WASHINGTON — The Capitol welcomed the late President George H.W. Bush to the rotunda for the last time on Monday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hailing the 41st president as a “humble” public servant who led based on a set of deeply held principles.
McConnell recounted Bush’s lone Inauguration Day address, when he noted those in attendance had gathered at the Capitol, which Bush called “the front porch of democracy.”
“A steady hand who stayed the course,” McConnell said of Bush, whom he noted kept piloting his plane in World War II after the plane was disabled by enemy fire, completing his mission run before bailing out.
“George H.W. Bush steered this country as straight as he steered that airplane,” McConnell said.
A military honor guard carefully carried Bush’s casket into the rotunda and placed it on the Lincoln Catafalque, the same platform built and used during the funeral of Abraham Lincoln after the 16th president was assassinated. The honor guard soon moved into position around the casket, over which it will keep watch as the public and dignitaries pay their respects.
Members of the House and Senate — from both parties — lined up behind a red velvet rope to pay their respects. Eight of the nine Supreme Court justices stood together on the east side of the ornate room, with several Trump administration Cabinet members, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stood behind Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Among the notable figures who entered just minutes before the casket and Bush family were James Baker, who was secretary of state under Bush, and Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War under Bush.
Sounds of the 21-gun salute outside rumbled through the rotunda. A military band played “Hail to the Chief” on the East Front driveway before Bush’s casket was carried up the stairs. A Navy sailor carrying a dark blue flag with the seal of the office of the presidency followed a few steps behind.
The 41st president died Friday night in Houston. He long had battled a form of Parkinson’s disease and been wheelchair-bound for years.
Members of both parties have praised his decades of public service, from naval aviator to congressman to director of central intelligence to commander in chief.
Bush will lie in state in the rotunda until Wednesday morning when his casket will be transported through the streets of the capital city to the National Cathedral of his state funeral service. Among those who will eulogize him is his son former President George W. Bush.
In a television interview that aired Sunday evening, the 43rd chief executive predicted his father will one day be regarded as the “greatest one-term president” in American history.
Vice President Mike Pence said Bush “never failed to answer the call of his country.”
Bush’s 58 combat missions in World War II would have been “enough honor” for most, but Bush “was just getting started.”
When Bush left office in early 1993, “he left the world a more peaceful and prosperous place,” the VP said.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan began his remarks by declaring: “Here lies a great man.”
“His life was hymn of honor. His legacy is grace perfected. His memory will belong to glory,” he said. “God bless the 41st president of the United States.”