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George H.W. Bush funeral: Live updates

Read and watch the latest developments from the state funeral of the 41st president of the United States.

Former President George H.W. Bush returned home to Texas Wednesday after a meticulously choreographed state funeral service at Washington National Cathedral. Events commemorating his life and legacy will continue in Houston and College Station, Texas, Thursday.

Bush, who died Friday at age 94, was honored with stories of his bravery in wartime, his compassion and loyalty, and his love of family, friends and country.

George W. Bush, the 43rd president, gave a tearful eulogy of his father, peppered with jokes and personal reminiscences. Other tributes came from Bush's biographer, Jon Meacham, former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson, and ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended the funeral service, along with several former presidents and world leaders.

Scrolls through the NBC News live blog to experience Wednesday's events as they happened.

Goodnight, and thanks for reading. Ceremonies celebrating Bush's life continue tomorrow.

NBC News

Tonight, the former president will lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston.

Tomorrow's events will include a second funeral service at St. Martin's scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET.

Bush's remains will then be transported by funeral train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where he will be laid to rest on the grounds of his presidential library located on the campus.

Bush's plane touches down in Houston

The blue and white government plane carrying former President George H.W. Bush's casket and members of his family landed in Texas just after 6 p.m. on Wednesday as the events commemorating his life and legacy continue.

Friends and family, after deplaning, gathered on the tarmac at Ellington Airport to watch the military honor guard escort the casket from the aircraft to a hearse bearing the presidential seal.

Bush's remains will be transported to St. Martin's Episcopal Church for the next phase of the ceremony, which will include a second funeral service Thursday in the state where he launched his political career.

During that service, Bush's grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and former Secretary of State James Baker will eulogize the former president.

Following that ceremony, Bush's remains will be transported by funeral train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The former president will then be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Bush and Dole: A political rivalry for the ages. And then that final salute.

Steve Kornacki

The scene inside the Capitol this week was arresting: 95-year-old Bob Dole, confined for years to a wheelchair, rising with assistance to offer one final standing salute to George H.W. Bush.

The history behind it made it even more poignant. Born only 11 months apart, but into dramatically different circumstances, the two men forged one of the preeminent rivalries of modern American politics, fueled by shared ambition and shaped by fateful twists and bitter confrontations, with Bush ultimately capturing the prize that always eluded Dole.

They both came to Washington around the same time, but from very different places.


Former aide to George H.W. Bush: 'I'm glad' Trump came to the funeral

Joe Watkins, an MSNBC analyst and White House aide to former President George H.W. Bush, said Wednesday that he was "glad" President Donald Trump attended Bush's state funeral service.

Watkins called Bush's funeral "incredible," adding that "people were crying all around me because it was so moving."

"It was funny and it was moving at the same time," Watkins said. "I mean whether it was Jon Meacham or former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney or Alan Simpson the former senator from Wyoming, who was hilarious but also just so on point, or George W. Bush, the former president who moved so many of us to tears."

On Trump, Watkins said it was "a big step for him to be" in attendance, though he added that he thought Trump "had to be there."

"But I'm glad he was there and I’m glad that he said what he said beforehand and that he was consistent with the spirit of the moment, which was about honoring the memory of George Herbert Walker Bush," Watkins said.


Exiting cathedral, Sessions chats with former Senate colleagues. Will he run for his old seat?

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with former Senate colleagues, including Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., as he exited the cathedral. NBC News asked if he plans to run for his old Alabama Senate seat — which he’s been said to be considering — in 2020.

“I haven’t cleared my brain on that,” he said. He added that he doesn’t yet have a timeline for making a decision. Democrat Doug Jones won a special election last year after Sessions left the seat open to become Trump’s attorney general.

But Sessions, who earned Trump's wrath for recusing himself from oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, was ousted by the president just a day after last month’s midterm elections. Alabama is a heavily Republican state, and the GOP has a good shot at reclaiming the seat in 2020.

What's next following Bush's state funeral

With the former president's state funeral service in Washington, D.C., concluded, Bush's casket, accompanied by his family, will now board a government plane and head toward Houston, where ceremonial events and remembrances will continue through Thursday.

