updated 6/7/2004 3:25:27 PM ET 2004-06-07T19:25:27

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And you know the genius of Ronald Reagan was that Reagan understood better than any politician really in modern American history that the greatness of America really does rest in the hearts of Americans and not in Washington, D.C.  And that was the message Reagan always talked.  I mean he always seemed to be able to talk over the elites.  He was able to talk straight to the American people.

And I got to tell you, he was also a president who understood the importance of symbolism, understood the importance of the American story and almost turning it into American myth.  One of Reagan‘s greatest speeches along with the Challenger speech was the speech that he delivered here, in the cemetery where we‘re standing tonight over the beaches of Normandy.  Right behind me, Omaha Beach where the United States gave a great example to Americans.

You know Ronald Reagan was always fond of saying, “America‘s like a city shining brightly on a hill for all the world to see.”  And Reagan came here and delivered that same message to Normandy 20 years ago.  And I‘ll tell you right now that‘s a message that‘s less—are being sent out across the world.  People remembering Ronald Reagan as really one of the most popular presidents in modern, American history.

HOLT:  And Joe.


LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  .and Joe, I know you have been there watching the D-Day commemoration events, has word begun to circulate of the death of Ronald Reagan there.  I realize it‘s, I guess, 12:01 there.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, it‘s awfully late here.  Obviously, though, Lester, up and down the coastline, fire works are going off.  Of course, this is really—this is -- 60 years ago, at this very moment, American troops were starting to come forward in the darkness and launch this invasion plan.  And up and down the coast, there are veterans, veterans from Middle America, veterans from Illinois, from California, from all the states that were Reagan American. And the message is starting to filter through there.  Obviously, they feel like they lost one of their own.  They lost one of the greatest presidents they believe from the greatest generation.

HOLT:  Joe Scarborough, host of “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” here on MSNBC, from Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

Joe, thanks very much.

We are learning a bit more about President Bush, now and his reaction to the death of Ronald Reagan.  Let‘s go on the phone now to NBC White House correspondent David Gregory traveling with the president in France—


DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Lester, just a short time ago, the White House summoned reporters to the U.S. Ambassador‘s residence here in Paris.  The president will make a statement on camera, to the American people, indeed to the world, within the hour, marking the death of President Reagan.  Officials telling us that the president was informed by his chief of staff, Andy Card, and that the president told Card, “This is”—quote—“a sad day for America.”

Officials have also been telling me in the past few minutes, that the president has been trying to reach Nancy Reagan by phone.  It‘s not clear whether he‘s been successful in doing that but he certainly wanted to pass on his condolences to the Reagan family and will do so in a formal way, on camera, in a statement that indeed will be made to the nation and the world in about—well, certainly within an hour.  That‘s the latest from Paris, Lester. 

HOLT:  All right, David Gregory traveling with President Bush in France.  And the many statements of tribute and reaction continue to pour in.  This from former President Gerald Ford on the death of Ronald Reagan:

“Betty and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our long time friend, President Reagan.  Ronald Reagan was an excellent leading during challenging times at home and abroad.  We extend our deepest condolences and prayers to Nancy and his family.”

From former Prime Minister Thatcher in England: “President Reagan was one of my closest political and my dearest, personal friends.  He will be missed not only by those who knew them, and not only by the nation that he served so proudly and loved so deeply, but also by millions of men and women who live in freedom today because of the policies he pursued.”  That again from former Prime Minister, Thatcher in England.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is an MSNBC analyst and a presidential historian who has been with us throughout our coverage.  The relationship that President Reagan had with Margaret Thatcher, in terms of their partners during the Cold War, was a very close one. 

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, MSNBC ANALYST/PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Oh, there‘s no question about it.  You could watch the two of them together and you could feel that there was kind of a flirtation in that relationship in all the best sense of the word.  She loved the idea that he loved her as a leader equal and on par with him.  I think he respected her enormously.  And they both had that bull-headed approach to their conservative philosophy, so that they believed in it and they believed the countries would be changed as a result of their philosophies.

HOLT:  Pat Buchanan, MSNBC analyst, was also Reagan‘s communications director during his administration.  And Pat joins us now from Washington.

Pat, first of all, our condolences to you and please share your reaction.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, I was—I‘m very saddened by it.  I think we‘ve lost a good man and a great president.  Ronald Reagan was, of course, the leader of our movement, the conservative movement, even before he became president.  It was an honor to serve him, being in his White House.  I was there with him at Geneva, at his first meeting with Gorbachev, and then at that famous second meeting at Reykjavik.

I truly believe Ronald Reagan‘s ideas and his policy and his courage and his commitment guided us through to a peaceful resolution of the Cold War.  And I think it‘s one of the great achievements of any president of the 20th century.  He was a good man, as I say, with good humor, and we really loved him. 

HOLT:  We were speaking here—Doris and I were speaking earlier, this was a man who didn‘t blink.  He didn‘t blink with the Soviets.  He didn‘t blink with PATCO.  He didn‘t blink with the Libyans.  Did his adversaries sometimes underestimate him?

BUCHANAN:  I think they did.  At Reykjavik, where I was with President Reagan, they knew that Ronald Reagan wanted to get rid of nuclear weapons.  He hated them.  He thought they were ruinous and destructive.  And Gorbachev made him an offer there to remove nuclear weapons, offensive weapons on both sides.  And Reagan was agreeing to it.  When they pulled out the trick, Gorbachev did, you‘re going to have to give up the defense of your country, SDI, and Reagan banged that table.  And he got out—and I saw him when he came out of the room with Gorbachev.  His face was the face—I mean the mask of rage.  I‘ve never seen Reagan quite as angry as I saw him then, Lester.

But you know, we drove for 45 minutes to the Keflibic (ph) Airbase and Reagan was still smoldering and he walked out in front and there must have been 5,000 airmen and their wives, and they roared and cheered.  They had been waiting for hours, and he lit up.  And all the way home, it passed.  He put him behind him.  On the flight home, after this summit, which had exploded, Ronald Reagan was telling me and Tony Dolan jokes about Hollywood and trading stories.  He was just a marvelous man, but he stood up for what he believed in.  He was not going to give up the defense of his country.  And when he stood up for it, he was angry about what Gorbachev had done, but I think he was proud he had stood up.  And I really think it was the finest hour of his presidency.

