybody we heard that we could get through it. And he, you know, he said our glory was to have you as our president and then he spoke about himself and mine as such a friend.
NAFTALI: Yes. Well, I just -- I think -- yes. The -- today, the Bushes decided they wanted to be buried at their library after attending Richard Nixon's funeral in Yorba Linda. And in 2000, they decided to reinter Robin's remains and they took them from Greenwich, Connecticut where they lay in repose next to Prescott Bush and Dorothy Bush and they brought Robin's remains to Texas. So, today, the three of them will be reunited.
And one of the strongest themes throughout the lives of George and Barbara Bush was their undying love for the daughter they lost in 1953. That is a love story, a poignant love story that anyone who has ever lost a child, parent, and uncle and aunt will understand. They never got over losing Robin and today, the three of them will be together in College Station and there's a beauty to that.
BRINKLEY: And, Wolf, if I could, you know, it reminds me like yesterday being in D.C., now Houston, modern air transportation. 1826 when John Adams died, his son, John Quincy Adams couldn't make it. He died on July 4th at age 91, John Adams. And John Quincy Adams tried to come from Washington work days. He was taking a steamboat to get there and never got to say goodbye to his father, missed the burial service of his own father.
History is going to think about this unusual idea to a father-son president team now that has done with Bush 41 and as we've been saying the patriarch of the family is George W. Bush and he has been remarkably composed and moving and has done all of the right things from his extraordinary eulogy yesterday to a shaking the hands of all the former presidents and now doing the shore we all dread having to put our last surviving parent to rest. BLITZER: The motorcade is now heading towards Union Pacific auto facility in Houston where they will board the special train. Take a look at the pictures, take a look at the colors, sort of like Air Force One. It's Bush 4141, a special train that will take the presidential casket, the presidential family and some friends to where we are right now, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University College Station, Texas. It's about a 2.5 hour train ride. There you see George Bush 41.
[12:40:08] Our special coverage will continue right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Take a look at Bush 41, a special train, 4141 they're calling it. That's going to take the 41st President of the United States from Houston, Texas to College Station, Texas, that's where we are at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Welcome back to our special coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're here in College Station. John King is here. Dana Bash is here. Mary Kate Cary is here as well.
We're watching this celebration continue, the celebration of George Herbert Walker Bush. And part of the celebration that we saw today at this wonderful memorial service at St. Martin's Episcopal Church was that there is some humor that was express in the process of the remarks.
[12:45:06] Listen to the former Secretary of State James Baker arguably the 41st President's best friend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I've always been proud that George Bush used to describe our relationship as one of big brother and little brother. He used to say that one of the things he liked best about me was that I would always tell him what I thought, even when I knew he didn't want to hear it. Then we would have a spirited discussion about that issue. But he had a very effective way of letting me know when the discussion was over. He would look at me and say, "Baker, if you're so smart, why am I president and you're not?"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Got a nice round of applause for that and it probably was true.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we hear similar language from the current president sometimes, but not in such a playful way when President Trump said that he means it, you know, with a hard edge, when President Bush said it to his friend that was humor.
But, again, it goes back to, number one, the caliber of the friendship and the relationship, number two, the caliber of the people. President George H. W. Bush is a president in a very tumultuous consequential time in our history who was lucky to have somebody of the depth of a Jim Baker, the depth of a Brent Scowcroft, the depth of a Colin Powell around him who were willing to tell him things maybe he didn't want to hear, who trusted their relationship with the President that they could say, "Sir, I think you're wrong," but they did it privately.
There were not a lot of leaks back in those days. Those are my early days in Washington. But just to see this -- again, it's remarkable if you just put their lives together and what they did as public servants together is remarkable and yet Secretary Baker wanted to come back to the fact that, you know, he's my buddy, he's my friend when you say Bake and Hefe (ph), right?
MARY KATE CARY, FORMER GEORGE H.W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Yes, Bake and Hefe.
BLITZER: And, you know, there was also a little humor, the Oak Ridge Boys, they perform, but they also spoke about the 41st President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We first sang for him in October of 1983 on the lawn of the White House when he was vice president and he said, "Fellas, he always called us fellas, would you sing me a few songs? I'm a big fan." For decades, we have sang for him. And this is, again, a real honor to be here. What a lot of people may not know is he fancied himself to be a good bass singer. He was not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Also true. That humor was part of George Herbert Walker Bush's personality and his life.
CARY: Yes, and it was part of his management style. He had this thing that he did at the White House that was called the Scowcroft Award. And you may remember when you were there, General Scowcroft had a wife who needed -- he was the caretaker for. And so he would pull these all nighters taking care of his wife and report back to work. And so as a result, he often fell asleep in meetings.
And it's a way of sort of honoring that in a funny way. The President started awarding the Scowcroft Award to anyone who fell asleep in an important meeting with extra points for how you came out of the recovery. Did you spill your coffee? Did you come right back into the meeting? And there were many nominees for the Scowcroft Award. I was not one of them, but I think he would look at meetings and passing it to say someone says making a run for the Scowcroft Award and everybody look.
BLITZER: So you're saying you never fell asleep?
CARY: I never fell asleep.
