The family of former president George H.W. Bush has planned a state funeral that will steer clear of the kind of anti-Trump sentiment evident at the recent funeral of Sen. John McCain, according to people familiar with the funeral planning.
The Bush family contacted the White House this past summer to say that President Trump would be welcome at the funeral, scheduled Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, and to assure him that the focus would be on Bush’s life rather than their disagreements, one former administration official said.
The truce with Trump allows the Bush family, and the nation, to honor the legacy of a president who guided the United States through the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union without becoming mired in today’s toxic politics. Trump in turn has been effusive in his praise of Bush since his death Friday, and paid respects Monday night at the U.S. Capitol, where the 41st president is lying in state.
But the detente also comes after Trump’s long history of insulting and taunting the Bush family — calling his 2016 primary opponent “low-energy” Jeb Bush, saying the 9/11 attacks were partly due to President George W. Bush’s failure to keep the nation safe, and mocking George H.W. Bush’s signature “thousand points of light” volunteerism program. And it comes as Trump has fully taken control of the Republican Party, leading a bare-knuckle rejection of the traditional GOP establishment that the Bush family represented and helped build.
One person close to the funeral planning said the Bush family’s overtures to Trump were at least partly pragmatic. Trump has the final say over important funeral details, this person said, including providing Air Force One to carry the former president’s remains from Texas to Washington on Monday for the funeral and back to Texas on Thursday for another service and burial.
While Trump will not deliver a eulogy, he will be seated in the front row alongside former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Bush’s son, former president George W. Bush, will deliver a eulogy.
Neither he nor the other eulogists — former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, former senator Alan K. Simpson, and presidential historian and Bush biographer Jon Meacham — are expected to focus on the stark differences between the genteel and patrician Bush and the bombastic Trump.
“If you have a sensitivity for human feelings, you just don’t get into that,” Simpson said in an interview Monday. “It’s not what a funeral is for.”
Another Bush confidant said, “The comparisons are presenting themselves; we are not heightening them,” according to a person familiar with the funeral preparations.
A third person, who like others close to the preparations spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said the tone of Wednesday’s funeral will reflect the sense of propriety of Bush, who “wouldn’t want anyone there to feel uncomfortable, including the incumbent president.”
“It’s interesting, though, that praising the Bushes or McCain risks sounding critical of Trump even when Trump’s in no way part of the thinking,” the third person said.
Three current and former administration officials said there had been deep frustration in the White House over the anti-Trump tone of the Sept. 1 funeral for McCain, which Trump did not attend. One senior administration official said Trump’s reaction to the criticism was “almost paralyzing for a week,” and officials have been assured that Bush’s funeral would be different.
One official said first lady Melania Trump, who represented the White House at former first lady Barbara Bush’s funeral in April, was struck by the Bush family’s graciousness toward her, which she conveyed to the president, who did not attend that funeral.
Two White House officials said Trump has had little interest in forging a better relationship with the Bush family, particularly in the first year of his presidency. He regularly said that his political supporters wanted a sea change from the Bush family.
But one former senior administration official said “there is no particular animosity at all toward the elder Bush.”
The Trump White House has accommodated all the Bush family’s requests for the state funeral, including providing Air Force One and permitting the Bush family to stay at Blair House, the official guesthouse across the street from the White House, said a person familiar with the planning.
The former president’s remains will be transported from the Capitol to Washington National Cathedral in Northwest Washington in a motorcade that will follow a route passing directly in front of the White House.
At the service, two of Bush’s granddaughters, Ashley Bush and Lauren Bush, will give readings, according to the source. They are both daughters of Bush’s son Neil Bush.
The eulogists all knew the 41st president for many years.
Mulroney was Canada’s prime minister from 1984 to 1993 and helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Bush. He also gave eulogies at the funerals of President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy Reagan.
Meacham, who wrote “Destiny and Power,” a 2015 biography of Bush, also delivered a eulogy at Barbara Bush’s funeral. “In hours of war and of peace, of tumult and of calm, the Bushes governed in a spirit of congeniality, of civility, and of grace,” Meacham said. “. . . Barbara and George Bush put country above party, the common good above political gain, and service to others above the settling of scores.”
Simpson said he met Bush in 1962, when his father, Milward Simpson, was elected to the U.S. Senate and took over the Senate office of Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, who was retiring from the Senate.
Then, he said, when his father retired after one term, he sold his house in Washington to a recently elected congressman from Texas — George H.W. Bush.
“It was a handshake deal, no Realtors, no attorneys, nobody present,” Simpson said. “Dad remembered meeting him, and he said, ‘We have a nice house; you have children,’ and they said, ‘Just what we want.’ ”
Simpson said he and Bush worked together on much legislation over the next few decades.
“We got a lot done,” he said. “It was all about friendship and doing something for the country, not for the party.”
Simpson said he was asked by the Bush family several years ago if he would be willing to deliver a eulogy.
“This was years ago when George was failing. They said, ‘Al, we want you to be part of the service.’ Then, of course, George recovered beautifully, and I put the harps back in the closet,” he said.
“I knew that on some unknown day I’d be asked to do this,” he said. “It’s a great honor, and I’m fully ready to go.”