HOLT:  And Pat Buchanan, if you‘ll hang there just for a moment, I want to note—we just showed a picture from the White House that was taped just a short time ago of the flag now at half staff.  Again, this picture taken just a short time ago of the flag at half staff above the White House this evening.  It‘s now a little after 6:00 here on the U.S.  East Coast as we continue to cover the death of President Ronald Reagan who passed away at 93.

CNBC‘s Lawrence Kudlow was also an economic advisor for President Ronald Reagan and Lawrence joins us now to share his thoughts on this historic day.

LAWRENCE KUDLOW, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hello, Lester.  Well, of course, I‘m a little saddened myself.  I agree with what my friend, Pat Buchanan, is saying.  But on the other hand, Reagan‘s greatness will transcend the ages.  I firmly believe he‘ll go down as, you know, one of our top five or six or seven presidents.  And he really did change the world.  He was able to get the United States back on its feet again, in economic terms, in moral terms, and he parlayed that—he parlayed that into a very strong defense posture that ultimately caused the unwinding of the Soviet Union.

Here‘s a thought.  I‘m sure others will make it, but let me try.  Reagan understood that the economy at home was the source of American power overseas, that other countries would look at us.  Could the United States afford a military buildup?  Could the United States slug it out with the Soviet Union in Asia, in Central America, in South America and elsewhere?  Literally, after 15 years of stag inflation, would the United States have the economic power to really fight and ultimately win the Cold War?  And that was the basis of President Reagan‘s thinking.  He saw exactly in those stark terms, first we start here, and rebuild the U.S. economy and then we‘re going to take it to the Soviet Union.  I think it‘s a remarkable—absolute remarkable paradigm.

HOLT:  But Lawrence, you‘ll acknowledge as well that there were those who felt left out of the Reagan Revolution, who felt that the cost, of course, of spending so much on defense left huge cuts in social programs.  Does that mar the legacy?

KUDLOW:  No, I actually don‘t agree with that point-of-view.

HOLT:  But you acknowledge that it was there.

KUDLOW:  No.  I mean in factual terms, Lester, I was associate director of the Office of Management and Budget.  All those social programs increased significantly but all that President Reagan did was slowed down their growth rate.  His critics, like Tip O‘Neill and other liberals, argued until they were blue in the face, but ultimately the electorate rejected the critics and went with Reagan‘s program.  Reagan lowered taxes to stimulate the economy.  He deregulated oil to stimulate the economy.  As you yourself mentioned a moment ago, he stood tough in the PATCO debate, the air transport controllers, in order to reduce the union power, which at the time, was strangling the economy.

Now, he created tremendous—look, I—we got about 20 million new jobs created in the 1980‘s and the U.S. economy increased by about a third.  It was really quite a remarkable performance.  And he and Paul Volcker slayed the dragon of inflation, which had stopped the American economy from the prior 15 years.

HOLT:  Lawrence Kudlow from CNBC, former Reagan administration economic advisor.  Lawrence, thanks very much.

We want to learn more a bit more about this cruel disease, Alzheimer‘s that has claimed the life of President Reagan today, a struggle that was 10 years long.  NBC‘s chief science correspondent Robert Bazell is in New Orleans this evening to tell us a bit more—Bob.

ROBERT BAZELL, NBC CHIEF SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Lester.  I think President Reagan will, in many ways, become the symbol of a disease that‘s all too well known to millions of American families.  The best estimate right now is that 41/2 million Americans suffer from the ravages of Alzheimer‘s disease and that situation is only going to go worse as the population ages because right now there‘s very few effective treatments.  There‘s four medications.  They don‘t do very much at all.  And it seems to be an inevitable consequence of a certain percentage of the population, as they age—and some people are estimating that by the year 2050, more than 14 million Americans are going to have Alzheimer‘s, unless science finds something about this.

Now, of course, there is an enormous will to find some way to treat or prevent Alzheimer‘s disease.  And I think Mr. Reagan‘s condition shows just how variable the condition can be.  A lot of people are diagnosed with Alzheimer‘s and they die very quickly.  Others live on, as the former president did for many, many years.  And I think it‘s—a lot of it is a testament to his enormous physical stamina, that he was able to survive with Alzheimer‘s for as long as he did because he—don‘t forget he was diagnosed at least 10 years ago.  And I think historians will argue for a long time how much—and particularly over the years as scientists learn more about Alzheimer‘s, historians will argue how much of his presidency was influenced, if at all, by the disease as it progressed, because as we now learn more about Alzheimer‘s disease, we find out that it‘s something that develops slowly.  It starts with a little bit of memory loss, and then goes on until it completely destroys a person‘s memory and personality.

These pictures here were the last pictures of the Reagan family, allowed, of Mr. Reagan, before—he then was just kept in is he collusion and not allowed to see photographers.  I know there‘s a picture that was taken in Los Angeles in 1997.  By that time, he was clearly well into the final phases of the disease, even though he persisted for a long time.

In 2001 -- in early 2001, he suffered a hip fracture, which is a

common problem among Alzheimer‘s patients and often they don‘t recover but

he—because they don‘t have—aren‘t able to undergo physical

rehabilitation.  But he was such a physically powerful person that he

survived the hip fracture after he had Alzheimer‘s disease, just as though

·         just as he had survived the assassination attempt in his presidency.  So this was a man that had enormous physical constitution.  And that is part of the reason that he survived so long with this disease that ravages the brain.

Nancy Reagan had said publicly that the Ronald Reagan that she knew for so many years was long gone and that he had simply had no idea who was around him or what was happening in his environment.  And that‘s, of course, a very common way that this disease ends up as it progresses.  It robs humans of their personality.  It robs them of their memory.  And it‘s something that‘s one of the worst things that most of us can imagine happening to us.  When it happens, in most families who don‘t have enormous amounts of resources, it can be a terrible burden.  The best estimates right now, Lester, are that between the cost of just caring for the people with Alzheimer‘s that we have in the United States now exceed $130 billion a year.  And because the disease is going to continue to increase in numbers as the population ages, this is a problem that‘s only going to get much worse.

