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Friends And Family Eulogize President George H.W. Bush On His Final Day In Washington


NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is in the studio with us to talk more about the service. And, Mara, what stood out to you?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: What stood out to me was that all week, we've been hearing so much about Bush 41 as a statesman. Even though he only served one term, he presided over these epochal events - the end of the Soviet Union. His diplomatic skills helped the Cold War end nonviolently. Today was so personal. It was all about the man behind the accomplishments - the friend, the father. It was a moment to celebrate his character traits, including how goofy he could be. And Jon Meacham, his biographer...

KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah.

LIASSON: ...Who eulogized him, said that Dana Carvey, the comedian who impersonated Bush...

KELLY: "Saturday Night Live."

LIASSON: ...Said the key to impersonating him was to think of Mr. Rogers trying to act like John Wayne. Meacham also told the story about how on the primary campaign trail in New Hampshire once, Bush grabbed the hand of a department store mannequin and asked for its - her vote. When he realized his mistake, he said, never know, got to ask. It's like, wouldn't be prudent.

KELLY: (Laughter) Always a politician...

LIASSON: Yeah, yeah (laughter).

KELLY: ...Baked in. Now, President Trump, 45, attended the service. There was protocol for all this of course. He was next to the Obamas. Then came the Clintons and then the Carters in that order, I believe, all in the front row. How was President Trump received?

LIASSON: Well, he was received politely. It did look a little awkward. All of the formers club - presidents and their wives - were all talking and chatting. Of course many of them have been together before, whether at Senator McCain's funeral or Barbara Bush's funeral. When Trump arrived, the Obamas shook his hand, but that was the end of it. They all stared straight ahead, no more interactions after that.

But at the same time, it's important to remember that the Bushes wanted him there. They explicitly didn't want him at Barbara Bush's funeral. John McCain didn't want him at his funeral. But this was a state funeral. The Bushes wanted to do it according to tradition and protocol. Donald Trump did spend time with the Bush family privately yesterday and of course declared today a national day of mourning.

KELLY: It's interesting - staying with John McCain's funeral for second - because as I recall that featured, very much in the spirit of the man being remembered, explicit rebukes of President Trump. That was not at all the case today.

LIASSON: Right. John McCain's funeral was called kind of a meeting of the resistance. But, no, that was not the case today. Any comparisons between George H.W. Bush and Trump might have been unavoidable, but they were all implicit, not explicit. Jon Meacham, the biographer, said under Bush's watch, a wall came down. A dictatorship didn't stand. Doors were opened for disabled people. And he explained Bush's thousand points of light vision, which of course is people volunteering to improve their communities. And it was hard not to remember that just a few months ago, Donald Trump had really almost gratuitously derided and attacked a thousand points of light. But Meacham today said that that phrase was the companion verse in the American national hymn to Abraham Lincoln's better angels of our nature - so a lot of implicit comparisons.

Brian Mulroney, the prime minister of Canada who negotiated NAFTA with Bush and was his great friend, talked about how Bush's vision for NAFTA, which he said has just been modernized and improved by a new administration, really endures - three great North American nations - Mexico, Canada and the U.S. - integrated by trade. And he went on to talk about the respect that Bush drew from every world leader.


BRIAN MULRONEY: And let me tell you that when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute and brave.

KELLY: It's a reminder of what a different time, a very different Washington George H.W. Bush presided over. As we head into this time of divided government, different party controlling the House going forward, was that on your mind as well, Mara?

LIASSON: Yes, I think this was a very apt curtain raiser to what we're going to see in January - divided government. I think everyone in Washington could meditate on the lessons of George H.W. Bush. He's someone who thought the people he ran against were his opponents, not his enemies. And he was willing to reach across the aisle. As his son said today...

KELLY: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: ...He looked for the good in each person and usually found it.

KELLY: NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.