Thursday morning, another funeral service will be held at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, where Bush's grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and former Secretary of State James Baker will eulogize the former president.

Bush told CNN that his grandfather's funeral was an opportunity for the nation to "put politics aside."

Following that service, Bush's remains will be transported by funeral train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Bush will be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Funeral attendees stand during last hymn as Bush's casket carried down the aisle

The service is nearing its end, and as the final hymn is sung, the casket is carried down the aisle in procession.

The Bush family, again escorted by Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, followed the casket out of the cathedral. 

Prince Charles filed out behind Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and John Roberts, but as he passed them, they did not appear to exchange any words.

Analysis: W. eulogy exceeded my expectations

Jonathan Alter

I didn't have high expectations for George W. Bush's eulogy for his father. The fraught relationship between them, chronicled in Jacob Weisberg's book, "The Bush Tragedy," suggested it might be cliche-ridden and well short of moving.

It wasn't.

This was a fine moment for George W., a tough moment — as any son who has ever eulogized his beloved father (as I have) must know.

43 was, by almost all accounts, a worse president than 41, who himself wasn't a "great president," no matter what the commentary has been this week. But the better angels of the family — and the nation — came through. Among the lines from his eldest son that rang true for me, as a longtime critics of the Bushes:

"He looked for the good in each person, and he usually found it."

"He showed us how setbacks can strengthen."

"He could tease and needle but never out of malice."

"He was born with just two settings — full throttle, then sleep."

When George W. Bush broke down at the end of his eulogy, it brought a tear to my eye.

I was not crying over the death of his father. He was 94, and his death is no tragedy. And I wasn't crying over the authenticity and beauty of his son's love, though it was moving. I was sad because the Bush family, for all its leadership mistakes over the years, represents a tradition of service and honor and decency in this country that is at risk.

Let's hope these days of mourning can remind us that the generation that won World War II and built a great nation — a man who represented our better selves, or at least an aspiration to love and respect and decency — can inspire us to repair our country.

Jonathan Alter is an NBC News political contributor and analyst. His books include "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies" and "The Promise."

Bush's pastor jokes about service dog Sully's popularity

The Rev. Russell Levenson of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston spoke at former President George H.W. Bush's state funeral on Wednesday, following an emotional eulogy from former President George W. Bush.

Levenson drew some laughs from the audience when he began by mentioning how the 41st president's wife Barbara, who died earlier this year, would note that his sermons would go on just a bit too long.

Levenson also discussed Bush's final days, noting that former Secretary of State James Baker, Bush's longtime friend, was by his side at the very end. (George W. Bush, in his tribute minutes earlier, said that Baker sneaked his father Grey Goose vodka and steaks from Morton's when he was in the hospital.)

Also getting a hat tip from the pulpit: Sully, the service dog with the former president in his final months. The dog, said Levenson, seemingly "has gotten more press than the president in recent days."

"Mr. President, mission complete," Levenson said, in reference to Bush's stint as a military aviator. "Welcome to your eternal home, where ceiling and visibility are unlimited and life goes on forever."

Analysis: Was Simpson's eulogy as much about Trump as it was about Bush?

Jonathan Alter

Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who delivered a tribute to Bush earlier in the service, could be a fierce partisan when he was in the Senate. We clashed on more than one occasion, most memorably when we were the two guests on Charles Grodin's old show on CNBC. He accused me of wearing my "Jesus shoes" — a reference to me being high and mighty on some issue I've long forgotten — which I considered strange considering that I'm Jewish. But he was always good for a funny quip and we talked easily in later years.

His eulogy was also terrific, and it included some lines about Bush that are especially resonant in the Trump era. I'm thinking especially of "those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic," and "hatred corrodes the container it is carried in."

When he said the latter, I was wondering if any of this talk about loyalty, friendship and decency was sinking in for the president, sitting on the aisle. I doubt it.

Jonathan Alter is an NBC News political contributor and analyst. His books include "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies" and "The Promise."

Behind the unlikely friendship between historian Jon Meacham and Bush

Jonathan Alter

If you or anyone you know is asked to speak at a funeral, you would be well-advised to read or watch Jon Meacham's beautiful eulogy for President Bush.