Scientists have a lot of will.  There‘s a lot of political will.

There‘s a lot of research money to try to understand Alzheimer‘s disease:

who gets it, why do you get it and even exactly how it affects the brain because those are still outstanding questions.  And I think that most of us now when we think of Alzheimer‘s, beyond thinking of those in our immediate family who have it, we‘re going to be thinking of those last pictures that we‘re seeing now of Ronald Reagan and how it destroyed somebody, who was obviously highly intelligent and of course, and enormously, physically, powerful man—Lester.

HOLT:  All right.  NBC‘s chief science correspondent Robert Bazell in New Orleans.  Bob, thanks very much.

We should note that flags are being lowered to half staff in many places, and especially in Washington.  This is the live picture of the U.S.  capital and the American flag now at half staff, as it is when we showed you a while ago, at the White House.  Also, I see on another monitor in Elmont New York, at the Belmont Stakes, the flag as well there is flying at half staff as America begins to mark and to mourn the passing of Ronald Wilson Reagan who left us today at the age of 93 after his 10-year long bout with Alzheimer‘s disease.

This is continuing expanded coverage of the death of President Reagan on MSNBC.  I‘m Lester Holt and we‘re here with Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian, General Barry McCaffrey and Pat Buchanan with some more thoughts in Washington, as well.

We‘ll be talking to all of them, but first, let me go back to France where it is 15 minutes after midnight.  It is now June 6, 2004, and MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough is there covering this 60th anniversary, and the impact—imprint that Ronald Reagan left on the modern anniversaries of that horrific day—Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, he certainly did.  And you know Ronald Reagan understood, again, more than anybody the importance of dates like D-Day.  And it shaped Ronald Reagan.  He had a—he had an overly simplistic view of the world, according to his critics.  He believed in good and evil.  And you know he, of course, talked about the evil empire.  And there are an awful lot of people, including Mikhail Gorbachev, who made the mistake of underestimating Ronald Reagan.

From the very beginning of his presidency, he was considered an amiable dunce.  But Reagan played right into it.  He considered it a compliment, that people would underestimate him.  In fact, when he addressed Harvard University at one time, he spoke before the class, “You‘re the best and the brightest in America.”  And he stood there and talked about his poor education, how he wasn‘t such a smart guy, how he was intimidated to be speaking to the class at Harvard.  And there he was with the seal of the United States of America, the president on there.  And he said, “You know, sometimes I ask myself, what I may have achieved if I‘d only gotten a good education.”  And of course, at Reykjavik, he had Mikhail Gorbachev underestimating him, trying to hammer him, trying to have him give up SDI, have him give up the deployment of Cruise missiles in Western Europe.  Reagan flatly turned him down.

And of course, he had an awful lot of critics in the mainstream media,

saying that he was a war monger, that he was dangerous, that he was leading

the world to the third world war.  Reagan stuck to his guns.  Gorbachev

continued to underestimate him until he finally figured out that Reagan may

have a nice smile, but it was an iron smile.  And he stared Gorbachev down

and three, four years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, Eastern Europe

collapsed.  And Ronald Reagan helped usher in a new post Cold War era.  And

I think most historians looking back on Reagan‘s legacy are going to say

that this fairly simple man helped bring down the Soviet Union. And that‘s

going to be one of Reagan‘s great, lasting legacies

HOLT:  Joe, we will obviously, in today and the days to come, see the devotion of outpouring towards Ronald Reagan.  But we even saw a glimpse of fierce devotion, if you recall when there was this CBS movie that was to be aired.  Have we ever seen that kind of protective instinct among political supporters as we‘ve seen for this man?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, it certainly seems like, you know, centuries ago that Americans had that type of devotion for a president.  Of course, Americans remember John Kennedy fondly after his death.  After Ronald Reagan left the White House, they remembered him fondly.  But you know, it seems these days where you have the division over George Bush, and before him, the division over Bill Clinton, you had such a divided America.  Ronald Reagan, of course, in 1984, was reelected by a land slide, won by 49 states.  And one of my favorite pictures of Reagan was when he went in to Boston, Massachusetts, went into a pub there, held up a beer, smiled, toasted everybody and had a drink of it because it just showed Reagan was every man‘s man.  Reagan didn‘t care whether you were a Democrat or whether you were a Republican, you know.  He just had a common touch and it‘s what made him so popular.

And again, if you look at these veterans, here and I‘ll guarantee you tomorrow, as they file into the cemetery tomorrow morning, early, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, every veteran here is going to be talking about Ronald Reagan, what he meant to them, what he meant to America, what he meant to the world and what made him great.  And that was that he had the common touch and he knew how to boil down a huge idea into a small story or vignette.  He, of course, was the first state president at the State of the Union addresses that would actually point to somebody up in the audience or would read a letter or as we saw in our piece a few minutes ago, would talk about an individual D-Day hero and what made that hero great.  And he would take that example, and expand it out into a value that all Americans could understand, that they could believe in and again would feed into this vision that Ronald Reagan had, almost a mythical vision of America, again, as that city shining brightly on the hill for all the world to see.  And that‘s why tomorrow, I‘ll tell you what, people are going to be remembering what happened 60 years ago, but a lot of these veterans are going to be remembering the Gipper.

HOLT:  And Joe, remain with me if you will.

Let me bring Pat Buchanan in Washington.  He was the communications director for President Ronald Reagan.

Not speaking politically but in style, Pat, did President Reagan raise the bar for his successors, in terms of style?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, I‘m afraid he did enormously.  He had that rich voice.  He was the great communicator.  You know, as with TR, Teddy Roosevelt once said when he went down the Amazon River, “This is my last chance to be a boy.”  Reagan had, even though he was our oldest president, a tremendous boyish quality.  You mentioned, Lester, about how protective a lot of Reaganites were about the president when CBS was going to do that show.  They genuinely loved this man.  Very, very rarely have you heard a group identified as—quote—Reagan Democrats.  They‘re the fellows that Joe Scarborough was talking about in the pub in South Boston, probably raised Catholic, never voted for a Republican in their lives.  Massachusetts went for Ronald Reagan.

