Washington • They came together Tuesday from worlds that can often seem so far apart, current and former elected officials, intelligence chiefs and foreign dignitaries standing alongside suit-clad federal workers, college students and other everyday Americans. They came together to bid farewell to George H.W. Bush, the patrician former president who dedicated years to public service.
Throngs of people streamed into the Capitol Rotunda for a quiet moment seeing Bush's flag-draped coffin as he lies in state. Those who gathered included Bush's relatives, people who served under him while he was commander in chief and onetime political rivals, including Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and Republican nominee for president.
Dole, who had twice competed with Bush for the Republican nomination, approached the casket in a wheelchair. An aide helped him stand briefly before Bush's body. With his left hand, Dole gave a salute to Bush, who like him had been veteran of World War II.
Jeb Bush, the late president's son, posted on Twitter of the moment: "Just incredible. Thank you Senator Dole."
Bush died last week in Texas and will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning. His body was brought to the Capitol on Monday to begin days of tributes in Washington and Texas, which will include a national day of mourning and a state funeral Wednesday.
A parade of prominent names also came Tuesday to bid farewell to the 41st president, their appearances reflecting chapters from his remarkable resume. Colin Powell, who Bush named as his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came along with generals who served during the 1991 Persian Gulf War under Bush. Gina Haspel, the CIA director, approached with John Brennan and others who had similarly followed in Bush’s footsteps in leading the agency.
Members of Congress, where Bush served four years, trickled in and out, as did staffers for the Republican National Committee, which Bush once chaired. Former Secret Service directors came through, as did South Korea's foreign minister and Kuwait's former prime minister.
More recent additions to Bush's life appeared. Sully, the steadfast service dog who accompanied Bush in the final months of his life and was the subject of a viral photograph tweeted by the former president's spokesman, briefly took a spot in the Rotunda.
When a former president dies, the public mourning process offered by having them lie in state gives the American public a chance to say farewell. Bush is the 12th president to lie in state at the Capitol, a tradition that dates back to Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, although not every president has been honored that way. (After Nixon died in 1994, his family chose not to have him lie in state; former aide David Gergen speculated at the time that Nixon might have opted against it because he “often thought Congress had tormented him.”)
The first person memorialized this way was Henry Clay, a former senator and speaker of the House, in 1852, according to the House of Representatives. In recent years, the honor has also been given to senators Daniel Inouye and John McCain.
The tradition offers a brief period of stillness in an unsettled time, a ritual that crystallizes the moment when the country formally mourns and says goodbye. There have not been many presidents in the nation's relatively young history, and Bush's death leaves just four living former presidents as well as President Donald Trump.
Before Bush, the last presidents to lie in state were Ronald Reagan — for whom Bush served as vice president — in 2004 and, a little more than two years later, Gerald Ford, who also was a World War II veteran, congressman and vice president before serving as president. Statues of both men adorn the Rotunda that now holds Bush’s body.
As they did when those men were remembered, crowds of Americans came to the Capitol on Tuesday with clasped hands, somber expressions and some tears. Mourners began heading inside well before the sun rose, climbing two flights of stairs to gather around a coffin cloaked with an American flag and ringed by three floral wreaths and an honor guard. To some, he was a president while they worked for the government; others knew him only as a figure from their textbooks or as the father of the 43rd president.
Bush was ousted from office after one term in favor of then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who was himself followed eight years later by George W. Bush. In 2016, Jeb Bush sought the Republican nomination, but he was defeated by Trump, who came to pay his respects Monday night.
Trump tweeted that he would be visiting with the Bush family at the Blair House and that first lady Melania Trump would give Laura Bush, one of her predecessors, a tour of holiday decorations.
"The former First Lady will be coming over to the White House this morning to be given a tour of the Christmas decorations by Melania," Trump wrote. "The elegance & precision of the last two days have been remarkable!"
The line to get inside grew as the day continued, stretching outside into barricades set up along First Street. A tour guide said she expected the line to balloon at the end of the business day, saying that was what happened when crowds came to honor McCain and Ford. By the afternoon, some said it was taking as long as an hour and a half to get inside for a few somber moments.
The decorum of the moment was not strictly observed. The occasional cellphone rang inside the Rotunda, while a photographer attempting to get photographs of Sully lay down on the floor, nearly blocking the path of mourners in wheelchairs. And while placards asked visitors not to take photographs, several did, including one man who appeared to take a selfie in front of the casket.
But for the most part, it was a solemn occasion, particularly during Dole's appearance and the changing of the guard. Those who came said they did so in part longing for an earlier time.
Daniel Bean, a runner who changed his route to include the Capitol early Tuesday so he could attend the viewing, said he missed the way Bush handled himself in public office.
"I was quite impressed with his demeanor. You just don't see that anymore," said Bean, 63, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, who joined the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1990, two years after Bush was elected to office. "I miss his way of doing things."
Bean signed a condolence book before he left, one of several available for people to sign. Visitors were also given a card that features a photograph of Bush, a message of appreciation from his family and a resume listing his roles in government.
Claire McGuire, a consultant from Washington who had attended Bush's inauguration, felt compelled to be here, she said. "I feel really lucky that I can be here, and I also felt like I really had to come," she said.
Nolean Deskins, a federal budget analyst who has worked under every president since Richard Nixon, called Bush the "best president to serve under — especially when it came to raises for federal workers."
Some came from farther away to say farewell. Richard Juliana, a funeral director, and his 18-year-old son, Christian, hit the road at about 4 a.m. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to come to the viewing. Hours before sunrise, they both fastened American flag ties around their necks to dress for the occasion.
"He was the last World War II veteran to serve as president — the last of his kind, really," the elder Juliana said. "I never met him. I wish I had."
Juliana's father, James Juliana, had served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, passing along firsthand stories of Bush. It was this family connection that made Richard Juliana feel compelled to be here and to bring his own son to pay their respects in person, he said.
They got to the Capitol just after 8 a.m. and were headed back to Pennsylvania right afterward.
"I obviously wasn't alive when he was elected," Christian Juliana said. "That generation and time period feels long gone."
Fleming El-Amin, 66, came to the Capitol midday with his wife, Cassaundra El-Amin, 67. The pair had traveled from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to view Bush's body, decades after meeting him when he visited Wake Forest University. For Fleming El-Amin, the president's passing does not mark the end of an era.
“There’s always hope for tomorrow,” he said.