BLITZER: OK. Good to know that.
CARY: I never won the award.
CARY: All right.
BLITZER: The motorcade is making its way, Jamie -- making its way over to the train that's going to take the presidential delegation over to College Station, Texas, the Presidential Library and we're going to see that arrival pretty soon. Tell us a little bit about this extraordinary train.
GANGEL: Well, People keep saying, what is this with President Bush and trains? A bit part of it is he just liked them. He thought it was fun. He did a lot of train travel. He campaigned by train. He would do cross-country trips or several day-trips with grandchildren on the train when his Presidential Library opened. And then I was lucky enough to be a guest. All the guests went on the train up to the Presidential Library.
So I think when he was planning this out, it was sort of a book end for that. I will tell you that he so micromanaged the plans, he picked what everyone is going to eat. The family is going to have some lunch today on the train and he picked what that menu would be.
But on the poignant note, I was told that a train has a very important meaning to him because in 1942 when his father took him to Penn Station and he got on the train to go to basic training, it was the only time he ever saw his father cried. So I there are a lot of reasons for the trains in his life.
[12:50:09] BLITZER: He was 18 years old and was volunteered. He could have gone to Yale right away, but he wanted to volunteer. He wanted to serve in the US military, the US Navy which was then deeply involved in World War II, as we know.
You know, John, he was a hero. He was part of that greatest generation and we will probably never see a generation like that again.
KING: We will not, which I think it was also so poignant to see his bitter rival, with then long time partner, Bob Dole, get assisted up out of his wheelchair, at the Capitol the other day, to salute the casket. The greatest generation is gone and that's a shame from the arc of time, but it's a shame for the country.
But to that point, I do want think to -- I do have to say to go back to the precision and the dignity of all these ceremonies in the past few days. The former Navy fly boy, the former commander in chief to say thank you and wow to the members of the United States military that we have seen in the, and the honor guards, and the bands, and the color guards, and all these events, Air Force One, Special Mission 41 they called it.
He would have been incredibly proud. And of course, they're part of the ceremonies because he is a former president. But normally we say, thank and wow to the United States military or sad thing with the military when there's a tragedy in Afghanistan or something like that, just adding to just the dignity and the grace of the ceremonies. DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: On that point, a couple of things that James
Baker said really speak to this. First of all, he called President Bush, the 41st president, a charter member of the greatest generation, which is beautiful. And then, he talked about the fact that he was -- he had the courage of a warrior, but when the time came for prudence, he also maintained the great courage of a peacemaker, which really spoke to the fact that he did what he had to do in World War II. He did what he had to do to defend the country, but he also defended the country as a statesman of the UN, even the CIA, and of course vice president and president to try to do what he could do to avoid that war.
BLITZER: Yes. He certainly did. I could personally report. And, Douglas Brinkley, I want you to add to this, he loved the military, but the military also loved him. I remember covering the first Gulf War. I was CNN's Pentagon correspondent, they knew that he didn't want to send troops into harm's way, but he had no choice and they wanted to go and serve.
BRINKLEY: Absolutely right. And in-depth, we're seeing that US Navy really embrace the legacy of George Herbert Walker Bush. If you're reading their home pages and the tweets and the like, they are putting him up as one of the great naval heroes of the 20th century.
As commander in chief in the Gulf War, you know, he was very brave to put a line in the sand to let months go by, to build a coalition of the willing to tell Saddam Hussein if he didn't get out of Kuwait, it was going to meet the full throttle of the US armed forces, and allows when Operation Desert Shield came to fruition, they had 430,000 American troops serving, plus troop from around the world.
And I have been thinking in the last few days about how proud now those veterans of the Gulf War are, that they had a commander in chief that their life first, that succeeded, we call it a presidential win. We won the Gulf War. And it's truly one of the big parts of these last few days has been the fact that our armed forces are in love with this president. And that photo of him going there to have a Thanksgiving with their troops is indelible.
BASH: You know, of course, he was criticized.
BLITZER: Yes. And they were in love with him, too.
CARY: He was criticized for not going far enough and not taking out Saddam. And I think Baker alluded to that today too as Dana was saying, when you said, you know, he could be a warrior, he never wavered but he had the greater courage of a peace maker. He was never going to spike the football. That was never George H.W. Bush.
BLITZER: Everybody stick around. Everybody stick around, there's much more of our special coverage coming up as President George Herbert Walker Bush and their family, they're heading towards the train right now. That will carry them to where we are at College Station. Text is the presidential library where he will rest in peace. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[12:59:07] BAKER: On behalf of his friends here today, across America, and throughout the world, we rejoice, Mr. President, that you are safely tucked in now and through the ages, with God's loving arms around you, because our glory, George, was to have had you as our President and as such a friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A lot of (INAUDIBLE) cry over these past couple days, totally, totally understandable. We were looking at the motorcade the presidential hearse there, carrying the 41st President of United States over to the Union Pacific auto facility. They will all, including the presidential delegation, the family, the friends, board the train that will take all of them to College Station, Texas.
The Presidential Library, the Bush Presidential Library, we are going to continue our special coverage.
In the meantime, Brianna Keilar picks it up right now.