I remember when Ronald Reagan went out to Notre Dame.  The Gipper arrived and they gave him his football uniform and he put on that jacket.  He was like a big kid that had just got his letter there.  And I think that was one of his—this boyish quality, this sense of humor, this ability to laugh at himself and to accept jokes about himself.  At the same time, he was a serious man, about his ideas, and the world, and that boyish confidence, that can-do attitude.  These things made him, I think, a loveable man as Peggy Noonan once said to me.

And in fact, what you were talking about, Lester, you‘re exactly right that that rush to protect this good man, who left this life in as dignified and as gracious a way as anyone ever has, with the final letter to the country that had treated him so well and bidding it farewell and saying “I‘m not going to see you again in this world, but we‘ll see you in the next one, and God bless America.”  This was a marvelous human being and I really think a great president. 

HOLT:  And Joe Scarborough, before we let you go there in France, talk about what we should expect in the week to come here in the United States.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I think you‘re going to see a great outpouring of love and support.  And I think you‘re going to see over the next week in America, a lot of what you‘re going to see tomorrow in D-Day.  You know, I had a historian, a D-Day historian on earlier, we were talking to him.  And he said, “You know the interesting thing is when people come to D-Day, there are tears, there are sadness, there are people remembering their loved ones that died on Omaha Beach, Utah Beach.  But it‘s generally a joyous place.”  And with all of these crosses here, over 9,300 crosses here, you come to the cemetery and it lifts your spirits.

Over the next week, we‘re going to be hearing so many anecdotes about Ronald Reagan.  I got to share with you very briefly, my favorite.  It really is what made Ronald Reagan great.  I mean, he was so confident in what he was saying and what he was doing and what he was believing, that it was right that he didn‘t care if people criticized him.  I remember his biographer went out one year after he was out of the White House, he was driving up to his home in Bel Air, and he saw on the front page of “The L.A. Times,” an article that was criticizing Reagan on Iran-contra, blaming the deficit on Regan, and he said—Edmond Morris said, “I‘m going to get nothing out of this man, nothing.  He‘s going to be so upset.”  Nancy let him in.  He walked onto the patio.  Ronald Reagan was sitting there.  His face was flushed.  He was reading “The L.A. Times.”  And Reagan said to Morris, “Have you seen ‘The L.A. Times‘ today?”  And Morris said, “Yes, Mr.  President, I‘ve seen ‘The L.A. Times.‘”  Reagan flipped it over, threw him the front page, and pointed to the bottom of the page and said, “I can‘t believe the O‘Malleys would even think about selling the Dodgers to Murdock.”  That‘s the type of guy he was.  He never ever took the criticism personally.  He always seemed to rise above it and that‘s what made Ronald Reagan the beloved leader that he is.

HOLT:  That‘s a great story.  Joe Scarborough, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.  Thank you very much, Joe, appreciate it.

Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, had one of those—one of the closest relationships of any couple that has occupied the White House.  And her role in the administration often took a bigger dimension than that of a typical first lady.  We get more from NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.




ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was an old-fashioned romance, a love affair so storybook, it started in Hollywood.

She says her life didn‘t really begin until she met him.  He says, if he hadn‘t met her, after his first marriage ended, he would have lost his soul.

R. REAGAN:  What do you say about someone who gives your life meaning?  What do you say about someone who is always there, with support and understanding?

MITCHELL:  To her, he was Ronnie.  She says all she ever wanted in a man. 

NANCY REAGAN, WIFE:  And his greatest find, I don‘t think there‘s anything in the world he can‘t do.

MITCHELL:  To him, she was indispensable, a partner, advocate, counselor, protector, even at times, prompter.

N. REAGAN:  Doing everything we can.

R. REAGAN:  Doing everything we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They were so in love with each other.  It truly was one of the most amazing love affairs I ever witnessed, two people just so mad about each other.

MITCHELL:  They met in 1949.  She, an actress, he, the recently divorced head of the Screen Actors Guild, by then acting mostly in B-movies.  Three years later, they married.

In her autobiography, Nancy Reagan says, “Almost from the day I met him, Ronald Reagan has been the center of my life.”  No matter how busy, or pressured, they always found time for romance and surprise.

R. REAGAN:  And brought it down to five percent and we‘re holding it to seven percent.

You were getting laughs.

CROWD:  Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday.

MITCHELL:  Friends say without Nancy, there never would have been a Governor Reagan or a President Reagan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I always said about Nancy Reagan, if Ronald Reagan had owned a shoe store, she‘d be pushing shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It truly was a marriage made in heaven.  Even at the ranch, even in the quiet moments, there was a bond, a chemistry that radiated true love between the two of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People have made fun of Nancy for looking up at the president and never taking her eyes off him.  That was not a political thing.  She always looked at him when he spoke.  It was like a total devotion that one had to the other.

MITCHELL:  Fiercely protective, especially after the assassination attempt, she was his political radar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She gave him support in every aspect of his life.  She watched out for him.  She made sure that the staff people that were around him were attentive and were following his agenda not their own.

N. REAGAN: I think I‘m aware of people who are trying to take advantage of my husband, who are trying end run him lots of times, who are trying to use him.  I‘m very aware of that.  All my little antennas go up.

MITCHELL:  While remote to most people, even his own children, with her, he was sentimental, even corny, leaving love notes around the White House.  And he wasn‘t shy about acknowledging the importance of their marriage.

R. REAGAN:  So Nancy, in front of all your friends here today, let me say, thank you for all you do.  Thank you for your love and thank you for just being you.


MITCHELL:  When it was time to leave the stage, they did it together, saying goodbye to the White House and to politics.

R. REAGAN:  My fellow Americans, on behalf of both of us, goodbye and God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this country we love.


MITCHELL:  But the storybook romance would not have a storybook ending.  Ronald Reagan left Washington for twilight of fading memories, relying more than ever on his wife.

