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President George H.W. Bush Returns To Washington, D.C., To Lie In State

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tonight former President George H.W. Bush is receiving one of the rarest honors in the United States. He is just the 32nd American to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. It's a tradition that began with Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln. Bush's casket was brought to the Capitol this afternoon after a flight from Houston to Washington aboard a presidential aircraft. There, the 41st president was honored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Vice President Mike Pence and others. And President Trump is expected to pay his respects tonight as well.

NPR's Scott Detrow is on Capitol Hill and joins us now. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So Bush's body was in Houston this morning, as we said. Can you tell us about the journey the casket has taken to the Capitol today?

DETROW: Yeah. Members of the Bush family flew with the casket on a presidential aircraft, the jet that's known as Air Force One when the current president is on board. Then they motorcaded from Joint Base Andrews to the east front of the Capitol. And there was a really moving ceremony there. I stood outside watching honor guards from every branch of the military stand at attention. A military band played "Hail To The Chief" and other music as pallbearers carried Bush's casket up the steps of the Capitol and inside the rotunda.

CHANG: Now, Bush's official state funeral is Wednesday, but there was a ceremony today inside the rotunda. What did speakers say about Bush?

DETROW: We've been hearing these common themes all week that Bush was drawn to service, from flying missions as a Navy pilot, through the decades in office. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said that there was a tie between that day he was shot down during World War II and that long political career.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: But through the fire and smoke, George Bush stayed steady at the controls. Only once he accomplished his mission did he parachute out over the Pacific. A steady hand staying the course - that's what George Bush gave us for decades.

DETROW: And again, a lot of talk about the fact that Bush was just a good person, a decent person. That's what we've been hearing over and over again.

CHANG: Yeah. As we stated, Vice President Mike Pence was there. And the Bushes, of course, have had a lot of disagreements with President Trump. And a lot of these eulogies we're hearing have been implied rebukes of the current president. Was there any sign of that strain from Pence today?

DETROW: No. And in fact, interestingly, Pence tried to draw some parallels between him and Bush at one point, saying Bush served as vice president to an outsider who came to shake up Washington. Pence seemed to be talking about both Ronald Reagan and President Trump there. But Pence stuck to a lot of the same themes. He did share an interesting personal story of a letter that Bush wrote to Pence's son this year. Pence's son is a Marine pilot who's actually flying missions off of the USS George H.W. Bush. Bush used a fighter pilot acronym in that note to Pence's son - CAVU. And Pence talked about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: President Bush described CAVU in his words as the kind of weather we Navy pilots wanted when we were to fly off our carrier in the Pacific. And he once wrote a letter to his children saying that CAVU, in his words, describes my own life as it's been over the years and as it is right now.

CHANG: So what happens next this week as the country remembers the former president?

DETROW: For the next day, people from the public are going to be able to pay respects to Bush in the rotunda. Then there's that state funeral at the National Cathedral Wednesday. After that, Bush's body will go back to Texas for its final burial.

CHANG: That's NPR's Scott Detrow at the U.S. Capitol. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.