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Washington mourns George H.W. Bush

UNEASY TRUCE:US President Donald Trump sat in the front row and shook hands with the Obamas, but gave Hillary Rodham Clinton the cold shoulder


Former US president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, top left, watch as the casket of former US president George H.W. Bush is carried out after a state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

A divided Washington led by the nation’s five living presidents on Wednesday put on a rare show of unity at the state funeral of former US president George Herbert Walker Bush, as the US bade farewell to its 41st president.

US President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, shared a front row pew in the National Cathedral with former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and their wives, as an honor guard brought Bush’s flag-draped casket into the prayer hall filled with dignitaries.

Former US president George W. Bush tapped the casket twice when he walked up to deliver a rousing eulogy, fighting through tears as he sang the praises of his father and predecessor as commander-in-chief, who died at age 94 on Friday last week.

“He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country,” George W. Bush said.

“He was born with just two settings — full throttle, then sleep,” he said.

“To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light,” the younger Bush said in a reference to his father’s signature call to volunteerism. “When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States.”

His eulogy followed a performance by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan — a friend of George H.W. Bush, who sang to him in his dying hours.

The funeral capped a national homage that saw George H.W. Bush lie in state in the US Capitol rotunda, where thousands paid respects to a statesman who steered the nation through turbulent times including the end of the Cold War — and in a style dramatically different to Trump.

Since George H.W. Bush’s death, Trump has traded his usual provocative posture for one of solemnity, tweeting before the service about “a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life.”

“He will be missed!” Trump wrote.

At the funeral, Trump and his Democratic predecessors appeared locked in an uneasy truce.

Trump arrived and shook hands with Obama and former US first lady Michelle Obama, but his greetings stopped there, and the body language turned cold as he failed to acknowledge former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, his defeated Democratic rival in 2016.

She stared straight ahead and the two made no eye contact.

It was a marked contrast when George W. Bush arrived minutes later and shook hands with the current and past presidents and their wives — and handed Michelle Obama a piece of candy, as he did during the memorial service for US senator John McCain in the same cathedral in September.

Bells tolled while the casket was carried down the aisle, as dignitaries, including Britain’s Prince Charles, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Polish president Lech Walesa and former US vice presidents and Cabinet officials, looked on.

Precision, patriotic ritual and ceremony ruled the day. The Bushes and congressional leaders stood outside the US Capitol with hands on their hearts as the casket was carried out to a 21-gun salute.

Pennsylvania Avenue was lined with well-wishers as the cortege proceeded toward the Neo-Gothic cathedral in the first presidential funeral since Gerald Ford’s in 2006.

George H.W. Bush was a decorated World War II aviator who nearly died when he was shot down on a bombing mission.

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