R. REAGAN:  I was a bit concerned that after all these years away from Washington, you all wouldn‘t recognize me.

MITCHELLL:  By the end, she was suffering at his side, nurse, caretaker, keeper of the flame.

N. REAGAN:  Each day brings another reminder of this very long goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it has been extremely difficult.  But I think, also, she never questioned, for one second, that that was her task.

MITCHELL:  Because for them, in sickness and in health, it was always just Nancy and Ronnie, a true love affair.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.


HOLT:  Doris Kearns Goodwin, has there—was there a comparable relationship between first lady and president to that love affair or that marriage?

GOODWIN:  There‘s very few because I think when you become President, the public part of your life becomes so absorbing, there‘s not a lot of room for the private life.  Your success, your ambition takes over and that‘s much of the relationships that we have among Presidents and First Ladies.  Perhaps Abigail and John Adams had that kind of an intense romantic bond that you could almost feel through their letters.

We see it through watching these two on video and interestingly enough, of course, as Reagan has now died on the eve of D-Day, another huge event in our lives, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th.  So there‘s something about the conjunction of these timings of things that make it quite extraordinary.

HOLT:  There is a confluence of history going on here.  Doris, thanks very much.  It‘s 6:30 Eastern time, 3:30 Pacific.  This is MSNBC‘s continuing coverage of the death of President Reagan.  We want to go to California right now.

NBC‘s Mark Mullen is outside the Reagan family home in Bel Air.  Mark?

MARK MULLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Lester, good day to you.  We‘re here in Bel Air outside the family compound and what an interesting turn of events which has happened today and even in the last hour based on just all of the activity which is coming here.

We should tell you that over the last several weeks, there have been all kinds of rumors about the failing health of President Reagan, rumors which largely went unreported because there was simply no way to substantiate that and the bottom line anyway was there was nothing anyone could do as well except wait for the news, which as we all know by now, came just a short time ago.

We understand that reportedly President Reagan died with both Nancy and at least two of his children at his bedside, Ron and his sister, as well, Michael Reagan was here earlier along with two grandchildren.  But for all of the friends that the Reagan‘s knew, this was a very small and quiet family affair when President Reagan passed just a short time ago.  Are people surprised at this passing?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

The Reagan‘s themselves actually did a good job of essentially telescoping the fact that there would be bad news down the road, starting with 10 years ago, when President Reagan wrote that poignant letter saying that he had Alzheimer‘s disease and that he would be slowly in his words, going into the sunset of his life.

And not less than a month ago, Nancy Reagan, speaking at a fundraiser of stem cell research into possible Alzheimer‘s research also described what a toll that Alzheimer‘s had taken on her husband, essentially saying to the crowd there that she was no longer able to communicate with him.

There has been no family spokesman coming out and making a statement as of yet, but we saw Ron Reagan‘s son, I was about to call him Junior, but technically he has a different middle name, Ron Reagan leaving just a short time ago.  And essentially, Lester, a California scene if you will has sort of basically materialized right here, one that Ronald Reagan probably would not mind terribly much.

You have news helicopters which are going overhead here in Bel Air, which is a very fancy part of Los Angeles anyway.  You have tour busses, which continue to come by and show all of the celebrities‘ homes including Ronald Reagan.  That may seem a little bit strange, it may seem a little bit quirky, California, but Ronald Reagan and his family love this state dearly with all of its eccentricities.

Remember, this is the place that launched his movie career, a successful actor, a successful union leader, winning the Screen Actors Guild and of course, a very successful political career, both as Governor as California and as President later during an absolutely terrific time in this country.  It is a state with all of its quirks that he liked very well.  He probably would have liked the big show which is happening outside of  his home right now.

Lester, back to you.

HOLT:  And Mark, as we were told in planning for this day that the President would initially lie in state at the Library in Simi Valley.  How far is that?  I take that back.  To be buried in Simi Valley.  How far is that from Bel Air?

MULLEN:  Probably best guess is it‘s about - maybe about an hour, an hour and 15 minutes or so by best guess and they‘re still having to finalize the details.  What you almost said, Lester, may in fact be the case.  He may lay in state there and then in Washington before being buried, but obviously in this early goings, they‘re still trying to figure that out.

But you know, greater Los Angeles, everything is about an hour away, so it‘s still considered right down the block here in southern California.

HOLT:  All right.  Mark Mullen, outside the Reagan family home in Bel Air.  Mark, keep us updated.  Thank you very much.  We are continuing to get reaction from all across the world and we‘re keeping our eye on the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, where a former President Bush is expected to issue a statement shortly.  You‘ll see the camera is set up there.  When he makes that statement, you will hear it.

I also want to let you know among the statements received from son, Michael Reagan, who was the adopted son of President Reagan‘s first marriage.  I‘ll read just a part of what he said.  “I remember with great clarity my father‘s emotion when Nellie Reagan, my grandmother, passed away.  Until today, I didn‘t understand the feeling of loss and pain which comes when a parent leaves you.

For this reason, I will not be making any public statements at this time.”  And he simply goes on to say, “I pray that as America reflects the passing of my dad, they will remember a man of integrity, conviction and good humor.”  That part of a written statement by son, Michael Reagan, about the passing of his father, President Ronald Reagan, at his home in California today.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is continuing to stand here with me as we go through this coverage and look at a legacy of Ronald Reagan, and we were speaking earlier with Pat Buchanan about what influence the Reagan Presidency has had on future Presidents, his successors.

I recall, and correct me if I‘m wrong, he was the first President in his State of the Union speeches in which he would have real people that he would point to, a firefighter, a soldier, a hero in the crowd and that has continued in every Presidency, right?

GOODWIN:  And to some extent, however, I think it really worked for Ronald Reagan, but after something gets used, it almost becomes a caricature.  I mean, now when you go to the State of the Union, look around, you know some guy is going to be sitting there who‘s going to be called to bow.  So I think it‘s one of those cases where a ritual that works because it‘s allowed Reagan to have a big story and a little story, and that‘s exactly what he did at D-Day when he talked about the rangers.