Full disclosure: Jon and I knew each other from the Washington Monthly and worked closely together at Newsweek for 15 years. He has helped me on my own history books and we remain friends. Jon getting to know Bush was an unlikely development because Bush, who had a long memory for insults, despised Newsweek for a 1987 cover entitled, "Fighting the Wimp Factor." 

The author of that headline, Jon's close friend and fellow historian, Evan Thomas, has since explained why that cover line was so wrong. Bush soon realized that Jon was a freshman in college at the time and bore no responsibility for it. They bonded almost immediately in ways that are highly unusual between a president and a journalist — though of course Bush was no longer in office and Meacham was more historian than reporter.

His biography was nicer to Bush than I would have been, but he doesn't let him off the hook for the nasty 1988 campaign he ran against Michael Dukakis and his other shortcomings. Anyone who appreciates Jon's eulogy should read that and his other books, on FDR and Churchill, Andrew Jackson and, most recently, difficult moments in American history — more difficult than today — and how we survived.

Jonathan Alter is an NBC News political contributor and analyst. His books include "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies" and "The Promise."

Irish tenor who sang to Bush sings at his funeral service

Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang "Last Full Measure of Devotion" after former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson's eulogy of former President George H.W. Bush at his funeral service.

Tynan had performed for Bush at his 80th birthday celebration, in addition to singing to him while he was on his deathbed.

Granddaughters Lauren Bush Lauren and Ashley Walker Bush deliver first reading

Lauren Bush Lauren and Ashley Walker Bush, granddaughters of the former president, delivered the first reading of the service. 

They read from Isaiah 60:1-5, 18-20.

Bush's funeral service begins

Former President George H.W. Bush's state funeral service began just after 11 a.m. on the East Coast at the Washington National Cathedral.

Members of the Bush family, including son and former President George W. Bush, arrived, and briefly greeted President Donald Trump and three other former presidents and their spouses seated in the first pew. They were escorted to their seats by Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard.

The service is being broadcast live. 

President George W. Bush, former GOP senator among those giving eulogies

Four men will eulogize President George H.W. Bush on Wednesday at his state funeral in Washington, D.C.

They are as follows:

Jon Meacham

Meacham, a presidential historian, published in 2015 the definitive biography of the elder Bush president: "Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush."

Brian Mulroney

The former Canadian prime minister, Mulroney is a longtime friend of the ex-president.

Alan Simpson

The former GOP senator from Wyoming said his friendship with Bush dates back to the 1960s when his father sold his Washington, D.C., home to the future president.

George W. Bush

Not since John Quincy Adams won the 1824 presidential election had the son of a president gone on to serve as the commander-in-chief. That was until Bush won the 2000 election, following in his father's footsteps. The 43rd president is the eldest of his father's six children, who also include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a one-time presidential candidate himself.

Trump motorcade arrives at Cathedral

NBC News

The Trump motorcade pulled to a stop at Washington National Cathedral at 10:35 a.m.

Onlookers lined Pennsylvania Avenue and 22d Street. A policeman in a yellow reflective jacket held a salute as it passed M St.

Barack Obama greets retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake before taking seat

Christina Wilkie, CNBC

Jonathan Allen and Christina Wilkie, CNBC

Former President Barack Obama warmly greeted retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and two of his sons while, a few feet away, former first lady Michelle Obama exchanged pleasantries with Vice President Mike Pence.

The Obamas are seated next to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

Biographer Jon Meacham, one of Bush's eulogists, waits in wings on cathedral

Christina Wilkie, CNBC

Jonathan Allen and Christina Wilkie, CNBC

Bush biographer Jon Meacham, tapped to deliver the first eulogy, stood in the wings of the cathedral as roughly 3,000 mourners filed in, talking with William Bennett, who served as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy — the federal drug czar — in the Bush administration and as Education secretary during the Reagan administration.

Andrew Card, who was deputy White House chief of staff for the elder Bush and White House chief of staff for George W. Bush, stood a few feet away.

Gore, Powell chat at Bush's funeral. They weren't always so friendly.

