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George H.W. Bush Funeral: Casket Arrives At Washington National Cathedral

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And I'm Rachel Martin in Washington, D.C., where we are watching an extraordinary scene unfold. The body inside the casket carrying the body of President George H.W. Bush is currently outside the National Cathedral here in Washington. The family is watching troops from all five branches of the military standing, flanking the casket. Let's listen in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNERAL SERVICE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And give them peace through Jesus Christ our Lord.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Amen.

MARTIN: Clergy giving prayers - giving a blessing over the casket as service members prepare to bring the casket inside, up the remaining steps of the National Cathedral. They're proceeding inside the cathedral. This is where the state funeral will take place for the 41st president of the United States. George Herbert Walker Bush passed away on Friday. Dignitaries from around the world have gathered here to commemorate him, as well as former U.S. presidents. All four former presidents are here, including the current occupant of the Oval Office. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are here as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNERAL SERVICE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Vocalizing).

MARTIN: We're hearing the choir singing at this moment, and the family of President Bush now entering the cathedral. George W. Bush, president - former president himself George W. Bush with his wife Laura Bush we're seeing enter the cathedral along with other members of the Bush family. I'm joined in our studios here in Washington by White House correspondent Scott Horsley and senior correspondent Ron Elving. Thanks to both of you for being with us this morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: This is a big moment, Ron Elving - commemorating the legacy of George Herbert Walker Bush in a moment of a lot of political division in Washington. These are the rare occasions that bring people together in the moment of solemnity and reflection.

ELVING: Indeed. And we are, if you will, commemorating not only the life of George Herbert Walker Bush but, perhaps, also the passing of a generation that he personified, that he often symbolized, that he represented. And George Herbert Walker Bush and his dynastic family that we just saw walk into the cathedral also representing, perhaps, a particular way for the United States to be understood and also to be governed that, perhaps, is passing with the passing of this man we are burying today.

MARTIN: Let's listen in for a moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNERAL SERVICE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Vocalizing).

MARTIN: The music concluding as members of the family, arriving officials finish taking their seats. Scott, what are we expecting to unfold? Who will be eulogizing the president today?

HORSLEY: We'll be hearing, of course, from the younger George Bush. Former President George W. Bush will be eulogizing his father. We'll also hear from Jon Meacham, who is the elder Bush's biographer, a former journalist turned historian, who had extensive access to the late president's diaries and correspondence and became a friend as well.

We'll be hearing from the former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who was a friend and also a partner in the NAFTA negotiations. That treaty was negotiated under President H.W. Bush, although ultimately ratified after President Clinton took office. And finally, we'll be hearing from Senator Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, who might be expected to add some humor to the proceedings this morning.

MARTIN: There is a heaviness in the air for a whole lot of reasons, Ron Elving, inside that cathedral. Not only just marking the passing of this of this man, this president, but I'm looking now at the front row of the National Cathedral where several former presidents, all surviving presidents, including Donald Trump, are seated.

ELVING: And immediately behind them, the vice presidents from each of those eras, including, of course, President H.W. Bush's Vice President Dan Quayle, his wife. The first ladies are all there as well. This was a rather congenial-looking group. During the first hour that they were seated there and waiting for the arrival of the casket, they were speaking to each other.

But then President Trump arrived with first lady Melania Trump. And as they arrived, things became more formal. It became the moment that the funeral, if you will, became officially a funeral. And since then, the entire array have sat there rather stone-faced and sad and waiting for the proceedings.

MARTIN: We're watching images now - President George W. Bush and Laura Bush walking down the center of the cathedral, nodding to, no doubt, friends and family who have gathered to mark this moment. We should just nod to the fact, yes, there are these political divisions. Yes, President Trump has had his fair share of animosity with the Bush family. But this is really about marking the passing of George Herbert Walker Bush and remembering his particular legacy. I mean, this is a strange situation, to say the least, for George W. Bush, Scott, having to eulogize one's father under the spotlight in front of the world.

HORSLEY: Absolutely. But if there's anything that characterized George H.W. Bush, it was a sort of waspy sense of propriety. And I'm sure that will govern the events this morning. In fact, they made it clear that they wanted this to be a sort of politics-free service. President Trump was invited. He was sort of conspicuously absent at Barbara Bush's funeral, as well as the funeral this summer for the late Senator John McCain. He's there in the front row today.

And yesterday, he paid a courtesy call on George and Laura Bush, who are staying, while they're in Washington, at Blair House, the official guest house just across the street from the White House. And later - or earlier in the day, Laura Bush and a number of family members made the trip across the street to the White House to see the Christmas decorations there. Of course, Laura Bush lived in the White House for eight years herself. And it's sometimes a little bit awkward when the current and former occupants are together.

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: I remember when Laura Bush's portrait was hung in the White House early in the Obama years. And she joked that nothing makes a house feel like home like having all the pictures of the past residents hanging around...

(LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: ...On the walls. So she's, I think, sympathetic to the situation that Melania Trump found herself in...

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: ...Showing the former first lady around.

MARTIN: Let's listen in. The casket is just about to be brought inside the National Cathedral. We're hearing some bells chime.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS TOLLING)

MARTIN: A procession of clergy carrying an American flag in the center are leading the way - behind them, the flag-draped casket of the former president.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS TOLLING)

MARTIN: Scott, we talk about the Bushes as being of another time politically. But there's also something to their faith. The way they lived it, that was also sort of another time. It was private for them. It was an important part of their life. But it was not something that was to be boasted about. It was something that was lived internally.

HORSLEY: And that's something that's sort of a distinction between the elder President Bush and the younger President Bush. George H.W. Bush grew up in the Episcopal Church, this high church - and a lot of decorum and not a lot of wearing your faith on your sleeve. And his son was, certainly, more demonstrative in his faith and probably more comfortable with the alignment of the Republican Party and the Christian evangelical movement that sort of came to the fore during the Reagan years. And then it continues to this day.

MARTIN: Reports were that - I mean, we talk about President Trump and that complicated political dynamic. But, Ron, we heard reports that this was very deliberate on the part of the Bush family to make sure that President Trump was invited. This is how this man lived his life. You don't treat your political rivals as enemies. That is the opposite of how to lead.

ELVING: This is a funeral, first and foremost, for a commander in chief and president of the United States. It would be unthinkable from the standpoint of the protocols of the Defense Department - the Pentagon organizes these events. It would be unthinkable from their point of view not to have the current commander in chief and president of the United States seated in the front row.

MARTIN: Let's listen in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNERAL SERVICE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...Even though he died. And everyone who has life and has committed himself to me in faith shall not die forever. As for me, I know that my redeemer lives. And at the last, he will stand upon the Earth. After my awaking, he will raise me up. And in my body, I shall see God. I, myself, shall see and my eyes behold Him who is my friend and not a stranger, for none of us liveth to himself. And none becomes his own master when he dies.

MARTIN: Again, we are watching live coverage unfolding before us - the state funeral for President George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States. His body lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda for several days. He has now been moved inside the National Cathedral. This is where his family, leaders from around the world, have gathered to mark his memory, his life and his political legacy. We will have ongoing coverage for you of the state funeral here at NPR on your local member station or online at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.