Here‘s this huge D-Day thing and he boils it down to these rangers going up that unforgiven cliff.  And that‘s what he did with his policy and pointing out to these people, but then when it becomes something that everybody does, they don‘t always have the same skill at using it.

HOLT:  It is so amazing and now we look at the time, the clock, it is June 6th right now in Normandy and we all recall that speech 20 years ago at Pondahok (ph).  But before we continue that thought, let me take you to Maine right now and we‘re seeing former President George Bush and the former first lady now walking towards the cameras and the former President now will make a statement regarding the passing of the man he served under as Vice-President for eight years.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT:  This a very sad day for our country.  I know Ronald Reagan has been ill for a long time and the finality of all of this is going to hit the American people very hard.  And Barbara and I mourn the loss of a great President and for us a great friend.  People ask me, well, what was so special about President Reagan?

And on a personal basis, it was his kindness, his decency, his sense of humor, unbelievable and he had a wonderful way where you could disagree with him.  He‘d had leaders in Congress or foreign leaders that he would disagree with and yet, he was never disagreeable about it himself.  He was never mean-spirited and so he set a great example.  I learned a great deal from him as his Vice-President for eight years.

We‘d been political opponents and we became very close friends and every Wednesday, we‘d have lunch alone together and I‘ll never forget those lunches.  There was no agenda.  He didn‘t ask you to define different problems.  It was just two people talking and he made me feel totally welcome, totally relaxed in his presence and he was great.

And I might say, we have unlimited respect for Nancy Reagan for the way she has conducted herself and stood by the ailing President for so many years.  She has shown a lot of courage, a lot of - a lot of responsibility and it‘s been a wonderful thing for Barbara and me to see, just to watch and to honor.

Do you want to say something about anything?

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY:  Well, I don‘t think I‘ve ever known anyone who was so innately polite.  Ronald Reagan was a gentleman, certainly adored his wife.  She should be very proud of that I think and we certainly send our love to Nancy.  We talked to her today, so she knows we love her and we‘re missing her husband already.

QUESTION:  Mr. President, have you had a chance to talk to your son today at all from France?

BUSH:  No.  I have not talked to him today.  I‘ve just gotten back from England and of course, he‘s traveling in Rome and France.

QUESTION:  There‘s been said that all - many Republicans in Congress today, those in power, including your son, owe a debt to Ronald Reagan for helping to move the center to the right, talking about the compassionate conservative message that your son had.

BUSH:  Well, I think - I think both Presidents Bush learned a great deal from Ronald Reagan and I‘m sure that‘s a valid concept that President Bush, the President, has great respect for Ronald Reagan.  He emulated him in the tax cuts that I now think are helping our economy to recover, but it was more than that.

It was the same thing that Barbara and I are talking about, his respect for the man, his respect for his leadership, his respect for the human being that was Ronald Reagan.

QUESTION:  Mr. President, you spoke with Mrs. Reagan today.  Can you tell us a little bit about how she‘s doing?

BUSH:  Well, we called her and it turned out to be just before he passed away and she‘s - you could tell she was under a strain.  Barbara asked if her family was at their side, and she said, yes, they‘d gathered there and she made clear to us that his death was eminent, but it had not actually happened at the time.

But I think she - I think she was sad, of course, and burdened, of course, by what she‘s undergoing, but she has been a wonderful, loyal friend and wife and they loved each other.  It‘s so clear and obvious that they did.

QUESTION:  I‘m sorry.  What kind of a debt do you think the United States owes to President Reagan now looking back?

BUSH:  Well, I don‘t know that there‘s a debt that our country owes to any President.  I think Ronald Reagan himself would say that he was proud to be able to serve his country, but I think - I think history will give him great credit for standing for a few principals and standing firmly for those principals and thus setting an example for the American people, whether they agreed with him or not.

It was wonderful the way he could - he could take a stand and as I said earlier, do it without bitterness or without creating enmity on the part of other people and today happens to be somewhat ironic because the speech that Ronald Reagan gave in France 10 years - no, how many years ago it was it now?  At the D-Day celebration over there, it was unbelievable, it was so emotional.

When he got back, I asked him, well, how in the world could you get through that beautiful, wonderful tribute to those - to those people that scaled the cliffs?  And he said, well, I wrote it down and I just repeated it over and over again to try to get it through my mind and without getting too emotional myself about it.

But there were many speeches for Ronald Reagan to just muster the best in us as a country, and maybe we should be - give him great credit for that.

QUESTION:  Sir, a lot of people are asking today whether or not, there have been folks who have proposed putting President Reagan on Mount Rushmore.  They‘ve talked about different ways that the President should be honored.  Have you given any thoughts as to what you think might be an appropriate memorial?

BUSH:  No, I really haven‘t, but I expect that a lot of .

HOLT:  We‘re listening to Former President Bush, but President Bush, he‘s in France right now and delivering a speech, audio only.  We want to listen to it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self doubt and because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and charity.  Now, in laying our leader to rest, we say thank you.  He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come.

We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him too.  His work is done and now, a shining city awaits him.  May God Bless Ronald Reagan.

HOLT:  You‘ve been listening to audio only of a statement from President Bush in Paris.  The President, of course, has been traveling in Europe and keep in mind, it‘s about 12:44 a.m. in France right now.  Let‘s go back to Kennebunkport, the President‘s father, Former President Bush is still taking questions from reporters.

BUSH:  . very well and moved the process forward.  So he got - he used the term “evil empire” and some of the liberals in New York were wringing their hands and going crazy, oh, this is terrible.  This is the end of everything.  He didn‘t now how to conduct foreign affairs.  And sure enough, a lot happened on his watch that was very, very positive towards New World order towards peace.

And so I think that - I think that the combination, of course, on the domestic side, his tax cut, I think he never was able to get the spending cuts that he wanted, but he did a lot in getting the 90 percent income taxes, my gosh, get those way down.  And he did a great job on both domestic and foreign.  I think - I don‘t know.  That‘s a good question.  I don‘t how to - what history will say on that.