Christina Wilkie, CNBC

Jonathan Allen and Christina Wilkie, CNBC

Former Vice President Al Gore stopped in the center aisle of the cathedral to chat with former secretary of State and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Colin Powell. During the first days of Bill Clinton's administration, the two went toe-to-toe over the question of whether there was a parallel between rights for gay people and rights for people of color.

Powell and other military brass opposed efforts to allow gay people to serve in the military. But he reversed that position in 2010.

Powell ripped Gore's 2000 campaign manager, Donna Brazile, for saying that Republicans leaned on Powell and other black celebrities because they would rather "take pictures with black children than feed them."

Trump has not spoken with Clintons or Obamas since inauguration

President Donald Trump has not spoken with either former President Bill Clinton or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton since the 2017 inauguration about two years ago, according to people close to both families.

He has also not spoken to former President Barack Obama since the peaceful transition of power, according to our sources.

The Clintons and the Obamas are among the guests expected to attend Bush's cathedral service Wednesday, along with the president and first lady Melania Trump. 

When Trump was asked if he planned to reach out to either of his predecessors on the pipe bombs addressed and mailed to them in October, he told reporters: “If they wanted me to, but I think we’ll probably pass."

Melania Trump attended former first lady Barbara Bush's memorial earlier this year in Texas, but the president did not attend that service “to avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush Family and friends,” a White House official said at the time.

More than 50,000 people paid their respects to Bush at U.S. Capitol

Alex Moe

Roughly 57,000 people came through the U.S. Capitol to pay their respects to President George H.W. Bush as he laid in state for the past two days, a source with knowledge of the count told NBC News on Wednesday.

This estimate includes staff and visitors.


Rarely seen Bush scrapbooks show love story that stood test of time

Natalie Obregon

Tammy Leitner

Natalie Obregon and Tammy Leitner

Ahead of the former president's state funeral service in Washington, Mary Finch, the audio and visual archivist for the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, gave NBC News a look at the rarely-seen scrapbooks that former first lady Barbara Bush kept of the couple's life together.

In total, she made 118 — and those memories are carefully preserved at the library in Texas.

View images of the one-of-a-kind scrapbooks, tokens of a private life the public rarely saw.

Coast Guard band members are struggling to keep their instruments warm

It's just a tick above freezing in Washington this morning, and members of the Coast Guard band who were standing in line to go through security said there isn't much they can do to keep their instruments warm.

But some of them use plastic mouthpieces to prevent the tongue-sticking-to-the-flagpole effect that can occur when they blow into a cold metal instrument.

The six words that changed George H.W. Bush's presidency

Steve Kornacki

It became the most famous broken promise in modern political history.

George H.W. Bush made it inside the New Orleans Superdome on Aug. 18, 1988. He was there to accept the Republican presidential nomination and to launch his fall campaign against Democrat Michael Dukakis.

"My opponent won't rule out raising taxes, but I will," Bush said. "And the Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say, 'No.' And they'll push, and I'll say, 'No.' And they'll push again, and I'll say to them, 'Read my lips: No new taxes!'"


Bush's is first state funeral since former President Ford

On Wednesday, President George H.W. Bush will have the rare honor of a state funeral at Washington's National Cathedral.

The ceremony has been held for some of the nation's presidents and other notable figures. This will be the first such funeral since former President Gerald Ford died in late 2006. 

A state funeral, usually a days-long event, is filled with military-related details from 21-gun salutes to musical pieces performed by military bands and choirs. The funerals are conducted by The Military District of Washington.

Some of the most recent presidents to have a state funeral included Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson.

What is a national day of mourning? Trump declared one in honor of Bush

President Donald Trump declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for former President George H.W. Bush, where in Washington, D.C., he will have the first U.S. state funeral in more than a decade.

The declaration has significance — flags will be flown at half staff and both federal offices and the stock market will be closed. In Maryland and Texas, where Bush began his political career, state government agencies and offices will be closed in Bush's honor. And in Maine, where Bush spent decades at his Kennebunkport complex, non-essential state offices will be closed.

The funeral itself will be broadcast live from Washington National Cathedral later today.