Americans began to get a chance to pay their respects in person Monday to former President George H.W. Bush, whose body was brought to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state, joining just 31 other heroes so honored.
With a chorus of cannons booming a salute, the late president was carried by military honor guard up the steps and into the Rotunda, what one senator dubbed the nation’s “hallowed cathedral,” for days of carefully choreographed pomp befitting a now-beloved chief executive.
“Here lies a great man,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, eulogized. “He reached the heights of power with uncommon humility. He made monumental contributions to freedom with a fundamental decency that resonates across generations. No one better harmonized the joy of life and the duty of life.”
President Trump, in a presidential message to Congress, said Mr. Bush’s death was “one of the last pages of a defining chapter in American history,” with the generation that fought World War II — then dominated American politics for 40 years — now mostly gone.
“Resolute through war, President Bush was magnanimous in peace,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Bush’s death Friday night at age 94 also hit the “pause” button on the usual bickering in Washington.
SEE ALSO: Donald Trump, Melania Trump pay respects to George H.W. Bush
Both the House and Senate shut down most business on Monday, with lawmakers quickly passing resolutions to allow Mr. Bush to lie in state in the Rotunda, and to use the catafalque, or funeral bier, that was first constructed to hold President Abraham Lincoln’s casket in 1865.
Leaders said they’ll push off until later this month a looming shutdown showdown, eager to avoid tainting the commemoration of Mr. Bush with unseemly brinksmanship.
Mr. Bush is the first president since President Ford’s 2006 death to lie in state, and the nation’s capital excels at the pageantry.
His casket was flown from Texas aboard the president’s 747 aircraft dubbed “Special Air Mission 41,” to Joint Base Andrews, the same port of departure and arrival Mr. Bush used during his 12 years as vice president and then president.
Ferried by motorcade to the Capitol along streets bathed in the auburn afternoon sun, the president ended his journey along Constitution Avenue, adorned with U.S. and D.C. flags flying from lamp posts.
The military honor guard hefted his casket up the East Front steps and into the Rotunda — the same room he strolled as a congressman in the late 1960s, and which he later strode through in 1989, after taking the presidential oath of office on the Capitol’s West Front steps.
“Today, this hero has returned to the Capitol a final time,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Not on the front porch of our democracy, this time — but here, in its hallowed cathedral. Beneath paintings that tell the story of our land and our liberty. And flanked by statues of his fellow champions whom he joined in making that story possible.
President George W. Bush, son of the late president and himself “No. 43” in the line of presidents, led the Bush family in the ceremonial duties at the arrival of the casket and the early commemorations.
The late president will lie in state through Wednesday morning, when he’ll be taken from the Capitol a final time, escorted to Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service then flown back to Texas for burial Thursday at his presidential library at Texas A&M University.
Controversial as a politician, the 41st president has been feted in death as the embodiment of a public servant — with some of the commemorations pointedly contrasting him with the current White House occupant.
Vice President Mike Pence, though, sought to turn those tables. Addressing the Bush family and other guests in the Rotunda, he compared himself to the late president, saying they both served outsider presidents who came to Washington to cut taxes, rebuild the military and “shake things up.”
“President Bush was a great leader who made a great difference in the life of this nation. But he was also just a good man,” Mr. Pence said.
As official Washington paid its respects inside the Capitol, Americans queued up outside the Capitol Visitor Center for their chance.
Mary Kasper, of Arlington, Virginia, said she was working abroad in London during the first Gulf War, deemed an unqualified success on Mr. Bush’s watch. Ms. Kasper said the president’s steady hand showed through those tumultuous years.
“He gave me confidence that things would be all right,” she said. “I don’t think there are leaders like that today — the World War II generation, especially.”
Randy Bates, a 48-year-old Idaho resident, decided to pay his respects because he was in town for work.
“He was the first president I voted for,” he said, calling the late president someone who felt “public service is more important than politics.”
Even witnessing the motorcade was enough for some.
“We happened to be able to be here on this day and we were so happy to be able to experience this event. I told my kids this is not something you see in most lifetimes,” said Laura Caruso, who was in the midst of a move from Pennsylvania to Florida and had stopped in D.C.
⦁ Alex Swoyer contributed to this article.