QUESTION:  Mr. President, you mentioned you had a unique vantage point on the Reagan presidency detractors.  Much has been made of course of the President‘s Alzheimer‘s in later years and his detractors, of course, have made an issue in claiming that there may have been some sort of mental deterioration while he was still in office.  Can you address that issue?

BUSH:  Yes, I can say it‘s not true for certain and I was close in and I never detected anything like that at all.  And yet I read the speculation, but I was there at his side, right up through his Presidency.  So I don‘t know where that comes from and I, you know, some doctor knows it starts very early on and something like that, well, fine.

But I - the answer to your question, no, I did not detect it or think it.  And when I‘ve seen that reporter, I‘d say, hey, who are they talking to?

QUESTION:  Mr. President, what are your memories of the first time you met Ronald Reagan?

BUSH:  Oh, golly.  I think I was Chairman of the Republican National Committee back in 1973 and ‘74 and he was Governor of California and I met him then.   But we didn‘t really get close at that point, but I was head of the party and he was a big star of the Republican Party at that time as the Governor.  What I remember is, you know, some of the same things I‘m talking about here.

QUESTION:  When was the last time you saw President Reagan, Mr.


BUSH:  I think it was about - do you remember, Barb?  We went to call on him in California, but it was - oh gosh, I think after I left the White House, but I don‘t remember .

B. BUSH:  Early after, I think about ‘94 maybe.

BUSH:  Maybe ‘94 or ‘95, somewhere in there.

B. BUSH:  Don‘t swear to that.  We‘re getting older.

BUSH:  All right?  We got it?  Thank you all for coming.  Now I want you to turn your cameras off and we can get less serious and notice the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) coming in here as we .

HOLT:  That Former President Bush commenting on the passing of President Ronald Reagan and taking a number of questions there.  These are two men who had a long relationship, eight years, for President Bush as Vice-President of course under Ronald Reagan.  And again, passing their condolences to Nancy Reagan saying they had spoken with her apparently just moments before President Reagan passed today.

We‘ve heard from the President as well in that audio only statement from France, and we‘re also told that the President was able to call and talk to Nancy Reagan and express his condolences over the phone.  The President continuing his European trip.

I want to bring in General Barry McCaffrey, retired U.S. Army General, to offer a bit more on how this country changed under Ronald Reagan.  We were talking to Doris earlier about where America was and where Ronald Reagan wanted to take it.  How did you feel it from your perspective as a career Army officer?

BARRY MCCAFFREY, RETIRED U.S. ARMY GENERAL and MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, you know, Lester, I think the low point, the absolute point of despair in my own personal, professional life was Desert One.  I was a Battalion Executive Officer of a Mechanized (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Germany at the time.  Our inability .

HOLT:  Let‘s back up a second.  Desert One was the attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages .

MCCAFFREY:  To rescue the Iranian hostages that occurred under President Carter‘s watch of course and the thing went badly awry, but it seemed to symbolize, not only for the United States, but for many of our allies, our inability to create military power, our, you know, self sort of serving way of dealing with the Soviet problem.

We were at our low point and then if you flash forward, around 1981, when he came into office, things did start to get better.  Now, arguably, there are many reasons for that, nothing to do with President Reagan.  But inside the Armed Forces, by the time he left office, we had come back to where we were supposed to be, the defenders of the most powerful nation on the face of the earth.

We were facing the Soviet Union at a time when they had dirt roads, elevators that wouldn‘t work, the place was a third-world nation with a giant Armed Forces, a giant space program and a giant drug-using group of Olympic athletes and that‘s about all they had going for them.  I think he backed them down and our economic power, arguably is what he put in front, confronting the Soviet Union and they came apart.

HOLT:  General McCaffrey, thanks.  Let‘s go to NBC‘s David Gregory, who is traveling with President Bush in  France.  David?

GREGORY:  Well, Lester, I‘m assuming for the moment that you were able to hear President Bush‘s comments about Ronald Reagan just a couple of minutes ago.  Is that correct?

HOLT:  In fact, we were.  We heard the audio only.

GREGORY:  Right.  And we‘ll be seeing that tape in a matter of moments.  What may not have come through from kind of a grainy cell phone connection was a President who was clearly emotional as he was recalling what he called a sad hour in the life of America, recalling the conviction and the courage and even the good humor of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States and a political figure who‘s had a tremendous influence on this President Bush, whose father of course served as Vice President to Ronald Reagan.

President saying tonight in the course of his statement that he was able to speak from here in Paris to Nancy Reagan to express the condolences for both him and from Mrs. Bush on what he said was a very difficult night for the country.  The President again speaking emotionally said that Ronald Reagan left behind a nation that he helped to restore and a world that he helped to save.

He said that we can all take comfort in the fact that as Ronald Reagan said, the best is yet to come, and that perhaps that‘s indeed the case for him as well and also referred to another memorable phrase of Ronald Reagan‘s, calling America “that city on the hill”.  Now President Bush said, that is the city we hope that is waiting for President Reagan.

It is really difficult to overstate again, how much of a force the legacy of Ronald Reagan was for this President Bush as he confronts the war on terror, as he tried to advance an agenda of freedom in the greater Middle East.  He often has recalled the words, the sentiments, the conviction of Ronald Reagan standing up to the Cold War and helping America to prevail in the Cold War.

So he has fashioned himself, this President Bush has, as a leader very much in the spirit of Ronald Reagan and now he notes with great sadness his passing.


HOLT:  All right.  David Gregory with the President in France where it‘s approaching 1:00 in the morning.  David, thanks very much.  We received a joint statement regarding the passing of President Reagan from Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and I‘ll read it to you.

“Hillary and I will always remember President Ronald Reagan for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere.  It is fitting that a piece of the Berlin Wall adorns the Ronald Reagan building in Washington.”

The statement goes on to say, “President Reagan demonstrated his strength and resolve after leaving office when he shared his struggle with Alzheimer‘s disease with the world.  We will always remember his tremendous capacity to inspire and comfort us in times of tragedy as he did after the loss of the space shuttle, Challenger.”

That‘s part of the statement from Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Now we want to get an update right now from Bel Air, California where President Reagan passed away this afternoon.

NBC‘s Mark Mullen is outside the family home.  Mark?

MULLEN:  Lester, we understand from an L.A. spokesperson just a short time ago that President Reagan‘s body is expected to leave this Bel Air compound anywhere from about 50 minutes from now to about one hour and 20 minutes.  In the meantime, we should at least set the scene for you and tell you what is going on.  Up until this moment, up until this very strange day today, there have been rumors circulating.

I‘ll try and talk above the news helicopters, of the President‘s failing health.  All of those rumors came to rest today as we learned the news that President Reagan had died, apparently with Nancy by his side and with at least two other children.  One we saw leaving the compound just about 45 minutes ago.

Michael Reagan, his other son from his first marriage, left just about five minutes ago in a red jeep and we have seen a couple of motorcades leaving here just a short time ago.  Was this a surprise?  There has been a lot of talk of this.  People had known about the President‘s Alzheimer‘s, especially from that note which he had written 10 years ago in which he disclosed that and said that he would be entering the sunset period of his life.

While Nancy Reagan spoke about three weeks ago in which he described what Alzheimer‘s had done to her husband, saying essentially that she was unable to communicate with him anymore.  Since that time, over the last several days, there has been an increasing amount of rumors which have been flying around, rumors which President Reagan‘s spokesperson tried to at least put down, but all of that was answered today when we learned that the 40th President of the United States had passed away.

Lester, as we send it back to you, we‘ll tell you that some people who have heard the news just on radio and on television have come up here to Bel Air to pay their respects.  We spoke a little while ago to one woman from Illinois who felt a real kinship with President Reagan since he too had been borne in that state and said that she just wanted to come up and pay her respects.

In the meantime, news helicopters continue to go overhead, tour busses, this is the home of Hollywood continuing to go by.  Unconventional, yes; disrespectful, perhaps; but President Reagan loved everything about this state including all of its eccentric components and he might have approved of all of this today.  We‘ll remind everyone that before he was such an accomplished politician, he was an accomplished actor as well.

Back to you.

HOLT:  The ubiquitous helicopters and yes, somehow out of place on this day, but a fact of life.  Mark Mullen in Los Angeles, in Bel Air, a section of Los Angeles, for us where the President, President Reagan passed away this afternoon.  And we‘re approaching 7:00 Eastern time.  Let me go to Pat Buchanan right now, who as we noted earlier, was Ronald Reagan‘s Communications Director.

Ronald - Pat, I apologize, we‘re about to go into a period of mourning in this country and already where you are in Washington, the flags at half staff on the Capitol behind you.  What will - what will - will politics be put aside for this week?  What‘s the larger effect as we enter this period?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I don‘t know that it will be - there will an outpouring of grief, I think, Lester, and a tremendous outpouring of affection.  We‘ve all been waiting for this moment for 10 years.  I think as has been mentioned earlier, there was an extra dimension to Ronald Reagan.

Some of his policies may have been controversial, but the tax cuts and the standing up to the Soviet Union, they triumph as policies, but above that, I think the man, especially in his later years after he left office, he found a place in America‘s heart.  I think you‘re going to see an outpouring of love and affection, mixed with tears.  If they have the funeral, I think the President of the United States will be out there.

He‘ll deliver the eulogy.  I think it will be a moment of national unity.  That was a gracious statement of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  I thought the President‘s statement in Paris, from what I heard, was eloquent and beautiful about Ronald Reagan now arriving at his own city on a hill.  I think this is going to be a good moment for America.

A lot of us are very saddened by this, but the more we think of what this man contributed to his country and what he means to the American people, I think it‘s going to be a real cause of national unity for this next week.

HOLT:  And you heard Former President Bush note how he believed both Presidents Bush learned from Ronald Reagan.  Do you see that - did you see that in either Administration?

BUCHANAN:  Well listen, I was in Detroit, Lester.  It was the night they were negotiating with Gerald Ford to put him on the ticket with Ronald Reagan and the negotiations collapsed over the demands and it looked like the headlines were going to say, Ford/Reagan ticket collapses.  Reagan went to that convention and said, I‘ve chosen George W. Bush - George H. W. Bush to be my Vice President.

He put the ticket together there.  That made history.  That is why we have two President Bush‘s.  That shows of course Ronald Reagan‘s use of the dramatic, his ability to decide and I think that President Bush, the first President Bush had lunch with him every Wednesday, they were a close team.  I was in meeting after meeting.  They worked very closely together.

The relationship was outstanding and I believe the young President Bush takes an awful lot from Ronald Reagan, the tax cuts.  Frankly, the boyishness I talked about earlier, I think young President Bush has a lot of that quality.  There is no doubt, every republican of this generation and every American has been affected by the character of Ronald Reagan.

HOLT:  And Pat, just about a minute or so or even less, just your thoughts very quickly on Nancy Reagan, especially the Nancy Reagan we‘ve seen during this struggle with Alzheimer‘s.

BUCHANAN:  Last time I talked to Ronald Reagan, he called me on the phone from California to say, thanks, because I had written a column defending Nancy who was under attack from something, some journalist or columnist, and he thanked me and he went on and on about this good, this loving woman and he could not understand this.

This was a romance that went back to, you know, a more romantic time than we live in right now.  He was just devoted to this woman.  He loved her and it is really a story of love and loyalty through 50 years that again, we don‘t - have not seen its like almost in Presidential politics.

HOLT:  All right.  Pat Buchanan, thanks very much for being with us.  Pat Buchanan in Washington, one of the many places where flags are flying half staff at this hour in honor of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan, passing away today at the age of 93.  The tributes, the statements, continue to come.

Senator John Kerry releasing this a short while ago.  “Ronald Reagan‘s love of country was infectious, even when he was breaking democrats‘ hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate.”  And he goes on to say, “Despite the disagreements, he lived by that noble idea that at 5:00 p.m., we weren‘t democrats or republicans, we were Americans and friends.”

That statement from Senator John Kerry as the tributes and the remembrances of the 40th President of the United States continues.

I‘m Lester Holt, MSNBC.  Keith Olbermann is next.


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